“I never thought I could freely live a life like this.”
For Raheel Patel, growing up with toys, arts and shyness was a fear show.
Looking back into his childhood days now, Patel says, “it was very difficult. In fact, I grew up thinking I was the only kid in my neighbourhood who felt this way. I always felt that there is something is wrong within me.”
Now, the 42-year-old visual artist is an openly gay museum curator at the art gallery of Mississauga.
Patel said in an interview with S@Y news, “I never thought I could freely live a life like this. I always had confusion regarding my sexual orientation, but I understood my true self after coming to Canada .”
Patel points out the lack of proper sex education in India as a significant reason for his struggles with sexuality. After years of hardships, he says, it took him a long time in life to see the path to a fearless world.
Patel first came to Canada in 2011 to meet his sister. It is when he saw queer people walking freely along the streets of Toronto. He once met a queer white man with whom he recalls having had an open conversation about homosexuality and the life of gay people around the world at a café in downtown.
“Talking to him, I felt so nervous and excited simultaneously because I never had a chance to talk about gayness in my whole life.”
While heading back to India after a month, Patel decided to permanently move to Canada with his wife and son. After arriving in Toronto in December 2013, Patel started working with a graphic designing company in Mississauga. Later, when he was working with the Art Gallery of Mississauga, Patel took a step forward in life by coming out to his colleagues at a conference on Arts and Human Sexuality. He then got out of a toxic relationship with his then-wife and took custody of his teenage son.
But Patel says, “I still get pressure from my dad asking me to get back with my ex-wife, which is very traumatizing for my son and me after all those abuses, we have been through.” However, Patel now considers himself in a much better and happier place in life and is thankful for the experiences and courage Canada gave him.
Even today in Canada, stories like Patel’s are not rare. There are hundreds and thousands of South Asian immigrants struggling with their queer identities.
“I never dared to discuss it with people”
Tanzeel Abdullah is a Bangladeshi immigrant in Toronto. He migrated to Toronto in 2016 and identifies himself as a gay man.
Tanzeel realized his sexuality during his time as a post-graduate student in London, United Kingdom. Yet, he says that, “I never dared to discuss it with people while building connections with other queer community members online.” This was when he learned more about his sexuality and sexual preferences.
Soon after completing the course, Tanzeel realized that going back home would be a real challenge to his identity as he would have to hide in the closet.
Talking about queer lives back home, Tanzeel says, “Gay life in countries like India and Bangladesh are extremely dangerous. The fundamental religious people might even kill you for being gay.”
Like many others, Abdullah and Patel still find it challenging to have families accept their sexuality while hoping to build an easy path for future generations.