Let’s beat stress together!
As Men’s Health week is here I am reminded how much my mental and physical health were affected by my anxiety around accepting my sexuality and how difficult I found this from a cultural perspective.
My biggest fear was being rejected by family and close friends. At 19 (way before the Internet arrived) I came out to my sister first (by writing her a letter) and then my mother found out. Both of them said it was a phase but did not reject me. I was lucky. They were both very supportive but it took them at least 20 years to really understand. However, I still felt isolated and just wish I had someone other than family to talk to at the time.
There were times I felt so isolated that I actually believed I was the only Asian gay in the village! These were very dark days and did not know where to turn to. Miraculously, I managed to get the grades needed to get to University as an escape strategy!
University seemed like a good idea, but even there I felt isolated. It was only when I finished University that I spoke to my best Uni mate about my sexuality (during University he would often come out with some very damaging homophobic remarks). He accepted it fine and apologised and went to many gay bars and clubs with me over the next couple of years. But, I still wish there was the right support available to talk to someone.
In my early twenties and after understanding the complexities of the gay scene in Birmingham I still felt isolated culturally. There was usually myself on the Birmingham gay scene in 1996 and I’d only ever see maybe 4 other South Asian men out. It was great I guess for my own ego sometimes to be in the minority and be marveled and constantly chatted up. Questions such as “So where you from?” to which I would politely challenge and reply “Winson Green”, were annoying but sill happen today! Today there still are not many LGBT people from South Asian communities that are out visible on the mainstream Birmingham gay scene and clearly this shows that more added value work needs to be done within all communities to combat prejudice and stigma, and understanding that sexuality is a part of who we are as individuals.
After feeling more socially confident, I soon realized new pressures were emerging. The pressure of getting married terrified me and at the same time I realized I was still struggling to be assertive and move forwards and nearly got married. I’m really happy I had the strength to not get married and finally my mother and family accepted my decision which was very important to me.
I remember my first visit to a sexual health clinic. I was very anxious (I used a false name “Steve Smith” through fear) but I am glad I went and found out more information and this made me rethink and take care of my sexual health. It was important to me my information was safe, secure, private and confidential.
I was around 30 when I decided to give something back to LGBT community and decided to volunteer as a sexual health outreach worker for a men’s health project who worked with ‘men who have sex with men’.
Working for this project allowed me to develop important work such as a social support group for South Asian men, one to one support sesiosns with South Asian Men, investing ideas into Saathi Club Night, which attracts over a 1000 people from South Asian & Middle Eastern communities to Nightingales every month (although surprisingly these numbers are not so visible on the mainstream Birmingham Gay scene). Further to this I also helped run and facilitate a married men’s group for three years, which is now independently run by one of the volunteers, here at the Birmingham LGBT Centre.
We are in exciting times now. Birmingham LGBT in partnership with Umbrella Sexual Health Services now has a dedicated part time Sexual Health Outreach Worker for LGBT South Asian & Middle Eastern communities, with a specific focus on ‘men who have sex with men’ or ‘males who have sex with males’(‘msm’). Regular sexual health testing, information and support, can help reduce some of the stress, anxiety and concerns around your sexual health. We are a friendly non-judgemental team that is diverse and experienced. http://blgbt.org/team/
We are keen to find more LGBT from South Asian & Middle Eastern communities to become volunteers and peer mentors to help shape the support and sexual health services we offer.
We recognise that some LGBT people from South Asian & Middle Eastern communities may not feel comfortable seeking support from a South Asian worker and here at Birmingham LGBT we are proud to offer sexual health support services delivered by a diverse team. We have a Trans worker, a Lesbian and Bi Women’s worker, Black African/Afro-Caribbean worker and three generic ‘msm’ sexual health outreach workers you can talk to. (http://blgbt.org/team/). Did you know we are soon launching a TRANS* clinic and Well Women’s clinic?
We also recognise some people do not identify with acronyms or words such as LGBT, Gay, ‘msm’ due to personal choice, knowledge and experience of another culture and the non-translation of such terms in their first language that is not English. So we work with people who may have attraction to the same sex or both sexes but may not have a definition for this in their own language, where social and sexual behaviour may be considered separate to social and sexual identity.
Men’s Health Week is happening all this week (13th-19th June) and the themed focus is stress. So how do you beat stress? It’s important to recognise that stress is normal and sometimes we find situations difficult to handle.
We are passionate to offer a sexual health service that is barrier free, friendly, culturally appropriate, non-judgemental and confidential. To have a sexual health service that all people can access sexual health and well-being services here at the Birmingham LGBT Centre. We acknowledge Birmingham and Solihull has diverse communities and through the respect of involving and working with and for these communities, promoting equality & diversity through health promotion and empowerment we can help improve the social, sexual and emotional well being for all.
Let’s beat stress together!
Dan Auluk is Sexual Health Outreach Worker for South Asian MSM.
 Our aim is to offer inclusive and intersectional approach to understanding that identities are often complicated and layered. From the recent GIRES report on ‘Inclusivity – Support BAME Trans People’ it is stated, “Our identities include gender, race and faith…but can also include identities around immigration status, class, sexuality and ability. An intersectional approach recognises these multiple identities exist in multiple combinations. This can give us privilege and power, and this can cause us to face oppression. It means being proactive in learning more about people with intersecting identities from the people who face oppression associated with these identities. It means understanding, respecting and celebrating the diversity of our communities, and within organisations it means fair representation and safe spaces for everyone. From this we can examine the oppression and discrimination a person faces, and look at the intersection of oppression, for example, how racism and Transphobia and Islamophobia interact for a Muslim trans person from Bangladesh. Intersectionality encourages solidarity and working together across communities, strengthening our fight against oppression.” http://www.gires.org.uk/assets/Support-Assets/BAME_Inclusivity.pdf