LWD: Can you describe yourself in 3 to 5 adjectives?
Shahid: Adventurous, curious, timid… sometimes, but also outgoing.
LWD: How does that differ from when you were a child or a teen?
Shahid: I was a lot more shut in and closed off, way more timid and shy. I was more or less afraid of the world. I didn’t go out much staying at home; I didn’t do much.
LWD: Why was that?
Shahid: Part of it was I wasn’t exactly interested, but the majority was just being uncomfortable with things outside my element and not knowing how things would proceed for me.
LWD: How has that changed now that you’re an adult? Was there a turning point?
Shahid: Not necessarily turning point that you can latch onto, but more like a slow transition, were like when I started to become an adult I started doing a few things more out of my element, joining clubs like at the University and getting out there little bit and building that up more.
LWD: Can you describe your family dynamic growing up?
Shahid: Chaotic, very chaotic my parents split when I was born, so I pretty much grew up with my mom during the weekdays and on the weekends with my dad’s. And have my parents constantly bicker during that time and leaving me and my siblings to pretty much fend for ourselves.
LWD: Can you tell me when you realized you might be gay?
Shahid: The first time was probably sometime in junior high for me. Being in the guys change room, noticing that the other guys piqued my interest. I didn’t think much of it, but that was kind of the first hint me going like, ‘Oh hey look at this one dude or group of guys.’
LWD: How did that make you feel?
Shahid: It made me feel interested and a little bit happy, but also I don’t want to say weirded out but that was kind of it too. I didn’t really understand what was going on at first, so I just kind of brushed it off and went on with my life, because in junior high I was more worried about getting my studies and my class work done, and that was it.
LWD: How did you come to a place where you felt comfortable coming out to those around you?
Shahid: That was probably in postsecondary about five or six years later. The first person I ever came out to was my sister. I just remember going up to her room one day, and we were talking, I don’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but one thing led to another, and I just told her, “Hey, I’m gay”! My sister just kinda looked at me, and said, “Great we can talk about guys together now.” She was super supportive!
Right now my sister is the only one in my family that I’ve come out to, but I’ve come out to a lot more of my friends.
My friends and I were driving home one day from University after a D&D session, and we were dropping off a friend that lived in the far south. After we dropped him off the rest of us got into a conversation about the driver’s fiancé (who was in the car with us) and their relationship and as it progressed we started talking about other relationships within our group. That’s when they decided to come out as ACE, and that’s how their relationship is going, more romantic than sexual. As we continued talking I was debating whether I should tell them or not, these are some of my closest friends, and I didn’t want them to see me in a different light or be freaked out about me. But after them coming out and telling us about their relationship I decided to take the plunge and tell them. It was funny the driver’s fiancé, my buddy said, “I knew it, I’ve known since junior high.”
LWD: With the LWD project being a public project are you comfortable with this being out there, without you having fully come out?
Shahid: I’m totally fine. I’ve decided that in my life it’s not worth holding myself back. If I’m going to do something I have to do it as myself and not shy away from it.
LWD: Have you had any struggles with the people that you’ve come out to so far?
Shahid: With the people I’ve come out to, I’ve had no struggles, and they have been completely supportive of me. It’s probably what’s help me get through a number of things in my life right now. I had some struggles with deciding who else I wanted to tell in my life. Should I tell people as I meet them or people that have already known me. I have a few other groups of friends I thought about telling, but I’m still questioning whether I should.
One funny story, or at least I feel is funny. Within one of my groups of friends, a certain person came up to me and said, “We thought you were gay, but now we know you’re not.” And I was like, “Yeah you actually had that right the first time, you hit the nail right on the head with your first assumption.”
LWD: Did they give you any rationale as to why they thought you’re not straight?
Shahid: No, they just thought I was gay, because I never showed interest in anyone of the opposite gender, at all and because I was never interested in any sort of relationship. I would just go to work, school and then go home to my life, that’s all that they saw. They didn’t know much of my life besides what they saw when I was around them.
LWD: Do you keep your personal life reasonably private?
Shahid: I do feel I keep my personal life a little more private, not as much as I used to when I was younger. I’m okay with sharing aspects of my life now. I’ll talk to people about what my friends and I are doing either DND or club activities or just hanging out. In terms of relationship-wise, I haven’t been in any, so that hasn’t come up with me. But back then I would’ve just not told anybody.
LWD: What is your cultural background and how did this influence your life?
Shahid: My family is from Bangladesh, I am Bengali, and we are Muslim. That’s been an interesting challenge for me, my parents are very traditional, we go to prayer, we do Ramadan and right now trying to come out to my parents is a big no. My sister and I’ve agreed upon this; they are stuck in their ways they don’t quite understand that I’m not into someone of the opposite gender and that I want to spend my life with somebody the same gender as me. It’s been a big challenge trying to gauge how my parents would take it there’s a number of scenarios we tried to run through. All of them just end up not being the greatest, and because the fact my family is Muslim the Muslim/Bengali community that we are a part of is very tightknit. So that means if I come out to my parents, I’m coming out to all whole bunch more people within the community that don’t have direct influence in my life but can affect it because they know my family.
LWD: What do you love about the person you are today?
