PRIDE 2020: Coming Out Late in Life and the Most Frequently Asked Questions

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“I had no idea you were gay”, is something I am often told by my heteronormative friends; after navigating this terrain for over 8 year now, I know that there is no one “type of gay” – and neither is this meant as a compliment/rebuff; it is, what it is. At first glance, most people think I am from India (and don’t know where Bangladesh is), similarly, they may have a stereotype of a gay person they have seen on TV.

In a heteronormative world, it is automatically assumed you are straight, unless you do something different – or “look”/dress differently than the norm. Since I have two grown children, this also confuses many about my orientation.

On PRIDE 2020, I am telling you my story of coming out, over 8 years, in a series of questions that are most frequently asked of me as this conversation typically unfolds.

When did you know you were gay?

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My first exposure to homosexuality was from a TIME magazine cover on Homosexuality in 1979 and I was 12 years old; I am confident that I had a crush on a friend that I couldn’t explain to myself; growing up in Bangladesh, as a teenager, there was no context of being gay. There were no role models, tv shows, or even books to read/understand the concept. I kept telling myself, it’s wrong – and something was wrong with me. After years of soul searching, and therapy, I realize that this denial of one’s sexuality, is quite common in my generation of young people, male and female, everywhere in the world.

To compound my confusion, at a very early age of five or six, I was sexually abused by a temporary chauffer for my family; I never told my parents because, I was simply ashamed and thought something was wrong with me. This early childhood trauma kept playing tricks on my psyche by denying my sexuality; I kept telling myself that my attraction towards men was due to that incidence and I would grow out of it! Again, after years of therapy, I learned to shift the blame away from myself; I have learned and accepted that this is not something I caused, and I didn’t have the tools to protect myself or complain about it. And most importantly, this incidence, has nothing to do with me being gay.

How did your family take it when they learned you were gay?

One of my biggest regrets is not having the chance to come out to my mother who already knew I was gay; she talked to others about this, but never directly asked me. I am certain, she knew at an early age, I was gay. I used to play with dolls, dress up in sarees and once, in second grade, I played a female role in a play. Since she was a child psychologist by training, my mother never discouraged my desires and gave me freedom of expression. However, she also never directly enquired about my sexual identity and accepted the projection of “straightness” presented to her in my 20s and 30’s.

My father, was cooler to my early childhood behaviors; I remember, once he came home from work and yelled at our nanny for dressing me up as a girl; this very early childhood trauma scared me about behaving a certain way, to gain his acceptance. I was not athletic as a child and leaned towards art and music; I don’t think my father knew how to be an accepting Dad to a “different” child like me. He was the academic Dad who taught me mathematics (in a fun way) but he never took me out to play sports with him or actively trained me on tools, fishing or some sort of trade. He accidentally passed away when I was eighteen, and we never had a chance to connect on these issues.

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My sister, Shania and I go to our first ever PRIDE in Boston (2017)

I am very lucky to have a loving, caring and broad-minded sister; her family, my brother-in-law and my nephew, have been accepting of me from the day I told her, over text, that I am gay. She has always been supportive of my choices and came with me to my first PRIDE parade in Boston.

I have Aunts, Uncles and cousins who have also openly supported my decision to come out and live my own authentic and safe life. Most have told me that it makes no difference to them. A handful have used religion to try and create confusion; I have  disconnected from them.

The conundrum of a gay person often is, we have to come out every day to the people we meet. It’s relentless and burdensome. With so much media attention to gay issues, I am a bit fatigued in educating people about the ways of the world.

How did your children accept it?

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Daiyaan comes to a gay bar with me the first time (2018)

My children have been by number one supporters, since I came out. My older daughter, who was sixteen at that time, found out inadvertently. She left me a message on my voicemail that she loved me and needed a few days to process the information. After a couple of days, we sat down had an open discussion. She had specific questions about when I knew that I was gay and about my relationship to her mother. Since then, she has fully embraced my life, and we often talk about gay issues and politics. Many years ago, I remember refusing to buy from Chick-Fil-A, a fast food chain in the US, since they heavily contribute to anti-gay issues; at first, she didn’t understand my hesitation; over time she has learned to appreciate the pain and anger that we feel over corporations (or individuals) who use their financial might to suppress something that’s natural and/or use religion as a shield to discriminate against one group or other.

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Shania and I at our first PRIDE in Boston (2017)

My younger daughter was only six or seven years when I came out; she grew up with a gay dad and has been one of the staunchest supporters of PRIDE and gay causes. In 2017 when I escaped Boston during PRIDE, she went to the parade with her friends in support of me!

Why did you get married if you knew you are gay?

