I think I was 6 when I realized that I am attracted towards men. Unconsciously I was fulfilling all the stereotypes of being gay – being attracted to dolls over action figures, playing with my mom rather than going outside and playing cricket. As I grew older, they started referring to me as ‘girl’ at school. I was terrified to enter my class every morning fearing to hear this repeatedly. I was around 13, and I would be bullied by boys. Once I had to ‘prove’ my manhood by showing my private part to them. I remember begging to them not to make me do it but they pressured and I complied. I would see my friends being in relationships and I wanted it too. However, all I could be was the ‘pass time’ of sex-starved ‘heterosexual’ boys. These boys would tease me in front of others by calling me girl. One day it all ended, I retorted back, “Yes, I am a girl, the same one you f***ed on the staircase yesterday”. Looking back, maybe it was only a moment of defiance by a young boy but years later, it serves as a source of inspiration. If a boy of 13 could defy odds and stand his ground, an adult of 27 can do so much more.
The first day I stepped into USA, I was detained by the immigration. I have a bad problem of questioning and it gets me into trouble a lot of times. I asked them, “Why am I being detained?” The lady behind the counter gave a simple reply, “Sir, this is just a random checking!” I looked around and saw several people also being detained. How random is a checking when there are only South Asians and Arabs? Identity plays such an important part – society keeps rejecting any identity it finds different from the norm. Times had changed and now the once 13 year old boy was facing a new crisis because of his identity.
The next day I had my first orientation session with Atlas Corps, a non-profit organization which brings young leaders from different parts of the globe and gives them a platform to work at various other non-profit organisations in the USA. This provided me with a place to talk about LGBT advocacy in Bangladesh. I got varied reactions from other fellows. Most were extremely supportive. Few not so much. However, at the end of the day I realized that I could use the term ‘LGBT’ here ten times more than I ever could in my home country. The few negatives hardly did anything to diminish the euphoria I experienced. The next day, I wanted to speak more. I wanted everyone in the room to hear stories about my community. Then suddenly, there was backlash. Unfortunately, some did not share the same interest in my stories as others. They actually believed the negative and hurtful stereotypes about my community. I felt the same insult that the 13 year old boy used to feel being bullied.
However, I did not react. Years of experience at being assaulted, pointed out, abused, laughed at, accepted, rejected, love, kindness and hatred had made the 13 year old a much stronger person. I sat back alone and procrastinated. This is just a fancy word, which I wanted to use. Basically, I munched on a muffin and kept asking myself, ‘why did these wonderful fellows with whom I had a nice exchange of words the day earlier say such horrible things?’ The muffin did help and a lot of answers came to me. First of all, the comment was not directed towards me but it was a general comment. Second, the things they said, I have heard even gender experts in Bangladesh say at conferences. Third, culture. The culture of their countries is just like mine. It has not allowed them to be exposed to the concept of LGBT just like most people in my country who are still ignorant of it.
In Bangladesh, it is very difficult for me to make people understand the concept of homosexuality or LGBT rights as the society is not ready for it. Atlas Corps, on the other hand provides me a safe space where I can reach out to another young leader and try to make them think that, maybe, just maybe LGBT people are not what they have been made to think. The muffin time was a moment of realization. A lot of times, we get so engrossed into our personal argument that we forget to take the other person’s perspective into consideration. If we need someone to hear us, we also need to hear them out. I might be the first openly gay man some of my fellows have ever seen. If they can be understanding enough to sit with me, hear me out, I too need to reciprocate this respect by clearing misconceptions which they might have. The more we talk, debate, argue, interact, the better we will understand each other and the more inclusive we can make the world to live in. If only his classmates would have been ready to hear the 13 year old boy.