Sonalle Exhibition – Ethnic Minorities Coming Out

“I was really into reading a lot and art and different writers. A lot of the artists I was interested in were gay or were probably gay if you are talking about the older artists, reading about them and reading about what they had to say about it, kind of made it less frightening; the idea of thinking of yourself as gay and it kind of made me want to acknowledge it in myself, and then to tell other people and to tell my family.  I was really afraid of what my family's reaction would be. You know, just growing up you hear family generally saying things. If something gay comes on TV, someone would say something a bit discouraging. So I kind of thought that they would be quite negative about it. When I was 16, I wanted to tell my family. I would drop little hints and not necessarily get the reactions I wanted. I always found it easier to write about personal things, so I decided to write my mum a letter and put it in her bag one morning when she was going to work. I said that I was gay and I wanted her to be ok about it. I think I said I feel like it's a good thing, not anything I want to be ashamed of or want to hide. When she came home she gave me a big hug. She was really positive about it. Then she told my dad. I think for a little while, I didn't talk to my dad as much as I had done. But very quickly they were both really supportive.”

“I was really into reading a lot and art and different writers. A lot of the artists I was interested in were gay or were probably gay if you are talking about the older artists, reading about them and reading about what they had to say about it, kind of made it less frightening; the idea of thinking of yourself as gay and it kind of made me want to acknowledge it in myself, and then to tell other people and to tell my family. I was really afraid of what my family's reaction would be. You know, just growing up you hear family generally saying things. If something gay comes on TV, someone would say something a bit discouraging. So I kind of thought that they would be quite negative about it. When I was 16, I wanted to tell my family. I would drop little hints and not necessarily get the reactions I wanted. I always found it easier to write about personal things, so I decided to write my mum a letter and put it in her bag one morning when she was going to work. I said that I was gay and I wanted her to be ok about it. I think I said I feel like it's a good thing, not anything I want to be ashamed of or want to hide. When she came home she gave me a big hug. She was really positive about it. Then she told my dad. I think for a little while, I didn't talk to my dad as much as I had done. But very quickly they were both really supportive.”

As an Indian British-born female, I am aware of the difficulties of coming out in ethnic minority societies. Family members and friends often suffer due to their own narrow-mindedness and this leads to hurting or rejecting the person coming out. Education and increasing awareness can help develop more openness and understanding whilst reducing internal conflicts.

Representational portraits of ethnic minority lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals are combined with text transcribed from interviews describing their coming out process. Subjects are at different stages of the coming out process; some have already come out, some are in the process of coming out and some are thinking about coming out. The individuals photographed are from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds. Some subjects requested full anonymity so powerful photos had to be taken whilst hiding their identity. They were asked to choose an expressive part of the body, which was then photographed, experimenting with the natural light available. Digital media was used to allow the subjects to see the photos immediately. This
helped them trust the photographer and allowed for them to criticise and choose the images for the exhibition.

This exhibition will:

1. provide people of ethnic minority who are unsure of their sexuality, experiences to relate to, which
could also increase their self-esteem.

2. increase the public’s understanding of ethnic minority non-heterosexuals

3. increase the understanding of the heterosexual ethnic minority people by giving them an insight of the difficulties of sexuality

4. allow people who may not be familiar with documentary photography to experience the work by exhibiting the images in public spaces.

For further information contact Sonalle at

www.sonalle.com

www.twitter.com/sonalle
www.sonalle.wordpress.com

Sonalle20090005021

told my mum two months ago on the phone. She was quiet for five minutes and then she changed the subject. I came to England six years ago because one of my friends told my family that I am lesbian. I left my country because my family needed to clear that shame; being lesbian in Palestine is not easy. (If I stayed) they would kill me. This is our culture and religion as well. You can't be lesbian. The normal thing is to be with a man, straight, make family and have children. Anything else is not normal. If my family didn't do anything, there is Hamas; where they can kill you for no reason. If you don’t practise the religion or are lesbian, they can kill you and no one will ask.”

