Rehearsing entire conversations in the shower, dousing yourself in a bottle of Fantasy by Britney Spears and screaming you have nothing to wear whilst standing in a mound of tops, are perhaps part and parcel of experiencing your first crush. We spoke to Osman, a volunteer for the LGBTQIA+ and Muslim charity Hidayah, on what it means to fall in love for the first time as a religious and gay Pakistani man in Britain today.
It’s an exciting time, even if it is a bit of a minefield to navigate (here’s looking at you pre-date pimples) and, with same-sex relationships and consent being introduced in English sex education for the first time this September, progress is being made to help understand these emotions, even if it is long overdue.
The freedom to choose who you love, and how you love, has always been at the heart of the LGBTQIA+ community, and so, championing the diversity of the people within it, is also important.
Whilst Pride has been cancelled this year, stories of a first crush, particularly as a black or ethnic minority (BAME) person are still as important as ever to be heard, particularly as they are more likely to feel fetishized and experience sexual racism both online and in real life.
Osman remembers his first crush fondly. “I was 16 and found my physics teacher, Mr Fleming, incredibly attractive, which was useful considering I was awful at the subject. I went from the lowest class to advanced in one year because of him,” he says.
For Osman, who grew up in a conservative South Asian family, casual dating, or anything but marriage, wasn’t open for discussion. He says that it was his teacher’s open-mindedness that he found appealing.
“He was white but took such an interest in being culturally aware. Other teachers did their job and went home, but he would ask the students about Ramadan, Mecca, Eid…it was refreshing”.
Following his miraculous progression in Physics, he recalls being invited to a BBQ in his teacher’s garden. Covered in cologne and donning his best shirt, “this was my moment,” he says.
“I wanted to give him a party gift, but what is a Pakistani boy supposed to bring for a BBQ?
I ended up bringing a pack of digestives and some gum, in case we kissed"
But it wasn’t to be. Walking through the garden gate, he explains how a “beautiful and heavily pregnant woman” greeted him. “For 10 minutes, this lady, who I now realised was his wife, was complimenting me on how smart and dolled up I was looking. On my walk home, I passed about three couples. It was pretty tragic, to say the least!” he laughs.
Nearly 20 years on, despite prejudices in his family keeping Osman’s sexual orientation hidden, he is involved in LGBTQA+ activism and charity, where he met his current partner, Stewart, at an anti-Trump rally.
“Stewart was shouting some anti-hate mantras and I thought, wow, that is one hot, powerful and emotional guy! I went to introduce myself and the first thing he said to me was how brave he thought I was, that a man who wasn’t out had made an effort to say hi to him,” he says.
Only half of lesbian, gay, trans and bi people in a faith community, say they feel able to be open about their sexual orientation or gender identity to everyone in their family. Sitting in his car outside his family home to speak to me on the phone, Osman is part of the other 50% whose authentic self, stays invisible.
“I have met all of Stewart’s family, who have been warm and welcoming, but I can’t do the same and invite him round to my home. I couldn’t be in the room to see my parents’ disappointing looks when I introduced him, and out myself,” he explains.
The UK’s first-ever Muslim pride was due to be held this April, representing a community who still feel the burden of generational homophobia and stigma, but Osman says that there is still hope.
“If I could give advice to my younger self crushing for the first time, it would be to embrace the awkwardness of being religious or BAME, to enjoy the fun of making mistakes and do what makes you happy, not what appeases a society who may not understand you”.
Osman was interviewed by
She / Her | London | Journalist
Ilana Rose is a lover of all things feminist and 70s. Educated in journalism at City, University of London. Keen to explore gender, sexuality and ethnicity in writing and photography. When not hunched over a notepad, Ilana is a self-proclaimed Olympic eater, on the hunt for ethical comfort food on her Instagram, @Larnie’s London.