akt x GaysiansA series of interviews by Reeta Loi
I’ve been speaking with akt about young people and homelessness for some months now. They’re helping LGBT+ 16-25 years olds up and down the country access support and safety and a home. I spoke with Faz & Robyn about their experiences of using akt’s services.
Faz is 29 and had just turned 25 when he started using akt’s services.
He’d just been evicted from his house after a four and a half year battle to keep a roof over his head after his mum passed away. He and his brothers were students and what they earned between them was not enough to cover the rent. They were told by the local authority that they’d have to be split up if they stayed in London. If they moved to Harlow, a very white area, they could stay together. But as Muslims and without both parents they wanted to stay close to their extended family and community. A family member offered to house them and they decided to stay with family. That’s where it started for Faz.
I’ve always felt like I don’t fit into the right body. In Pakistan the hijra community is looked down upon. People are seen as deviants. I call it ‘living room banter’ and there were a lot of racist, homophobic and transphobic comments I was hearing. I was 22 or 23 and having really bad migraines. It was really difficult for me to be there but the local authority said they couldn’t help.
Then I reached out to other organisations. Akt at the time was quite small. It was difficult for me to negotiate that I’d have to move out of home to be happy. It took me a year to come back to akt and say ‘I need your help’. They had kept hold of my passport for a year for me, in case there were any threats to take me out of the country.
Did your family know about your gender identity?
I come from a very unstable background. My dad passed away when I was five. My godfather told me my dad knew I was trans and accepted me. But then he passed away. My mum took me to the doctor to ask for help. She pleaded ‘Can you help me, can you guide me, I need to help my kid’. But the doctor said ‘it’s just a phase, she’ll grow out of it’. That really made me suffer because my mum held onto what the doctor had said.
I’m Shia and being trans is accepted and I believe my mum would have supported me if we’d looked into it at the time. My older brothers just accepted me, however I expressed myself. My parents were artists, poets, musicians and open minded. But the extended family were less open to it.
I feel like everybody always knows. In our community, they always know. It’s a matter of sweeping it under the carpet. We’re not confrontational with identity and culturally they’re not aware. How can you have a conversation when you don’t have the language to support that conversation?
I was in limbo because I didn’t want to hurt anybody. I’m very grateful for the help I’ve had from my extended family. But I had to move out and went to Purple Door, the emergency accommodation offered by akt.
Three things stand out for me: your gender identity, housing situation and the cultural element with your family. How did akt help?
It was a culture shock to say the least when I walked into Purple Door. My experience of home was hiding who I was. I could now freely be who I am, without hostility. Because you’re living with LGBT+ people, your home becomes a community. This was my first space in society where I could be me! They didn’t have trans workers at the time, but there was a Jamaican lesbian and she really understood what our cultures were like. Everyone else I’d seen at akt was white. When I saw her I knew we could relate. We would talk for hours about life and my journey, the LGBT+ scene and cultural issues. She allowed me to blossom in a way, I just needed to be given the opportunity. The stigma of experiencing homelessness where people can make you feel like you’re at fault, you put yourself in that situation, you’re addicted to substances. For me it was just my identity and I couldn’t escape from that. Akt gave me the opportunity to flourish. So they helped with culture, my gender identity and with a home.
It was only last year that I went to an event that was South Asian LGBT+ and I was blown away! I’ve been LGBT+ for a very long time and I was like ‘there are so many of us!’
I’m really excited for this partnership between akt and Gaysians!
Robyn is 28 and nonbinary and from a Pakistani Muslim family and grew up in Birmingham.
When I met Faz I was like, it’s cool to meet another South Asian here! Before when I went to South Asian spaces, it wouldn’t click for me and I’d feel uncomfortable. When I came to akt, it was the first time it wasn’t an issue, but I was conscious I was often the only brown face in the room.
Are there spaces you’ve found that connection?
Only QPOC spaces. Especially seeing queer South Asians. They’re usually comfortable in those spaces because they’ve been accepted by family or they’ve had inclusion in other ways, so I can’t really relate to them fully because being my whole self with my family and culture accepting me well, it wasn’t like that from day one for me.
Even South Asian solidarity was new for me. We didn’t have solidarity with Indian people or Punjabi people. ‘We’re Pakistani and we stand alone’. I had to outgrow those ways of thinking that had been forced on me. Just like homophobia was forced on me and look where that got me! I’m very out and queer, it wasn’t going to stop me being myself.
Growing up there were some fairly homophobic and transphobic ideas always on the surface, but I hadn’t looked into myself enough to realise they were talking about me, essentially. It wasn’t til I was about 19 or 20 and started to realise who I was and I picked up on it more. Laughing at something on the TV... it was deeper than that, do I feel able to talk to them, when they are already so hostile and I’m having difficulty dealing with it myself. They were already a violent and toxic family, even without the queer aspect.
In my head I thought I’d outgrow them, run away or cut off contact with them one day, more than I thought I’d be disowned. I came out to them five years ago over text as I was too scared to do it in person. There was no response from most of them. A couple of messages were along the lines of ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about, come home’. It was clear they couldn’t accept me and wanted me to be someone other than who I am. There have been a couple of phone calls in five years, but they’ve shown they’re still set in their very homophobic and transphobic ways so I’ve had to cut off all contact. I was scared they might do something. I’m still in Birmingham and I sometimes see a cousin walk by, what if they get violent with me.
How have you coped with that loss?
It’s hard to explain the loss of culture to someone that doesn’t get it. If they’re from here they’re surrounded by their culture. Overnight my diet changed, the people I hung out with changed, almost the language in my own head changed. I barely speak Urdu now. Eid was just another day suddenly.
How did you discover your queerness?
I went to uni in Manchester and started to discover my queerness there, even though it was a positive experience, I was immediately filled with dread as I’d have to tell my family.
How did you hear about akt?
I went to akt as a counselling service that I accessed told me about them.
I knew I couldn’t move back home. I then started to have a mental breakdown and had to move back home for six or seven months, holding in the secret. Those were the worst months. Feeling really scared and living in the home of the people I was scared of. But I was also going online and discovering my gender and sexuality. Then I moved into a home thanks to akt and felt safe. I was grateful to akt and saw a Facebook post for young ambassadors and wanted to sing their praises.
There’s certainty in my head that if it wasn’t for akt I wouldn’t be here. I’d been living a double life everywhere I went. At uni, home and family. Akt helped me find a place to live for 3 or 4 months. Without akt’s help I wouldn’t have made it. I was sleeping rough and wasn’t sure I even wanted to carry on.
I was married before and felt like I belonged to a family. But I was the only person of colour at my own wedding! It was really jarring. Am I becoming one of them? I wasn’t gonna be that good brown queer for them, that they needed me to be.
This is the first period in my life where I’ve been able to be free to be myself and be my own person.
I could not be more grateful to akt.
akt (formerly The Albert Kennedy Trust) supports LGBTQ+ young people aged 16-25 in the UK who are facing or experiencing homelessness or living in a hostile environment. You can learn more here.