I fell in love with my wife in 1993 at our first meeting in Toledo, OH, over a cup of coffee. We talked for hours over phone and had a life time of common roots to get started in our relationship. We fought with our families to get married quickly (after 9 months of long-distance dating) and moved in together. I believed I had “cured” myself of my desires for men and loved my wife and family during our fifteen beautiful years together.

We had two amazing kids, lived in 5 states and seven homes, and I still believe, we loved each other. Not every fairy tale has a happy ending; in 2011, our marriage was afflicted by her depression and bi-polar disorder which led her to ask me for a divorce in 2011. I was shocked and saddened by this and resisted divorce for over 12 months and went for individual and couples counselling. In May of 2013, when my life was in danger and my children’s safety was in serious jeopardy, I consented to divorce and decided to move forward with my life.

Once, I consented to divorce, I went for therapy over two years, before I accepted my own sexuality and came out to my friends and family. It took me another 3 years, before I came out at work.

What has surprised you the most, about coming out?

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Shania posing with a Rainbow Crossing in Seattle (2017)

I am most impressed by the love and support of my family over the years of this journey of self-discovery.

There were at least twice, during my early years of therapy, that I wanted to go back into the closet; I was confused and perplexed by the complexity of this ‘new’ gay world and rejection; I had never felt this lonely in my entire life. Over time and lots of therapy, I visualized a world I could feel safe and build a community where I would be accepted for who I am. I have now met amazing gay and straight allies who have known me over the years. I have remained close to most of my childhood friends; we get together often at weddings-anniversaries- birthdays!

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Ten of my childhood friends from 4 states and Canada came to celebrate my Birthday this year with me!

Had someone told the scared Zain, some seven years ago, that one day his own confident self would autobiographically describe his coming out story, as a gay-out-Bangladeshi-single dad, I may not have believed!

What is your message to others as they may consider coming out?

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Therapy Saved My Life

Coming out is an entirely personal journey and there is no one perfect way to do so! It is your choice and no one can judge you on your journey. And, there is no perfect time for coming out.

Ultimately, it is about happiness, expression and being true to yourself.
From experience, I can say that,  the energy required to hide and “shadow” yourself every day, can be put to so much better use once you are free of these games. When you are free to be yourself, the joy is better than anything you have experienced.

What is your message to your straight allies?

Today, everyone has a gay friend, cousin, sibling, or a child. By respecting and celebrating them, you create a world of acceptance that is the most innate of human desire. I invite you to reject derogatory terms, such as, “gay lifestyle”:  a lifestyle is something one chooses; or saying, “that’s so gay”, really, in today’s world?

I once had a straight friend (of 40 years) refuse to hug me because he thought I would be attracted to him, if we hugged! Let me assure my straight friends, just like you are not attracted to everyone of the opposite sex, gays are not attracted to everyone of the same sex!

On PRIDE 2020, and every June going forward,   I am inviting my straight friends and family to deliberately wish their gay friends and family a Happy PRIDE (maybe, with a rainbow emoji)! This small gesture, costs you nothing; very similar to a Merry Christmas, Happy Diwali/Eid/Easter/Hanukkah greeting.

To a gay man or woman, this may be an affirmation that you respect them and celebrate their differences. This gives them a sense of belonging, and not being the “other” in this dynamic equation called life.

Sand on the Soles of my Shoes: July 21 2019

We watch this amazing Atlantic sunrise this morning. The breeze is perfect. Florida has beautiful summers.

As we wash our feet at the beachside shower, I notice sand stuck on my feet; I do my best to rinse my feet. As I enter my Q5, the freshly shampooed carpets import a dusting of that sand.

I have a feeling, it will irk me when, the next day, that sand attaches itself so callously to my shoes, with some sort of a romantic vision of changing Italian leather.

Like a small blemish, on perfect skin.

Deep Breath.

It’s all in my twisted thinking.

My daughters openly protest my OCD habits of cleanliness and organization. When I unload the dishwasher, the glasses need to be lined up in a particular manner. And absolutely no transparent objects (like drinking water glasses) can be in the same area with translucent (ceramic coffee) cups or bowls!

For years, I have told myself that things “out of place”, give me anxiety and I don’t correct it. I try not to modulate this expectation and just surrender. In this constantly changing and chaotic world, I organize, whatever I can organize.

This morning though, after sharing that magnificent ocean sunrise with Shania, I look at that sand and encourage my mind to think a little differently; I ask myself how often, and how many people get to do what I do? How often do they soothe their souls with the lapping of waves on their feet. How often do they get to sip their favorite latte, while listening to their favorite tunes, with someone they love! Today is a special day in my life.

I need to let the sand linger on my feet, for as long as I can.

When tomorrow that hard pair of dress shoes pick up some of that sand, its actually a good thing! It’s a reminder of a softer time in my life, when there was a perfect moment of alignment.

I want more blemishes like this on my skin.

