Once upon a time, pride meant nothing to me because I existed in a world in which the word did not. Not because I was born before the Stonewall riots of 1969, or the first Pride march the following year; but because I was born into a world that feared the word and sought to shield me from it. A dirty word treated as though it possessed the violence of a dirty bomb.
I also grew up in a household where it was inconceivable to be gay. Fear was the prism through which pride and I first met. To be afraid of something, you must believe it can harm you. It must be stripped of its humanity, left to take on a monstrous quality. This monster visited me in adolescence and I did my best to run from it. I did so silently because it was inside of me. No child should learn to keep secrets in this way. The very definition of childhood is innocence, but we are robbed of this because all we feel is guilt.
When I could no longer outrun my fear, I hid from it. Pride and I existed in the same space but did not acknowledge each other. Its presence in me grew stronger, however, demanding to take up ground that it felt unfathomable to cede. Nothing short of a war raged inside. Outside, the crossfire manifested itself as hatred of otherness, a need to be “normal.” The first time I drove past a London Pride parade — with my father, on our way to the mosque — I felt only abhorrence. I was not raised in a house whose foundations were built on hatred; my faith taught me only love. But the world had told me that the monster must be killed, and I tried my very best to slay it. Pride to me, then, meant only fury and inner conflict.
From my restricted view, I saw a community with no other dark-skinned person among its numbers. For the longest time, pride meant being alone. Isolation was the feeling that engulfed my family in the aftermath of revealing my secret to them. There was no pride in doing what felt impossible but imperative.
In time, self-acceptance crept in, bringing with it a sense there might be something to be proud of. The absence of the colourful array of our stories renders us unseen and, for me, pride became the opportunity to tell stories. Writing my memoir, A Dutiful Boy, was a way of vocalising what had been invisible to so many for so long. Defiance became the order of the day — defiance against the stigma, against the homogeny of the visibly queer community, against the monster created by other people’s notions of morality.
I found love in June in 2016, and that love has lifted me up for the past five years. That same love has found its way into my parents’ hearts, and their acceptance is an example to us all. Pride means love. To find this place in which we can love and allow ourselves to be loved, however, is a luxury seldom afforded to much of our community. In 69 countries where homosexuality remains illegal, this place is impossible to find. We should remind ourselves of this every single day. Pride means nothing while the monster still lives.