The colours of the rainbow are important to me because I am gay. I have embraced them in my everyday dress. This is important to acknowledge because I rejected them for a while but I have now claimed them back.
I was born in the UK and grew up in a traditional Pakistani household in England. My parents had emigrated to the UK in the 1960s and 1970s. From the age of about ten I began to realise that I would have to conform to a very traditional life of learning to cook, clean and be prepared for marriage.
Education was not a priority within my family, particularly not for a girl. Family members started to make jokes about my ‘marriage’ — that I would be married off to a stranger and that I would not have a choice. They genuinely thought it was funny. I didn't find it amusing at all, but terrifying!
I was a meek and shy child at school, finding it difficult to speak. At home I would try to speak up but was told not to because it was not correct for a girl to do so. I struggled with this for a long time. I wished somebody would ask me if I was okay, then I would be able to tell them that I was not.
I would go to the GP and wished I could tell them but felt unable to express myself because I did not fully understand the pressure I was facing. I also felt I did not want to shame my family because this was ingrained into me. I knew from a young age that I wanted to learn. I convinced my parents to let me stay on and repeat my GCSEs because I failed half of them the first-time round. Around this time, I also found out that I would never be able to conceive...
Conveying this to my mother was one of the hardest tasks I have faced, but I managed to do it with the support of the GP. However, this did mean a new found freedom for me because my parents had to re-think marrying me off. Suitors had been found, and a visit to Pakistan was planned which was scary because I did not think I would come back. I did come back, and after two years of negotiation I was allowed to go to university to follow my ambition.
I trained to be a nurse and have lived in London since. I could not believe my new found-freedom. I went to the cinema every night in the first week! Such a simple pleasure, but something I was not allowed to do before because my family told me that girls would be corrupted by the cinema.
I wanted to be a teacher but then decided to become a nurse because I felt I wanted to offer care and support to people. Care and support that perhaps I felt was lacking at home when I was growing up. Things are very different now. In the last 20 years I have found my voice and my family has accepted my choices to some extent. They remain very traditional, but our relationship has evolved into something healthier.
I do not want to reject my family completely but want to work with them to improve my life. It is still a challenge everyday but I am working through it. Currently I work at a university where I am able to channel my life experiences and nursing experience into teaching and campaigning. I am also very lucky to work with amazing people who have encouraged me to share my knowledge and talk about my experiences of forced marriage.
I am happy to be living independently in London and have carved out my own life surrounded by those who love me unconditionally. It has not been easy, but I know that I am a strong and resilient person. My life is a work in progress!
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