Sonalle20090005020

“I told my mum when I was 18. I'd gone on the 6th form dance. On the same evening, it was club night at “The Club”. So I shot up to the gay club in Bristol. My mum would ring home at midnight and so I had to get home for 11.55, just in time for the phone call from my mum. The next morning, my mum wanted to know, “What had you been doing at the Clifton?” My mum was a nurse so I used very technical terms, “Mother, I'm a homosexual.” She sat down on her bed, took out her cigarettes and promptly smoked 10 non-stop. She said, “How do you know? Which old man touched you up?” I said, “No one touched me up. This is how and what I've been ever since I was 13.” She didn't kick me out...she didn't say anything really. I went to school and I was still there at 21. Then I left and came to London. My brother and I were born in the 1950's so we were the first generation of Caribbean kids born in the country. They had this; “Yeah, we are men. We are macho. We are strong.” attitude. My brother played football in the playground and I played the violin. I returned home from school in the same pristine state as when I left at 8 in the morning whereas my brother had torn trousers and scuffed shoes. I didn't let it bother me because I was strong enough to know who and where and what I was. My mum knew; she was my rock, she was my strength. The only other family I've got is my twin brother. He didn't like it very much, so we've not had that much contact. You have two families in the world; one you're born into and one you choose to have around you. My mums always been there and my brother hasn't. But it's his loss. “

“It didn't feel wrong or bad until my family tried to tell me that it was wrong and bad. Kids at school who are calling each other names and saying, “Urgh, you are a lesbian! Urgh, you are a dyke!” It was all playful. It was cool; a new swearword. But afterwards, when I realised that it actually means me, which was quite a shock. I was dealing with quite a lot of stuff and my sexuality was at the forefront. My dad was giving me a driving lesson. He was trying to make me reverse park into a tight space and I just couldn't do it, so I gave up. My dad started shouting, “What is the matter with you?” I started crying. I told him that I'm bisexual. I'm gay but I thought it was going to be an easier blow for him. It was just too scary to tell him I'm gay straight away. He said, “Don't worry, it's just a phase. I've read about it in parenting magazines.” I was quite relieved that I had done it and that he was ok about it.  I wasn't feeling too good about myself and I was down all the time. I started self harming. Mum came into my room and she said, “What's the matter with you? I try to make you happy but you are always so miserable. Why can't you be like your cousins?” I said, “Mum, I like girls.” She looked really confused. She's a proper Asian housewife. She just couldn't understand it. I said it again, “I love girls.” She looked at me as if she was about to throw up. I'll never forget that face that she made. It's really painful when I think about it. She looked really scared, disgusted and confused.”

“It didn't feel wrong or bad until my family tried to tell me that it was wrong and bad. Kids at school who are calling each other names and saying, “Urgh, you are a lesbian! Urgh, you are a dyke!” It was all playful. It was cool; a new swearword. But afterwards, when I realised that it actually means me, which was quite a shock. I was dealing with quite a lot of stuff and my sexuality was at the forefront. My dad was giving me a driving lesson. He was trying to make me reverse park into a tight space and I just couldn't do it, so I gave up. My dad started shouting, “What is the matter with you?” I started crying. I told him that I'm bisexual. I'm gay but I thought it was going to be an easier blow for him. It was just too scary to tell him I'm gay straight away. He said, “Don't worry, it's just a phase. I've read about it in parenting magazines.” I was quite relieved that I had done it and that he was ok about it. I wasn't feeling too good about myself and I was down all the time. I started self harming. Mum came into my room and she said, “What's the matter with you? I try to make you happy but you are always so miserable. Why can't you be like your cousins?” I said, “Mum, I like girls.” She looked really confused. She's a proper Asian housewife. She just couldn't understand it. I said it again, “I love girls.” She looked at me as if she was about to throw up. I'll never forget that face that she made. It's really painful when I think about it. She looked really scared, disgusted and confused.”

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