Hello, my name is Hasheel and I’m a desi queer from Toronto, Canada. I’m also a musician, who is 31 years old.
I came out as bisexual to my mom when I was 19 years old. Then, I had a girlfriend, a group of friends that loved me, siblings and cousins that I knew would have my back. The conversation was painless and full of love, ending with a hug; but then never to be discussed again. It wasn’t until university where I came out to myself as gay and had my first boyfriend that my relationship with my parents felt shaky.
I was ready to tell my family, but my family was not ready to hear it; and out of respect, I remained silent for another two years. One day, my mom asked me if I was gay. I knew I had been lying for too long. And at that point, it was my conscience that took over – satya, prem, and karuna. I was not willing to lie anymore and I understood that this was the true mark on my soul, not my identity.
The idea of being different is so abstract to a child. I didn’t understand that I was different; which is why I also failed to understand the reasons I was teased, bullied, or made to feel unwelcome. During a large part of my life, those experiences were much louder than my own inner monologue. It was only until high school that I started to fight the battles within, owning up to my different hood and meeting others who were doing the same.
I consider myself very privileged. Privileged to have open minded, educated parents. My parents put in the work, removed themselves from ignorance; and I was ready to have those difficult conversations with them anytime it was necessary. Because ultimately it would bring them closer to me, and me closer to myself.
Earlier this year, my mother and I went to India together to shop for my big gay Indian wedding.
My Dating Experiences:
Dating always felt different to me. If a straight male hit on a straight female at a bar, a coffee shop, or simply on the street, there can only be two outcomes – reciprocation or rejection. If I did the same thing to another man, not only could I be rejected, I could get beaten up. I needed to first determine whether someone was like me before determining whether they liked me. It was always this multi-step process and for many of my crushes, I will still never know. It is agonizing, to not feel comfortable telling someone that you like them. You begin to question your reality. I would often cry and scream about it in my pillow because I felt that no one understood my frustrations.
Online dating became the only way to solve this issue. I have met all my partners on dating websites, well before the age of phone apps. Even my husband, Parimal, started with a little notification in my inbox.
East Indian Classical Music – My One True Love:
My dad was my first singing teacher. Since I was 5 years old, we would sing every day on the way to school. He would write out all of my notes and taught me how to play the harmonium while singing so that I could train by myself. My brothers and cousins all learned how to sing or play the tabla and whenever we got together, there would be no shortage of musicians! When I was 12, my dad felt that he taught me everything he knew and so I went for classical singing lessons. I guess you could say that Hindustani classical music has always been a part of my life and my family.
Becoming a musician was never a decision, it just sort of happened organically. I would always perform at the temple and for various Bollywood shows. I was always encouraged to keep playing and performing at family events and local get togethers. It wasn’t until I put a value upon my own time and worth that people started respecting it as a career. I think many artists give themselves the value that others put upon them, but it’s very important listen to your inner voice louder and clearer. As soon as you believe your own worth, others will too.
The Bansuri And I:
I started playing the bansuri when I was 13. At the time, it seemed like it came by chance. I needed to choose an instrument in school band and my mother told me to pick the (Western) flute; because the flute player at our temple was starting to teach bansuri. She recommended I try to learn both. I quickly excelled in Western music in general and found it quite easy to play and compose in this style. I kept up with the Western flute until the end of high school. However, within a couple of years of learning bansuri I was performing that much more often.
Some say that bansuri is the sound of the soul. I would agree because it uses something so intimate such as breath. To manipulate this breath, your very own life force, into a sound that moves another human being – is to connect with them on a very deep level.
This is why it would be impossible to say which is my favorite flute piece. One of my favourite ragas is Keervani – it is very emotional, tense, and beautiful.
Music Is And In Everything:
I think being a musician influences everything that I listen to now! When I came back home from training in India for a year, almost all commercial music sounded off for me – void of creativity or musical brilliance or in the worst case, out of tune! On the other hand, it also means that I find music in everything. Sometimes I would sing along to a car alarm blaring from across the street.
Every time my car or laptop starts up, I play the notes on the flute in my head. When listening to someone speak, my right brain is composing a soundtrack to their life. Driving is when I listen to the most amount of music for fun – and in most cases I am usually looking for inspiration of beats and melodies to sing and play on top of.
The Movie Industry’s Influence On The LGBTQ Community:
I’ve always felt that the film and television industries have done more harm than good to the queer and trans communities. Hollywood has evolved a little bit more to start including queer and trans actors in leading roles; specifically where their roles are not defined by their sexuality or gender. You don’t see every straight character being given a stamp of “heterosexuality” on their character description.
Bollywood does a far worse job at this. Queer characters are almost always used as comic relief; blurring the lines between being laughed with and laughed at. These scenes always gave me the impression that in order for me to be accepted, I must take on the role of a clown; so that people may like me, otherwise face rejection, or worse, violence.
Although I believe in role models, I don’t believe there is any musician out there that represents a specific community. That is the reason we have a rainbow flag. Everyone who expresses their own individuality and creativity in a way that is truthful to them, is a hero in my eyes.
My Advice To Aspiring Musicians:
Keep practicing! Find a strong teacher and listen to them closely. Indian classical music is a very strict discipline and I owe much of my success to this school of thought. From this discipline comes freedom – the freedom to use your voice or instrument effortlessly.