Bonjour, beautiful kings, queens and everything in-between! My name is Usman Khalid but you can call me Uzzy if you want. I’m a 29-year-old, super-gay, Pakistani-American Muslim, currently living in Washington, D.C.
For my first piece, I’ll be writing about how I came out to my very brown and very Muslim parents.
As a warning, this is definitely not a hallmark, feel-good story. It doesn’t have any kind of heartwarming ending where my parents and I tell each other that we love each other and that they accept me for who I am, and none of those shit rainbows or butterflies whatsoever.
Let’s start off by setting the mood. It was a couple of years ago, back in 2018, the hottest song at the time was “Nice For What” by Drake and romaine lettuce was giving everyone E. coli. So 2018 was ALREADY off the chain, you know?
It was the weekend of Eid, which is what we celebrate after the month of Ramadan during which we fast for 29 or 30 days. Oh… It was also Father’s Day.
I remember that I was at my parents’ house, which was about 20 minutes away from my apartment at the time. Just a side note: It’s pretty untraditional for unmarried Pakistani kids to move out of their parents’ house. My parents, two older brothers, their wives, and my precious little nieces and nephews all live in the same house, but that weekend, it was just me and my parents that were there.
Anyway, I decided to go back to my apartment, so I went to their room, where they were chilling, just to say you know, like, peace out, Khuda hafiz, et cetera.
As I was about to head out, my dad started going at it about me getting married. If you are desi then you know that we have been told that we need to get married at an early age—if you’re a girl then you gotta get married and pop out some kids ASAP, like, we’re talking before the age of 25. If you’re a dude, you get more leniency, because of the patriarchy, but you still gotta get married pretty quickly, and your parents, everyone else’s parents, random uncles, and aunties, the dude that you get your halal meat from, and your Uber driver will ALL inquire about when you’re getting married, and they will INFORM you that you absolutely need to.
So this was kind of like that. Usually, I just brush it off and make a joke and escape but this time, homie was being super adamant about getting an answer, and he would not let it go. Then he goes, “the only reason that a Muslim man or woman cannot get married is if they are gay or lesbian,” and when he said that my mind went blank, and the only thing that was showing up was a “WTF?!” because I was mad confused about what the fuck was exactly going on.
After he said that, he just kept saying, “if you are, then tell us. If you are, then tell us,” and he kept repeating it.
At that point, I was thinking in my head – I could either continue lying and say, “no I’m not,” and somehow be like, “no, I’m not gay, I’m totally straight,” which, like, no. OR I could just fuckin do it and say yes. So I looked up and it felt like I didn’t know what I was doing… But I just said yes.
The first thing I remember my mom doing was just gasping and looking at me, wide-eyed and completely shocked. The first thing my dad said to me was, “okay great, you can go back to your apartment now, we’re done.”
I don’t know what he meant by his initial reaction. I wasn’t sure if it was just him completely saying peace out, or if he just couldn’t deal with what I just admitted to him. I wouldn’t have expected him to react in any other way.
I couldn’t move at all. I was straight up (well, not straight, hehe) just a statue at that point and all I could really ask them was, “don’t you want to talk?”
Which in retrospect, honestly, I kind of wished I had just left and gone home because my dad LAID into me and just went ham, and really said all the things that you would expect a conservative, Pakistani Muslim man to say.
My mom didn’t speak much during the entire time, she just cried. That was honestly worse than the things that my dad said to me. That was the first thing that broke me–seeing my mom inconsolably cry, because of me.
[Before I start getting into the specifics of what my dad said to me, I want you, the reader, to know that I love my dad with my entire soul and that there is nothing that he could say to me to make me stop loving him. This is hard to write because it’s hard to imagine someone you love so much saying so many hurtful things to you but it’s just what happened as a result of how they were raised, and who I ended up being. It isn’t easy to be faced with something that contradicts your entire belief system, and his reaction was just that. It was a reaction. My heart has forgiven my parents, even though they didn’t ask for it, and probably won’t. So, as you read the next few paragraphs, please do not harbor any ill will towards my parents. They are human, and just like all of us, they are a product of the generations before them. I love you, Ammi, and I love you, Abbu.]
