Hafsa: Full Interview
Interviewed by Ross Horsley
31st July 2018
RH: This is Ross Horsley recording for the West Yorkshire Queer Stories project on the 31st of July 2018.
Hi there, would you like to introduce yourself a little bit for us please?
H: Yes sure, my name is Hafsa and I'm 35 years old. [clears throat] I live in Bradford and er, I pronouns she/her. And I'm lesbian, proud lesbian [laughs]. Yep.
RH: So have you always lived in Bradford?
H: Yes, I mean, you know, I'm originally, originally I'm from Pakistan and that was really hard to live there as lesbian and there was - life was really hard for me, really very hard. My family didn't accept me at all and I remember [clears throat]... you know, I know, I always know, like, you know, I was different. I always knew I was different [clears throat]. And first I didn't know, you know... erm, if I, if somebody likes, if a girl likes girls you call them lesbians, I never knew that [chuckles]. So that was, you know, and then... and I never call myself proudly ‘I'm lesbian’ out and loud, because, you know that was kind of, ‘Oh my god! don't say this LGBT thing’, erm, it'll kind of banned.
So, then about 10 years before I came, I have to leave family, I have to, like, you know, because they didn't accept me... because of my sexual orientation. And they were forcing me to get married and that was not acceptable for me; I never imagined myself to be with a man. I don't remember even as a child, when I didn't know about anything about sex, but I never fancied a man, I always attracted towards women. I liked their company, like you know, not as a friend, because like... just their company. If they are, if they're just there. And my family, they was very strict and they [pause] they just... they admitted me in a girl-only school, and then girl-only college [laughs] but they didn't know that was good for me [laughs]! That was really good for me! [laughs] I had best days of my life there! [laughs]
So, anyway, [clears throat] after that they just started pressurising me, ‘oh, get married, get married’, I- no. I mean, you know, I just started making excuses: ‘oh I want to study more’, ‘I want to do… - like the sort of things in my life first - then I'm gonna go for that’. And there was a day came and then they found out and everything just got messed up and I had to leave them. I just, luckily... I'm alive and I'm here, I'm safe and I am myself and when I started coming to EP [Equity Partnership in Bradford], I think five/six years before... I just, I just, you know, when I saw, other ladies, other people like myself, that was amazing to see them, that was absolutely amazing to see them.
And for the first time, I call myself, loudly, ‘oh I am lesbian!’ [chuckles] That was amazing feeling! So, yeah, it's been six years actually, five/six years I'm volunteering with the EP and doing certain things, and trying to contribute to make our community bit better.
RH: So who were the people that you first met, when you first got involved with EP?
H: Oh there was few ladies, lovely ladies. They, er, when I call I remember my friend, she was, she was lesbian, she was Spanish and she was lesbian. She was Hungarian, now she is in Spain. So, she, you know, because, it is something… you know all my friends they... I don't know how they know I am lesbian. I'm no [laughs], I'm not like them. Some reason they know. I never knew how they know, but they know. So, she approached me in town. That's how we met and she, she said erm, I didn't know she was lesbian, so she said "Oh you know are you... erm, are you?" like you know... she just... invited me for coffee or things like that. I said ‘yeah that's fine, I will go’ and then you know, slowly, slowly I found out she [laughs] she is lesbian [laughs] and she said, I already - first I said ‘no I am not’ because I was, you know, when I came here, before EP I was still hiding myself, there was... I would just be hesitant to say. So, she said ‘Are you lesbian?’ I said, ‘No, who said that? I'm not, I never, no.’ ‘Are you sure? My like, you know, my gay radar can't lie’ [laughs]. I said, ‘alright okay’ I mean you know slowly, slowly when she said yeah, yeah I am out, she was so proud lesbian, oh my god. She used to talk about women like, you know, on bus, bus stops and on bus even. We used to travel on public busses and they were like talking, I said... just, just, just like you know ‘just be slow just don't be too loud’. And she was like ‘Oh you know Hafsa, you just, you know, you don't know anything’ and things like that and you know ‘I'm not bothered about people; they can think whatever they want to think’ and that was quite new thing for me.