Shahid: The confidence. The increased confidence. I really do enjoy being able to go out and do things that I never thought that I’d be doing when I was younger. And the fact that I can manage my depression and my mental health better than I could five years ago. My life was very chaotic with going to school, work and all the family stress put a real toll on me. Nowadays I’m learning to manage it and overcome it and become my own person and stay true to myself.
LWD: Do you think the anxiety and depression stemmed from the fact that you are gay or where do you feel it came from?
Shahid: It’s a small part. But I wouldn’t say it’s really big cause, more of a minor issue. Simply because if I wanted to have a partner, I wouldn’t be able to bring them home with me. It would cause a lot of problems, which in a way has sort of isolated me and led to a feeling of loneliness and part of my depression. My depression is more spanning back even further and is more family issues.
With my depression, I regret not talking about it sooner and the things that I wasn’t able to do, and holding myself back because of it. I regret not going to the Q Centre at UofC just to start talking about my sexuality and feeling more comfortable with myself. I didn’t go there, I kinda wish I did, but I’m learning from my mistakes.
LWD: When you finally did start to reach out did you find the resources available to you?
Shahid: Yes, I started talking to my coworker. He helped me get in touch with some resources, and from there I was able to talk to them and gather more resources, and I’ve been back a couple of times.
LWD: What does it mean to you to be trying to live an authentic life?
Shahid: For me, it’s just being myself and not trying to change myself for other people just because they want something for me. I am my own person; I’m not going to change myself just because a person says, “Hey I don’t like this about you, you need to change.” If you don’t like it, you’re not to be part of my life. And that’s probably been the biggest struggle for my family and me is them realizing that this is who I am, I am me I’m not going to change for them in a way that they want me to. So that means just going out and doing the things that I want to do and being me.
LWD: Was there a defining moment that allowed you to step more into your authentic life?
Shahid: Not a definitive moment but I remember one day going, “Fuck it.” It’s not worth it to do all the stuff for everyone else; it’s much easier just to be myself and go about my life as me.
LWD: What happened when you embraced yourself as enough?
Shahid: Emotionally I felt a bit better. I felt some of the stress melting away because I didn’t have to worry about the past. I didn’t have to worry about: If I’m like this, what will people think about me? Or: If I do this am I a bad person? NO, I didn’t need to keep thinking about that anymore, and it put my mind at ease and let me calm down and go on with my life.
I also started doing more activities with larger groups, not just with my friends; I was getting involved in other organizations as well I started hitting the gym two years ago. The gym is also to help me become the person that I want to be, and it’s a form of mental health management. When I’m at the gym, I don’t think about my mental health issues I just focus on my work out and then can go on with my day and just focus on that.
LWD: What type of people do you choose to surround yourself with?
Shahid: Loving caring people and understanding people. People that understand there’s more to life than just religion or just two genders or you have to be heterosexual. I guess you could say I choose to surround myself with like-minded people, people that are probably weird like myself, that’s fine. My friends are great and very supportive, and they are the type of people that will listen to you first before giving you their opinion, they’re not judgemental.
LWD: Are there any obstacles that you see that will hinder you from living your authentic life going forward?
Shahid: In all honesty, it’s my family and my older brother kind of constantly butt heads on various issues. And the same with me and my parents, we just kinda butt heads a little bit and can’t seem to come to an understanding that benefits both of us.
LWD: Is there anything else you want to share or talk about that you feel is important to your story and journey?
Shahid: I feel that I’ve been a little luckier than some individuals because I wasn’t exactly bullied when I was growing up about my sexuality, mainly because I just didn’t talk about it. I went to high school with an out gay individual, and I remember him constantly being bullied and his life being miserable. That didn’t happen to me, by the time I did come out I was an adult and I was able to manage situations better if they showed up. But usually, it didn’t because I managed to control the kind of environment that I came out in to be a safe environment. That’s not to say I may not have felt uncomfortable with individuals or around certain individuals that might’ve used the gay slurs around me, not realizing that I am gay and that it is offensive.
LWD: Do you think because of your ethnicity or your masculinity that you avoided bullying and situations like that?
Shahid: Maybe. Because I am Muslim and Bengali there have been other challenges, especially with people saying; “You’re a Muslim, you can’t be gay”. Well yes, we can. Actually, there are many queer Muslims in the world, just because it’s not in the mainstream media much doesn’t mean we don’t exist. As well being male may have helped a little bit, but at the time I wasn’t in the gym, I was quite pathetic actually, I was a lot skinnier and smaller and didn’t look impressive.
But being a reclusive person and keeping to myself protected me somewhat and stopped people from concluding that I was gay.
I did try to play off in high school that I was straight. I want to say I did have a crush on a girl. And I was interested in her, but that only lasted a month, maybe two. I think that it was just a phase, where I was trying to conform to people’s expectations of me being a straight dude. In high school I still felt maybe I’m gay, maybe I’m not. It was the first time I became interested in a relationship of any sorts. So it was just a phase, but the relationship with that person remains, and we are good friends.
One of my best friends invited me on a trip to Banff with her and her coworkers. She and I ended up in the hot springs alone, we are talking and hanging out, and that’s when it dawned on me that she was actually trying to date me. I felt so bad because I had to tell her that, “I’m gay, sorry.” She laughed because apparently, that wasn’t the first time that it happened to her, it was the second time. We’ve remained really good friends and consider each other family now.