With February being LGBT+ History Month in the UK it is still important that stories are being heard. Coming out tales and the path to self-acceptance still have a fairly essential part to play for each new generation and in recent years we have seen accounts from those under-represented whose lives and backgrounds add a different dimension. Some very welcome additions to this genre of writing have come from the Muslim community with 2019’s award winning “Unicorn” by Amrou Al-Kadhi and now this account subtitled “A memoir of a gay Muslim’s journey to acceptance” by LGBT+ activist and top criminal barrister Mohsin Zaidi. This is another of the titles that I have now got round to from my What I Should Have Read In 2020 post.
The most striking thing about the author is his tenacity and ability to never give up when the odds are very much stacked against him. From a devout Shia Islam background with Pakistani parents and growing up in Walthamstow he showed early educational promise. As his family was unable to navigate the private school system he found himself in a secondary school where achievement was denigrated by his peers but somehow ended up as the first person from his school to go to Oxford University, studying Law. There this East London Pakistani boy floundered amongst the rich and privileged before finding his own tribe – a group of friends who had some idea of where he had come from and who he was but they did not know the secret that he thought he would never be able to reveal, that he was gay.
For Mohsin, having the family find out would bring shame and probable disowning with his family’s disgrace spreading out into their wider community even affecting his younger brothers’ marriage prospects. In order to function he has to shift away from his family’s values and religious beliefs to find his true self before opening himself back up to the cataclysm he believed was waiting for him should his sexuality be revealed.
It’s an incredibly difficult option, especially given the closeness of the relationship with his family which he at one point describes in a really effective metaphor. “Baby carriers provide the option of placing the infant so that he or she faces the parent or looks out, facing the world. I imagined that most parents would choose to let their child see the world, whereas mine preferred I see only them.”
We know from the subtitle that there will be some movement towards resolution but it takes years and when it does come in some powerful scenes which signpost the way I found myself misting up.
I do feel that Mohsin Zaidi has fitted so much into his 35 years that there is a tendency at time to skim over the surface. There are points in the book where I wanted more detail which would help us to really connect with the man/boy behind the situations. I could tell here was a logical brain used to laying out the facts as befitting his professional status and his is a very welcome voice in British gay writing.
At times he can really hit home with a couple of sentences and I am going to leave the last words to him which makes for sobering reading and explains once again why our stories and LGBT+ History Month are so important. Commenting on reports that the perpetrator of the 2016 Orlando gay bar shootings which killed 49 had pledged allegiance to ISIS prior to the event and was motivated by his disgust of his own sexual urges Mohsin says: “I had felt this hatred once. Maybe if we weren’t raised to hate ourselves it would be easier not to hate the world.”
A Dutiful Boy was published in hardback by Square Peg in 2020.