Anyway she... then we found out about EP. We found out about EP together. She said, ‘call them’. I said ‘no I'm not gonna [chuckles] call them’. ‘Call them and you know ask about the groups and events. And tell them you are lesbian’. I said, ‘how I'm gonna say that?’ ‘Just, call them’. She just you know erm, dialled number EP's number and gave you know mobile to me as in I talk to them. I was like ‘Hello err, I'm Hafsa and um, I'm lesbian’. ‘Oh good to know!’ [laughs]. The lady [laughs] who picked up the phone ‘Oh good to know, how can I help you?’ [laughs]. That was very funny but now I laugh on that, but that was, you know, at the time I was so like, you know, that was a big thing for me and saying out and loud.
Anyway I found out about groups and started coming and er, I met a few really wonderful ladies. The staff was amazing. Very cooperative, very welcoming. And then slowly I just started because I don't have any friends outside EP. I socialise with people who are members of EP and, you know, I know loads of people in MESMAC. Imaan as well, so I am friends with all of these people, I feel comfortable around them because erm the way I dress up, it is somehow, it is not really... erm, the, the ladies in my community they don't dress like that, so when I socialise with them, I feel uncomfortable. Maybe they are fine, maybe it is just my, my like, you know, something in my mind, but I feel really uncomfortable. And tha- they look like, you know, look at me and maybe they are, they feel like awkward as well.
So [clears throat] I feel very comfortable around LGBT people [clears throat] then I, you know, I started coming here. Um getting involved in the groups more and more and then, you know, the - I remember then when I started there was uh no a women group really... BME women's group really, so there was a men’s, BME men's group. The guy, he invited me to men's group and they were all Pakistanis and I was like [unclear] [laughs] they are funny guys, lovely funny guys, I'm, I'm still friends with them. And erm [clears throat] they welcomed me with open heart.
And slowly like, you know, something happened the group closed down, the men's group, and then I just you know asked the manager of EP, I said, you know, ‘can I reopen the group?’ because I know I have been the part of the group and I know that was a much-needed group. Erm, the guys they, there was a safe space for them. So she said ‘yeah go ahead’.
And the women, I just reopened and then slowly after two three months I found another [?] guy who was willing to volunteer so we did together about three years. Then when you know a group started looking after itself and the guy was fine, you know, doing himself, so I said ‘you know it's fine’, because I want to involve in erm, women group more now.
And that was quite interesting and I learned a lots from that experience because before that I only knew the needs of lesbians. Then when I got involved with men’s group I know their needs as well. I know how society treat them. And I know, you know, where they have b - advantages over women, BME women. Because they were, few of them, they were um, married, but, you know, they were leading another life as well. But for women it's not possible. BME women, it's absolutely not possible. Once they are married, they are gone. Uhm, that's not possible for them to lead the double life.
And er, I learned lots of things, and the good thing was er, BME men's group there was bit tricky group as well... um... so there was no conflict of interest between me and them. I never, obviously I never bothered if they are dating with any good-looking guy [laughs] and if, if, if, you know, any of my girlfriend or my partner or my like, you know, any, any girl, women, female friend is visiting me in the group, if she is good-looking, beautiful, they were never bothered about that [laughs]. So that was a quite good working relationship with them. So there was absolutely no conflict of interest, there was 100% professional, [pauses] professional relationship with them... that's the right word... so that was very good, really good.
And I tried to help them; uhm I arranged a few sessions with Christine Blessing from MESMAC erm, mindful sessions for them and some other activities, like, you know, to involve them and to make them like, you know, a bit more productive and healthy activities. Not like you know just go sitting and gossiping and talking about the [laughs] they're like, you know, the guys they fancy [laughs]. So I just tried to er, do this, and that was quite successful.
We arranged quite like, you know, good uhm, parties: Eid parties and Christmas parties and er, like you know Black History Month's party, LGBT History Month party we arranged quite - like, you know, they like parties [laughs]; they love parties! So, there is no possibility if uh like, you know, any festival is coming and there is no party. They start asking two months before [laughs].
RH: Do you have many people who come here who are perhaps not out to anybody?
H: Loads. Especially BME community yes, loads. There are loads of guys and women in particular. Women in particular. They are not out at all in front of families and friends. And uh well somehow, because obviously in BME, like, you know, the community I'm from... maximum 22, 23 years old, you know... you are engaged... at least. Or in many cases they are married. So after that age when families are putting pressure on you on the - like obviously ladies so... maybe sister or cousin… somebody start guessing about something is like. you know,... something is different, erm, so they just, they are loa - there are few who just tell their, their closest family member. But not to parents. And in some cases parents sometimes they know, they have idea, but never communicate about that. It is like, you know, a silent contract or agreement between them: never talk about - and this is the same case with guys as well. It is not only women, there's guys as well.