Love the beach with my Shania

Everything Will Change In A Year: April 20, 2019

I saw a quote this morning that made me think: “Look around you, and enjoy, be grateful; in a year, everything will be different.”

Last Weekend, April 13, A beautiful day in Ogunquit, ME

As I look back a year, with or without the help of social media, so many things have changed, for me. Especially, in the lives of my children. But also, in my own life.

Last Spring, I was a pensive from the roller-coaster feeling from my constantly changing role at work; I was also in pendulum motion, from my home that I love, in Florida, to the cold of Boston. I had a feeling that this Boston chapter of my life, has to come to a close soon. And, by Fall, my role ended; allowing me to seek what I have wanted all along.

This Spring, I am ready to move to Florida, permanently.

Some things have become more certain, and other, more dispensable things, people or feelings, have dissipated. There is no lingering nostalgia about losing these feelings, which didn’t serve me.

My children have made tremendous strides in a year.

After a re-defining 2018, Daiyaan graduated college in 2018 and found her professional footing, bought her “dream” Jeep (that she has named Natasha, after the singer Natasha Bedingfeld) and now wants to buy her first home this Summer/Fall. She is starting to put down her own roots, in a place she loves. She has chosen a healthy lifestyle of balance. She took her first ever solo trip, and conquered Puerto Rico; she has grown up.

Last Spring, Shania, competed to become her Middle School Vice President and won! She has switched from softball to golf and today, loves basketball as her main school sports; instead of acting in plays, now she is co-directing, for the second year, a school play! She was accepted to attend the prestigious Dana Hall school in Wellesley, MA, but instead, is heading to be with family and joining the pre-law program at her new choice school in Florida.

As their lives unfold, and I see these two beautiful women take their next steps, I enjoy listening to their musings, and life interactions. The new friends they make, and the relationships those fray over time. I tell them my stories, from that particular time in my life that maybe relevant to their experience.

Even though I was raised as a teenager in a different continent, in a completely different era, with no electronic gadgets, or Google, to help answer my questions, the struggles of all awkward teenagers, or young people defining their dreams, are still the same.

Whether you are 13, 23 or 52, Constantly, we search for belonging, love and certainty; it’s tough to accept that none of these feelings are constant, and just to maintain an equilibrium, is a lot of work!

This morning, five of my close friends (same age group), are in deep pain: one from a broken hip (from a fall), another from domestic abuse, and one more, with cancer. Two of my best childhood friends lost their mothers in the last weeks – I knew these loving moms – I have eaten meals with them at their dining tables; having lost my own mom a few years ago, I know that big hole in their hearts are not healing soon.

I pray that my friends have the courage and support to bear the pain they are feeling today. When you experience pain, the depth, the excruciating nature of it, numbs us. There is nothing anyone can say or do, to make you feel differently.

Like last year, I know with certainty, this year, there will be those moments of joy, and sadness. You know there will be a Spring of hope, and the still of Summer.

I know, that whatever incremental, or disruptive changes we are experiencing, pain or happiness, it too shall pass.

It fatigues me to think that, the pain and frustration of the political turmoil we experience today in the US (and resultantly, the world) will only sharpen in the next twelve months.

In my adult life, I have seen and experienced progress, and I don’t give up hope, but I choose to take a long view on history. While things are not perfect, I see progress in health, well-being and innumerable sources of joy.

This weekend, in my little microcosm, I am again, taking a good look at everything and everyone around me.

Acknowledging and accepting that change is continuous and constant – I will do my best to appreciate all those gifts that I have in my life today. I am grateful to the Universe for the love, beauty, health and contentment that I am experiencing today.

I know, everything will change in a year.

Hanging out with Daiyaan and Shania @Portsmouth, NH

An Extra Day in Paradise : August 2018

Inspired by a movie she had seen, for her thirteenth birthday, Shania asked to go to Hawaii; we have been to there a couple of times ~ ten years ago but she was only a couple of years old, with no discernible memory. With frequent flier miles, I booked a late August trip to Maui. This would be our end of the summer 2018 father-daughter trip – as much of a gift for me – as to her!

I lost my father when I was eighteen; I have memories with him on our birthdays, and day-to-day life, him telling me about what I should my college major should be – more of the transactional stuff. One of my regrets is not having enough “happy memories” with him or, “care-free” time, where we experienced joy, together.

I decided, early on, I wouldn’t wait for these “happiness moments” to just show up! Instead, co-create, with my own children, amazing memories of joy.  One day, they can look back to their childhood and adult times, and be able to say, we had some amazing times together!