My dad just went into it with, “this is disgusting” and “how could you do this to us?” He said that all my accomplishments in life meant nothing since I’m gay. He told me that it didn’t matter how many friends I had, or how many people in this world loved me, that being gay was one of the most hated things in all religions, and that no one would ever accept me.
He compared me to all of my friends growing up, saying that he wished that I was like them, that he would give anything for me to be like them. He said that I needed to go ask for forgiveness from God for what I am and that if I didn’t, I was going to drag my whole family to hell.
They were under the impression that America and my “American” upbringing MADE me gay, which I really don’t think is true. What I wanted to say was: Listen I have been gay from the womb but I thought it might be just a little bit insensitive. My dad did say that he had known since I was 12 and that he was hoping that the power of Islam would straighten me out, cause that’s just how they think it works.
In hindsight, they really should have gotten a hint from the amount of Britney Spears and NSYNC cassette tapes I had growing up. I was shocked when he said that he had known.
I didn’t think about it about the time as much since my mind was racing in a million directions all at once, but I started to think back on what a depressed kid I was, and couldn’t help but think that my dad knew why the entire time. I’m not sure if things would have been different if he had talked to me about it then versus how it was happening now, but I do know how alone I felt when I was figuring out my sexuality at that early of an age.
I can’t tell you how guilty I felt the entire time this shit was going down, and once they were done talking. I was at one of the lowest points in my entire life, and I truly had no will to go on, I really didn’t want to exist at that point. As shitty as that sounds, I realize now that that’s where my mind had to go for myself to start healing itself, but it wasn’t easy. It never is.
At the end of the psychological UFC match my dad just obliterated me in, he told me to go home, and think about all of the things that they said, and then come back and talk about what I was going to do about being gay. They wanted me to come up with some way to make myself straight.
Now, while all of this shit was going on in my parents’ room, my middle brother had come home and was sitting in the living room watching TV, which was right by the stairs on the middle floor of my parents’ house.
[Backstory: I came out to my middle brother shortly after I turned 23, and the conversation was short. I walked into his room, told him I had something to tell him. He asked me if I was gay, I said yes and he gave me a thumbs up. That was the end of that. Much less stressful than coming out to my parents.]
I was a broken shell of a human at that point. As I said, I was at my lowest point, and I was just looking for any kind of comfort. I came down the stairs and stood next to him, with tears and snot all over my face. He looked at me, and I said: “I just told Ammi and Abbu.” He asked me “what?” and then I kind of looked at him like, “you know.” And he turned his head, and completely ignored me, and kept watching TV.
I really didn’t know that it could get worse than rock bottom. But at that moment, it did. I felt like I had nobody. I put on my shoes and I got in my car and cried for what seemed like forever. On the drive home I was looking for places to crash into that wouldn’t hurt anybody else. I truly wanted to end it, but I didn’t. I just went to my apartment, and I processed it.
I don’t want my coming out experience to be a sob story, at all. My objective is not to gain any sympathy, whatsoever. I want people to listen, so that they can hopefully understand their queer friends better, of course, but mostly I want to say to the queer brown kids who are trying to figure it all out in a world that often makes them feel invisible, that you are quite the opposite of invisible. That you are an incredibly special human being, and that you deserve all the happiness in the world.
The feeling of being ashamed of who you are, how you feel, what gender you love, or what gender you look like, or feel like, is one that is extremely complex and hard to navigate, but, if I hadn’t gone through it, then I wouldn’t be the person I am today.
Our experiences and memories, both good and bad, are the things that make us who we are, and that is a beautiful thing once you can get to a point where you understand it.
So no matter what you’ve gone through, I want you, whoever is reading this, to know that you are fucking AWESOME, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Sometimes it seems like this world was built to tear you down, but you will always have the power to build yourself back up, and that is a guarantee.
