Illustration by Lisha Zhong for Varsity

Content note: This article contains mention of homophobia and unwanted physical contact.

After coming back from the summer break, I caught up with a friend of mine in college, making small talk about my home country and what I did there for fun, chit-chat really. But as the conversation progressed, it shifted to the topic of whether or not I was ‘out’ to my family.

I’d been asked this question many times before, so the answer was almost subconscious, “No.”

I could attribute why I’m not ‘out’ back home to so many things. It could be because I’m afraid that the attitudes back home towards homosexuality aren’t as progressive as they are here in the UK. It could be because my parents have made homophobic comments in the past and thrown around homophobic slurs so willingly that I’m uncomfortable with talking to them about my sexuality.

“I never actually factored coming out of the closet as a part of my grand scheme of things”

But if I’m being honest with myself, it’s because I never actually factored coming out of the closet as a part of my grand scheme of things. It was always: go to school, get a job and a smattering of other things in between. Coming out wasn’t one of those things. This, I guess, brings me to my friend’s response. “I think you’re really brave.” I didn’t know how to respond. I mean, I was grateful for her response but in my head, even though it’s kind of twisted to think of it this way, being out here in Cambridge is a privilege and I wouldn’t be able to do so had I not come here in the first place.

All of this isn’t to suggest that for my whole life I had to be celibate. I did go out, I did meet boys. But we had to sneak around and away from prying eyes, afraid of being found out. I’m so used to it that now that I still haven’t been on a single date. Or maybe there’s a different reason for that. When I was younger, my parents would always say they couldn’t wait for the day I’d give them grandchildren. I’d stay quiet. At that point, I already knew I would never be interested in girls, but the heteronormative idea that dating was only possible between a boy and a girl stuck with me in the back of my mind, and maybe this is the subconscious thought preventing me from forming something with another boy.

Whenever I snuck away with other boys, I had to make sure no one found out. Not any of our other friends, and especially not any of our family members. So, it was really surprising when my mother confronted me about one of the boys I’d run off with whenever we were together.

“Every summer, every flight back, I feel like I’m shoving it deeper inside and I dread that every time”

But first, I need to explain this in the context of my relationship with my parents, which has always been somewhat strained. My father was very infrequently home and when he was, he’d be dismissive of us or disrespectful towards my mother. When I told him that my teachers and classmates were treating me differently because of my ethnicity, the only thing he did was ask me why I couldn’t make myself appear like less of a mixed-race kid. And so, I turned to my mother because I thought I could trust her. But as I grew older, my interactions with my mother began to make me feel increasingly uncomfortable. I just felt disgusted whenever I interacted with her, and with myself. And it’s no surprise that neither of my parents’ judgements affect me much.

So, when my mother asked me whether or not I liked boys, I thought I would be able to fight back; to call her out for being a horrible person. But I didn’t. I denied it. Even though I didn’t think denying the fact that I’m gay would affect me that much, it did. Even though, coming out was never part of my plan, my denial felt like I was shoving that piece of me deep inside, so no one would find it. And every summer, every flight back, I feel like I’m shoving it deeper inside and I dread that every time.

“Cambridge has become something like my own hideout, free from prejudice”

Coming to Cambridge has really enabled me to open up about my sexuality and experience the joys of being out. I don’t have to hide any part of me, and I don’t have to worry about anyone of my family finding out, because I’m leagues away from them. Cambridge has become something like my own hideout, free from prejudice.

Despite the positive responses I’ve received after coming out to friends in the UK, I still hesitate before telling someone new my sexuality. There’s always this thought at the back of my head that I should keep my sexuality secret, that I should find a way to avoid the subject.

To clarify, I’m not saying that I’ve encountered explicit homophobia here in Cambridge. It’s just that sometimes, when I’m speaking to people from back home or who have the same ethnic background as me, they make comments that make me second guess what I should be thinking and how I should respond. Maybe they just aren’t phrasing it properly. And sometimes I question myself. Do I have a right to feel uncomfortable? The latter statement, about whether I should feel uncomfortable, pops up in my head a lot here. There’s this conflict between what I know I’m allowed to feel offended by and what I should speak up against as well as what I’ve always done back home, turn a blind eye to this type of behaviour and keep quiet.

“Even with all the doubts that pop up in your mind, there’s still a way to be okay with who you are”

Not everything is gloom and doom though. My friends back home weren’t the best. The hate speech that would come out of their mouths whenever I was near them would affect me, but I’d smile and play along. So, I’m grateful for the friends I’ve surrounded myself with in Cambridge and I’m grateful that I can be happy here, even if it’s just for nine months every year.


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I’ve met people who are in the spot I am. With the exception of the fact that they still don’t feel comfortable with being out here in Cambridge. They’re afraid, as I sometimes am, that the people back home, no matter how many thousands of miles away, will somehow find out. That even here, they’ll be ostracised. I know that you can’t force someone to be comfortable with something, but I hope that maybe if they read this, they themselves will come to the conclusion that even with all the doubts that pop up in your mind, there’s still a way to be okay with who you are.

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