We are fortunate to be born (or have migrated) to the only country in the world, where the Pursuit of Happiness is a constitutional right. Just like anything else, In addition to providing a loving and caring home, we have the responsibility to show our children that happiness is attainable by design. It may require hard work (funding), and some planning – but happiness doesn’t (have to) accidentally show up at our doorstep – we can go searching for it and attain it. By doing so, we leave our children experiences of joy – this way, later in life, they can go searching for, or designing their own happiness.

Happiness: Hanging in the pool

To do this, first, you need to know what makes you happy in the first place; a day kayaking on calm waters? Cooking an amazing meal together, a library full of books, hunting for food-trucks, or some dare-devil adventure somewhere! Each of us have different expectation and certain things fill us with joy (and others with anxiety)!

Once we understand and accept your own source of happines, you can be a lot more deliberate about creating opportunities to do more of that and and deliberately plan “memory making” in your life.

If we don’t plan for happiness, life, and especially work, consumes most of our time!

Hawaii, is an ideal place to go searching for and creating amazing memories! We planned eight days in the island of Maui; amazing tropical setting, sunsets, blue skies, sparkling clear seas, marine and botanical examples, amongst a super-kind, warm, easy-going and hospitable people.

Having traveled ~ 14 hours, we arrived at the hotel with fresh juice and a traditional welcome garland; within minutes, we were enjoying the infinity pool overlooking the blue ocean and ordering lunch/cocktails. Late afternoon, we took a nap and set out to enjoy Kihei and watching one of those magical Hawaiian sunsets.

Amazing sunset the day before we left

Over the next 7 days, we went biking down from Haleakala volcano, experienced seven micro-climates in a matter of 3 hours, parasailed off Kahaina, snorkeled off the natural island of Mahana. On the way back from our snorkeling trip, we met a family of dophins and large sea turtles. We collected matching souvenir t-shirts, went searching for fresh coconut water, looking for island sushi, sashimi and poke bowls.

Island Food Truck Breakfast!
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Parasailing off Lahaina

Shania marveled at Jeeps on the resout; so I surprised her with a jeep rental for a day, which she kept hugging; later, we took the treacherously winding northern track of the island which becomes a one-way road for about 20 miles – which means at times you have to back up for the incoming traffic to pass – while looking down at scary elevations at the same time! Shania said this was one of the scariest “roller coaster” rides she had ever taken. On this journey, we stopped and checked out waterfalls, bamboo forests, local artists galleries and amazingly spectacular vista, complete with ocean blow-outs, rocks, flowers the crashing waves.

Shania hugging our Jeep Wrangler for the day!
Fake Shark Photo!

Towards the end of this day, Shania told me that Maui would definitely be a choice for her honeymoon one day!

On the sixth day of our trip, as were ordering breakfast at the Kihei Café and someone mentioned a Category 5 hurricane with over 150 miles/hour wind barreling towards us and would arrive in two days. Anxiously, I called the airlines to see if we could change our tickets and get out of the island so that we don’t get stranded. Everything was booked solid and we had no practical way out.

Over the next two days the forecast for the storm fluctuated from “nothing” to “devastating.” Shania looked at me to see if I was worried or anxious. We discussed what are possible outcomes of the storm. What’s the worst that could happen – that we get stuck here for a couple of extra days – is it all the bad? We were in a safe hotel, with built-in power generators, ocean front views from our balcony, of a once in a 20 year event, on Paradise.

I guess it’s worth learning that happiness may have a darker side!

Over the next 48 hours, the storm did brace the neighboring Big Island with ferocious winds – however, left Maui – specially Wailea – untouched. We got some rain – but not even the monsoons of Florida – just a continuous drizzle for about an hour at time. We took long walks by the ocean every day, dined at the neighboring  restaurants, spent quite a bit of time at the pool, watched Netflix and took long naps! Our original flight back home was canceled, and we spent an extra night at the resort and traveled back a different route. All along the way, the resort and the airline staff were impeccable and helpful in providing us information and helping calm our fears.

Today, as I look back at the pictures of those 9 amazing days, I believe, we have successfully created what we set out for, complete with a (unplanned) storm surge and canceled flights. We have experienced joy, anxiety, adventure, confusion, and a little bit of discomfort – the microcosmic cycle of life – all in one big gulp.

Upon seeing our social media posts, a friend sent  a note saying that I am spoiling the girls and that no man will meet up to the standards that I am setting for them! My response: by setting out on vacations, I am just teaching them that happiness doesn’t come from anyone but from within yourself! We are creating memories of happiness that can be easily co-created, if you set a goal and put your energy behind it!

Another Magical Sunset!

Since I have no confidence in after-life, the concept of Paradise is at best nebulous, in my psyche. Hence, an extra day of Paradise, complete with confusing weather patterns, strong coffee, a warm pool, Netflix, and gourmet Asian style is something I am accepting as a gift!

Driving down the Haleakala Volcano and experiencing 7 micro climates in 3 hours!