And erm, [clears throat], they are- ... I still I cannot forget one, er, one guy and I still feel really... sorry?... sad about him. This guy, very feminine. Lovely guy and er, he used to have long hair, beautiful long hairs. So obviously, you know, there is no like, er he - when he gonna tell you he is gay then you gonna know. No, you straight away you know he is a gay guy. Anyway family er, put him under forced marriage, he got married and he had, er, a - a baby girl and all taxi drivers and everybody in the street used to bully him. Erm, because, you know because of his like, you know, the way he was [clears throat]. He was a lovely guy. And because of all these things now if you see him, he has - he has no long hair any more, very short hair. But he has habit to do like, you know, when you do with long hair when you will talk to him. He always give the like, you know, er, the – his - the motion of his hands like, you know, he has got long hair and you feel - he is not when you talk to him you can tell he needs serious kind of help, just because of this. Just because family pull him in this situation.
And I just do not understand. He is your child. Whether like, you know, women they are your - they're your - their child as well. But you know why you just put them in that difficult situation... then the point comes when they start hating their lives. They start, they try to, you know, suicide, commit suicide. They start taking drugs. They start taking alcohol. Night outs. Parties. Their life is never normal after that. If you accept them, I feel erm, because, you know, when I - when I came to this country I was err, I was, I was hiding, I wasn't confident enough, I was erm, I was completely in a really bad state [clears throat]... and then I found certain people in my life that I didn't go, err, for like, you know, [unclear] towards drugs or alcohol. I just, you know, I just pull myself together. I got myself back slowly, slowly I am getting myself back. And I have got myself back and I am blessed with those people; they helped me a lot, EP and Christine in particular, she is lovely, I love to her - I love her really to bits. Erm, she contributed big-time in my life and... erm, EP everybody in EP like, you know, the staff and er members, they have been lovely.
And slowly, like, you know, I- this is my- like I am here without my family; they are my family you know. LGBT community is my family and I - when I see erm, youth, who are... erm... who are – like, you know... erm... [clears throat]... in, in drugs, alcohol... erm... like you know night parties, clubs and things like that and during the day when you see them they look miserable. If society, mainstream society - including their families... uhm... parents - if they accept them they could be so different people!
I mean, you know, once you say ‘oh LGBT community’, when LGBT community comes in the mind, society thinks er, drugs, excessive sex, er, alcohol and night parties and all- like you know... different, different get up... but on the same side you know you are not accepting them. You need to accept them, as human being; if you are giving them like jobs or anything, they shouldn't be any questions, what's your sexuality? Nobody ask straight people what's your sexuality? before giving any job. If you accept them, include them in mainstream society, everything is fine. Everything is absolutely - and this is my personal experience, my perception and observation that, you know, if we erm, if we - if our like, you know, society and their family in particular they accept them as human being, as their child and they love them, er, unconditionally, they could be so different, they could be so useful.
They, I feel - there was a point when I - I had a really strong urge to start taking drugs because I just wanted to forget everything [clear throat]. And I'm glad that I didn't go for that. But uh, basically when, you know, if you, er, if you talk to er, LGBT community youth and you know people who are in the really serious mental health problems, issues... they go for alcohol and drugs because they want to forget. They want to be accepted. They started blaming themselves for everything, they lose self-esteem, self-respect, erm, they just think they are just losers, useless, and this is all because, you know, they, when they, when they lost the, the important aspect, part of their life, like, you know, parents and family, obviously you just, you just lose a big part of yourself... and this is absolutely horrible thing, I can imagine that.
So yeah. Er, yeah I mean now like you know this is, this is my experience working with guys. Before that I had no idea about bisexuals [clears throat]. That's very interesting because you know I knew erm there are guys who like guys... and er women who like women like myself, but I was like, you know, er, I never knew there are people who like men and women both.
RH: Have you met people like that?
H: Yes, I do. I did actually and they are amazing people. Again, it is, they are really, and I just learned loads about them. Er, about their needs and er - whilst my learning I accept every single person for who they are. Doesn't matter who they are. I just accept them [clears throat]; I respect them for their identities, for their sexualities, for their gender. And er, I just love them. And the, you know, if somebody, I just see them as a human being, as person, as a human being. If they are respectful, if they are useful, if they are productive, what else you need? [laughs]
RH: I think that's a lovely note to end the interview on, thank you very, very much for that Hafsa.