Valentine’s Day is here, and my calendar is fully booked on February 14th. It’s not what you think. My calendar is fully booked with therapy clients who will most definitely be reflecting on their singlehood this year. And so will I. Most of them are just like me — single South Asian Americans, between the ages of 22-40 who come from moderately conservative cultures. The adult children of immigrants, who had arranged marriages, wondering when we will ever find “the one,” and why we won’t settle.
I’m a therapist in therapy, and I’ve had a lot of family trauma and baggage to unpack with my therapist. Through my training and personal therapy journey, I learned to question a lot of the things that I’ve been told about marriage and relationships.
At the same time, it’s not easy. No one wants to be lonely. Brené Brown talks about how detrimental loneliness can be for humans in “Braving the Wilderness.” We all want to belong to someone or something bigger. And there is a difference between being lonely, without intimate companionship, and being alone in our experiences. As we get older, everyone we know in our age group is on a different life trajectory, and we start to feel both alone and lonely.
We straddle the line between two cultures — the one that we were born and raised in, and the one our parents and family tried to teach us. Many of us might live double lives. But being single is not an anomaly. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, about 31% of adults in America are single. About 32% of American women, between ages 18-29, and 29% of women, 50-64, are single. This means that roughly about a third of American women are single, regardless of age or developmental stage.
Results vary by sexual identity and race. 56% of adults who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, between the ages of 18-29, are single, compared to 29% of their straight counterparts. Black adults are more likely to be single than White or Hispanic adults. However, no statistics included Asian Americans. Some studies show we are more likely to get married due to strong values placed on marriage in Asian cultures, and less likely to get divorced. There is also a huge stigma against divorce. For Asian American women, there is a cultural pressure to not only get married, but stay married.
For many South Asian Americans who are first or second-generation, we have no blueprint for the modern world of dating. A lot of us don’t know what a healthy dating experience, let alone a marriage, is supposed to look like if it is even at all possible. In the South Asian diaspora, marriage is taken very seriously, but counter-intuitively; we are not given the opportunity to spend time on making the decision — we are expected to decide very quickly. For most of us, who are children of immigrants, our parents more than likely had an arranged marriage — that was a decision made by our grandparents, aunts and uncles. And the wedding and engagement happened fairly quickly. That is our blueprint
There are many mixed messages about how to approach marriage and dating. Many of us were told to not start dating until after we graduate from college and get a full-time job, which left a lot of us with very little dating experience, and then, Poof! We’re magically just supposed to settle down. There are many desi people who stay single because they know they have issues to work on. A lot of us are aware of how messages about marriage and dating in our communities are sometimes not realistic, if at times rooted in colorism, internalized colonialism, patriarchal and misogynistic values,and racism.
Dating is uncertain because you can’t control whether or not someone wants to date you, let alone if someone wants a relationship with you. And sometimes that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with that person’s preferences or baggage. But is it possible you have some baggage too?
Staying single because of personal baggage is not uncommon for South Asian American millennials. Because of this, many of us believe that something must be “wrong” with us, especially when people ask why we’re still single and unmarried. While we should address underlying issues for why we’re still single, that doesn’t mean anything is necessarily “wrong” with us.
As a licensed therapist, I see many single South Asians Americans who believe that something must be wrong with them because they’ve never been in a relationship before, or because they’re not in a serious relationship yet. If you’re one of these people, I want you to consider:
Who taught you how to date?
Who taught you how to socialize with other genders?
When were you allowed to date?
How often were you allowed to socialize with other genders?
What is your model of a healthy marriage or relationship?
Who taught you free will and how to exercise choice?
How were affection and romance modeled for you?
When we unpack the answers to these questions, we start to realize that there are actually very good reasons for why we’re still single.
If there are that many South Asian Americans who are afraid of dating because they don’t want to repeat toxic relationship patterns, that means that many of us are…meant for each other. So why can’t we find each other?
