Friday July 14, 2017

'I felt like a sinner': Film ABU tackles taboo of 'coming out' for LGBT South Asians

Pakistani-Muslim filmmaker Arshad Khan's journey to be accepted by his parents after he came out as a gay man is the subject of his new film, ABU.

Pakistani-Muslim filmmaker Arshad Khan's journey to be accepted by his parents after he came out as a gay man is the subject of his new film, ABU. (abumovie.com)

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Growing up gay in an immigrant family can be tough in Canada. It's even more difficult for those brought up in a family that openly rejects homosexuality — and doesn't discuss it.

'I imagined coming out would cleanse the guilt — it didn't.' 

For Pakistani-Muslim filmmaker Arshad Khan "coming out" to conservative religious parents involved a mix of emotions that he captures in his film, ABU.

"I imagined coming out would cleanse the guilt — it didn't.  It just highlighted internal schisms and tacked a few more hyphens to my identity," Khan says in ABU.

He tells The Current's guest host Mike Finnerty that growing up in Islamabad was "magical" with a lot of singing and dancing and family outings.

Arshad Khan ABU film - family footage

Arshad Khan delved into family footage on VHS tapes to help with the narrative of his story for the film, ABU. (abumovie.com)

'In Pakistan … being gay is tantamount to being a pedophile or a rapist. It's like the worst of the worst. So I never acknowledged it.'

When he was an adolescent, Khan started to realize he was different but says he never could address any of his feelings openly.

"In Pakistan … being gay is tantamount to being a pedophile or a rapist. It's like the worst of the worst. So I never acknowledged it," Khan says.

Related: 'I realized that I wasn't going to lose my family for being who I was'

Khan explains there are grey areas of sexuality in Pakistan that contribute to a "do-it-don't-talk-about-it kind of culture."

He says he never wanted to come out to his parents, but one day Khan's mother found a CD labelled Gay Classics in the family car and then Abu — meaning father in Arabic — approached him.

"He told me about his brother who had overcome drug addiction and likened me to his cousin who had killed a man. He then proclaimed, 'You are our son and we love you. Let's see a psychiatrist about this condition,'" Khan reiterates in the film.

After this discussion, Khan tells Finnerty he moved out.

"With my parents it was kind of a passive-aggressive attitude whereby every time I came home I felt like a sinner. I felt like I was disappointing them and I had to live for years with this disappointment that just wouldn't go away."

Listen to the full conversation at the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Sujata Berry.