"Iran has no homosexuals," the Iranian President, Mahmoud
Ahmadinejad, once said entirely confidently. He was met with
indignant scoffs and vitriol from the world over.
Ironically, here in Britain if we were to take popular lesbian TV
shows - notably Lip Service and Candy Bar Girls - as an accurate
cross section of the local lesbian scene, you would be led to
believe that Asian lesbians just don't exist.
So maybe Ahmadinejad is right, then? No Iranian lesbians, no
Muslim lesbians, no South Asian lesbians? We never read about them
in our books, rarely see them in our films, and when we do talk
about South Asians, it's more to do with how homophobic South Asian
Well, let's start with dispelling that last myth - South Asia
has a rich culture of homosexuality. Right from the Kama Sutra
(dated at around the 2nd century) which describes women who "make
love with their own kind" through to the first Mughal emperor
Babur, who brought Islam to South Asia in the sixteenth century,
and wrote of how his first love was for a boy, and the
Pakistani writer Ismat Chughtai who wrote the explicitly lesbian
short story "The Quilt", to the contemporary Indian film Fire about
two women who fall in love and fight the structures of patriarchy
So why are these histories being ignored? Why are South Asians
experiencing homophobia from their communities? And why are we not
seeing or hearing or reading about South Asian lesbians?
It seems to me that in Britain, gay South Asian invisibility has
more to do with being a minority within a minority, rather than
cultural homophobia - a problem with publishers reluctant to put
out something they think is so niche that it just won't sell
It was with this in mind that the DSC South Asian Literature
Festival thought it would be a great idea to have an LGBT focused
event - a night where gay writers can come together to discuss why
there is such a dearth of representation, and then read from their
own work - followed by some bhangra and bollywood tunes from the
iconic DJ Ritu, legend of London's LGBT South Asian club night,
The panel discussion features feminist journalist and writer
Bidisha, prominent writer Paul Burston who runs Polari - "London's
peerless gay literary salon", and the Diversity In Publishing
Network's (DIPNET) Bobby Nayyar, publisher of Boys and girls - a
collection of short stories by gay and lesbian authors (edited by
This is followed by readings from up and coming gay South Asian
writers - including some gay sisters too!
Faarea Masud - a (ex-BBC, current Al-Jazeera) journalist by day
will be reading from her upcoming novel, The Lassi Lesbians, about
a group of young British Asian lesbians who frequent the gay Asian
club scene, and get caught up trying to negotiate between their
sexuality, religion, marriage, and living on the fringes of
"My story negotiates Asian and lesbian identity in a very
haphazard, non-linear way, because this is how many 'gaysians'
handle it; it's difficult territory to find your way around.
Moreover, the sanctity of religion is very personal for the new
generation of Brit-Asians, so the struggle between religion and
homosexuality is even more internalised."
The other brown sista is NSR Khan who has just been published in
the seminal anthology, Too Asian, Not Asian Enough (alongside
panelist Bidisha - pictured). Her story is loosely based on how her
devout Muslim father comes to accept her love for a women -
ironically, NSR feels she still can't make peace with her Asian and
lesbian identity. "Coming out to my extended family does not feel
like an option yet - if ever," she says.
Hopefully this event will give these voices - so oft ignored -
some much needed attention. "This event is massively important to
increase the visibility of the gay Asian populous," says Faarea
Masud. "I often feel so left out by literary circles, gay
communities, and the Asian community, because we're constantly
being marginalized to the point of invisibility."
The hope is that through more South Asian queer writing and
visibility, more South Asian gay and lesbians feel to come out to
their families, to be more comfortable with their identity, and to
know that they are not alone in this world.
Same-same: Sex, Love and Other Queer-ies
DSC South Asian Literature Festival (in partnership with
Stonewall and Wotever World)
18 October 6.30 - 8.30 (music/bar till
Royal Vauxhall Tavern