Our parents had an easier time finding each other because they lived in a homogenous society. My parents came from a community where everyone was of the same or similar Malayalee-Indian background and the same religion. My parents hope that I can find someone from our culture, but they forget that we live in a heterogeneous society, where finding someone who is South Asian, let alone of our specific culture, background, community, and religion, is few and far between. There is pressure on many South Asian Americans to find someone within their specific communities. Not to mention that meeting someone through a mutual connection doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good fit for you. It makes it feel like our options are limited.
This creates a ‘scarcity mindset.’ Scarcity mindset is the belief that there aren’t enough resources or opportunities out there. When you feel there aren’t enough singles within your community that you can meet, it can cause you to become hyper-fixated on these limited ‘resources’ and even heighten anxiety. And to some extent, there is some truth to that fear — some of my clients are joining dating apps to meet South Asians out-of-state. As the people around you start to settle down, you might start to feel the pressure of settling down quickly to “catch up.” You may have tried to go on a bunch of dates or entertain the idea of certain people in your community, but they eventually fizzle out, fall flat, or end in rejection. You might start to feel discouraged. This kind of pressure can result in:
Avoiding dating in the culture or dating altogether to prevent being hurt or feeling rejected, or having to confront the social anxieties of meeting new people and being open and vulnerable.
Latching on to the idea of someone we meet, working too hard to impress them early on, and attempting to force chemistry to guarantee an outcome (marriage).
When you feel this kind of pressure, you might underestimate or overestimate how to interact with potential partners. This pressure might come from messages you’ve heard in your community that you’ve internalized. For instance, if you’ve heard someone say, “we don’t get divorced in our culture,” you might start to believe that divorce is the worst possible outcome. That might put pressure on you to find the “perfect” partner in order to prevent divorce, but the future of your marriage is not something that you can guarantee. Another example — if you hear your parents tell you to “just compromise,” you might start to believe that your expectations are not realistic; therefore, that’s why you’re not married or in a relationship yet. You might start to lower your expectations and get attached to any potential partner in the hopes that you can guarantee a relationship, but changing who you are does not necessarily mean you’ll attract what you want.
How we approach dating, especially when under this cultural pressure, can have an impact on how we bond emotionally with people. One theory based on psychological research, called Attachment Theory and Styles, describes patterns of how we create and maintain emotional bonds with others and where we fall on the attachment style spectrum or circle. Cultural pressure to settle down and marry someone from your specific culture or community can influence how we date and why, but it prevents us from being mindful and enjoying the process of dating. Your attachment style might be the result of your family dynamics, your parents’ style of emotional connection, and cultural messages you’ve been taught about what a relationship or marriage “should” be like. For example, if you’re under cultural pressure to get married quickly to appease your family, you might develop an anxious attachment style because it triggers thoughts and behaviors that fall under that category. If you question the cultural pressure, you might associate marriage with negative connotations. You might push away dating and marriage and act in the way of an avoidant attachment. Your attachment style is not genetic or something you are born with. It is a pattern of behavior that is about how you relate with others, especially in relationships. It can change over time and vary based on your anxiety or the person you’re seeing. If you want to learn more about attachment style, seeking a therapist is a good resource.
Regardless of what your attachment style is, it can prevent you from being patient, truly vulnerable, and having quality dates or quality relationships. It might keep you in unhealthy dating situations or relationships too long out of fear that you won’t find anyone else “in time.” You might be jumping to conclusions about what should happen next when you date someone. When you really like someone, you might be asking, “What if things go wrong?” But what if things go right?
Valentine’s Day has never been something special for me, and while it would be nice to be in a relationship, I’m not going to let the cultural pressure of what I’m “supposed” to do, as a South Asian American single woman, dictate my life. I have my reasons for being single, and it’s no one’s business but mine (and my therapist’s). If someone in my family or my culture doesn’t approve of my singlehood, then I sincerely hope they’re awake at night thinking about why I’m single. What they think of my life is none of my business. At the same time, I’m not going to shut myself off completely from dating and relationships. Dating will be on my terms. While rejection hurts, I have accepted that people will come and go and I wouldn’t want someone to feel forced or obligated to stay with me if they have emotionally left the relationship. Ultimately, I’m looking for someone who will fit the lifestyle I already have, but if I don’t find my life partner, I’m okay being with myself too.
You don’t have to follow your parents’ blueprint to marriage and relationships. You’re allowed to follow your own. If we adopt an abundance mindset, a mindset of knowing that there are enough resources for everyone and accepting what resources are available to us — along with practicing healthy relationship habits — we might develop better, more satisfying relationships. There are enough single South Asian Americans out there who would love to be with you. Stand firm in who you are and what you want, and be open to what comes your way.
An exclusive standing-room-only crowd, dressed in dazzling colors and shimmer, packed SONA — an upscale South Asian restaurant in Manhattan — in February to celebrate queer love and allyship in the desi community.
The event, ‘Pyar is Pyar’ (which translates to “Love is Love”), recognized the landmark bipartisan legislation that President Biden signed into law in December: the Respect for Marriage Act. The event raised $168,000 to support Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies, an international nonprofit that provides peer support and resources to LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families.
Maneesh Goyal, founder and partner of SONA, organized the event with Shamina Singh, the founder and president of Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth. Both Goyal and Singh are openly queer South Asian leaders and thanked the crowd that evening for their support of other LGBTQ+ desis.
Opal Vadhan and Gautam Raghavan from the Biden/Harris Administration read a letter from President Biden to commemorate the event.
“Jill and I — and Kamala and Doug — hope you have a wonderful night celebrating our nation at our best,” Biden wrote. “May we all carry forth that American promise of freedom together. May we also know that love is love — and pyar is pyar.”
“The work that you do to become visible and powerful, to form narratives, to change minds, and to make people feel something about a cause for equality — that is incredibly important,” Raghavan added, before introducing Vaibhav Jain and Parag Mehta, a same-sex Indian couple that got married in 2019 in Texas.
“They denied us because we are a same-sex couple,” said Jain, who grew up in New Delhi. “This is a violation of the Indian constitution, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex; so we filed suit.”
“Parag and I are hopeful for a positive verdict. If our case wins, it would bring marriage equality to nearly 1.4 billion people across India,” he continued. “Just to put that in perspective, the total number of people today who live in a country with marriage equality is about 1.4 billion. That means our cases together could double the global population of places who live in a place with marriage equality.”
“We need a mechanism to help build allies in our community and to help provide the support that LGBTQ people need,” Mehta added, encouraging people to donate to Desi Rainbow.
Rayman Kaur Mathoda, Desi Rainbow’s board chair, challenged allies to put their dollars behind their vocal support. Her family announced a $50,000 donation to the organization’s ongoing work.
Founded and led by Aruna Rao, a straight cisgender mother of a transgender adult, the nonprofit has served more than 2,000 LGBTQ+ South Asians and their families since 2020. The goal is to serve 10,000 in three years; a million in the next 10 years.
Mathoda, a wife and mother of four, recalled how painful the lack of family and community support can be.
“For most of us who come out in the desi community…coming out is still a negative experience,” she said. “It is not a moment of pride. It is a moment of shame.”
Mathoda thanked all allies in particular for making the road easier for queer South Asians. To find the love and acceptance they want and need.
These days, the phrase, “love knows no bounds” doesn’t seem to hold true. For many couples, specifically, those in long-distance relationships, the lengthy and complicated immigration process can keep lovers apart for six to 24 months. Well, aside from the thousands and thousands of miles of the deep ocean in between. I’ve been there; I have been an immigration attorney for 10 years and I found love abroad (my wife was living in the UK when we met).
I was flying across the Atlantic every few months so, as you can imagine, dating was quite expensive (though she quite liked the fact that for our first intentional visit, I paid several thousand pounds for a global migration conference as an excuse for flying over).
Marriage immigration is complex and costly. The eligibility and procedural requirements are confusing and require multiple long and complicated application forms over the course of six to eight years: from fiancé(e) or spouse visa through adjustment of status process, the Removal of Conditions Application, and thereafter applying for U.S. citizenship.
To put it in perspective, many immigration applications end up being 200-300 pages long. For you to know exactly what you need can be either extremely expensive — using an attorney, who typically charges $2,000-$12,000 per application (not including government-filing fees) — or time-consuming learning how to DIY. If you opt for the latter, it is quite scary to have to figure out the requirements and procedures and follow up with case status checks in hopes of finally getting some peace of mind that your case is progressing as it should.
The worst part? The grueling wait. Waiting while not knowing how long until you can bring love home; waiting to start a family — the next chapter of your life. You keep hearing people say, “life is short!” and you thought that you finally found a partner you want to spend it with. Unfortunately, life (bureaucratic procedures) get in the way.
The combination of distance and long immigration processing times puts our next chapter ‘on pause’ while we do everything we can to bridge the gap — the gap that effectively challenges our ability to build a ‘real’ relationship. Or did it? Is there a test for this kind of thing? I mean, apparently, the U.S. Immigration Service (USCIS) seems to know what a “real” relationship is and tests ours against some “standard” to determine if it is genuine enough to grant a fiancé(e) visa or spousal green card. What makes a strong Fiancé(e) or Spouse visa application? I’ve experienced love; I am human. What do they want from me to bring my partner home?
I have been a U.S. immigration lawyer for over 10 years and I myself found love abroad and firsthand had to go through the process of bringing my spouse home to the United States. My wife is an NRI who grew up in the Philippines and lived in London where we met (more on how our meddlesome Indian families instigated our “meet-cute” in a future article). Having recently gone through this journey, and having helped hundreds of immigrant couples over the years, it became obvious that there had to be a better way. It should not be expensive, unaffordable, or overly complicated for you to bring your loved one home to become a family.
When we were apart, we did everything from waking each other up in the middle of our respective nights, with the time difference, to one partner falling asleep with the other on the phone. We watched movies together on Netflix. We made travel plans and talked about what the future would look like. We craved each other and expressed our love daily, maybe even hourly.
The future can be uncertain for any couple, but perhaps even more so for those in a long-distance relationship. When one partner is waiting for a spousal visa or fiancé visa, there can be a lot of anxiety and stress about the process and wait times. Even one mistake can set the whole process back months or even years and, if you are not familiar with the process, there’s always the overhanging uncertainty of whether or not the visa will be approved altogether.
In today’s globalized world where borders are becoming less relevant than ever before, largely thanks to technological advances which allow individuals across countries via Facetime, WhatsApp, and Skype chats without having left home, there is more of a need for a streamlined immigration tech platform that helps “modern” couples who are dating long-distance with the help of technology.
The number one reason Fiancé(e) visa or Spouse visa applications are denied is lack of documentation evidencing your relationship/intent to marry. This article shows what evidence you can provide USCIS to prove you have a genuine relationship and thereby strengthen your visa application. OurLoveVisa.com is an immigration attorney-designed platform that provides free tools and features to help couples going through the U.S. K-1 or marriage visa process plan, manage, and track their immigration journey. Many couples going through the K-1 fiancé visa process, or CR-1/IR-1 spouse visa process, have found its relationship timeline tool, which is as easy to use as Instagram, helpful in building their application. The best part: it’s free to use. The OurLoveVisa.com platform was built so you can focus on what is truly important, your relationship!
The long, unreasonable immigration processing/wait times are definitely another topic for discussion and, as time goes on, I will continue to share and elaborate on my and my wife’s joint and individual journeys through marriage, immigration, and closing the gap from our long-distance relationship. In the meantime, I hope the information provided will bring value to you and your journey.