Artwork done by Shazleen Khan.
I was lucky in that respect that she is very accepting of my identity.
Tell me a bit about yourself?
I’m Shazleen Khan and I’m an illustrator and I live in east London. I’m mainly been making comics for six years now, and yeah that’s who I am.
What type of comics do you make?
I make comics about myself; I’m Bangladeshi originally, so a lot of my comics are about being Muslim, part diaspora, relationships with other people; family relationships or friendships. I also like genre stuff, horror, spooky gothic, you know old type of things. Those are the main types of things I like to write about.
What hobbies or interests do you have outside of making comics?
I think everything I do has to do with creating comics; I play a lot of video games, because I like storytelling and I like to read, I do enjoy cooking quiet a lot too, as well sewing but I haven’t done that in quite a while now. Movies and animations are something I enjoy too for their storytelling and narrative. Most of what I like has to do with some form of narrative or at least be a little bit creative.
When did you come out?
I came out when I was 19, it was pretty much by accident, actually I may have been 20, Internally I came out at 19 to myself. At 20 my mother and I was talking about something and she turned to me and asked ‘Are you gay?’; I was like ‘…yeah’ because I can’t lie to people’s faces.
Up until that point my friends had known and I had come out internally to myself when I was 19, and when I had started university at 20 a lot of my friends already knew…I can’t remember how old I was, 18, 19, 20 around that time.
My friends knew before my mother did and she asked me pointedly about it. Since then a few of my family members know but I’m still … not so vocal about it online because I have a lot of family members who follow me. I try to keep it out there, but just not so obviously stated. I like to keep a level of privacy to myself but if anyone came to me asked me what I identify as I will easily say “I’m bisexual,” or “I’m pansexual,”.
Your mum pointedly asked you, what was her reaction after that?
She was very accepting, I think that’s the best way to describe because afterwards we would sometimes fight and she’d bring it up as she sacrificed her ‘integrity’, and I’m like “Don’t fucking say that.”. At the same time, she hasn’t asked me to do anything different or change, she’s never really held it against me personally, it’s something she accepted. I was in tears and she was said “aww It’s okay, it’s fine.”.
I think I’m quite lucky in that respect, I mean it’s different for every person and I mean I was lucky in that respect that she is very accepting of my identity.
Was there anything that you learned from the experience?
Yeah, I think that I never planned to come out to her. If I was going to be at the stage where I was literally with someone who wasn’t a cis man, I never really wanted to explain that or I didn’t need too. I don’t know it just didn’t occur to me at the that time. Especially when I did come out to her it was so soon after coming to accept it in myself. I just wasn’t at that stage to share.
But one thing that I did learn was, that you can actually trust your parents to be accepting about those types of things.
How did that make you feel after you came out and your mother accepted you? How did the overall experience make you feel?
I think it made me feel secure even if she said “I can never understand like liking other women,” which was fine, because that’s not who she is. She accepts that I like other women and that’s enough. It made me feel a bit more secure.
Do you have any regrets about the experience?
I guess. Maybe not of the experience itself, but in general. I do regret that I can’t be as open as I’d like to be. In general, you just want people to know, especially those close to you. My sister still doesn’t know and I will probably tell her when she’s older but she’s a lot younger than me. I wish in a way that people would know immediately and that they wouldn’t say shitty things around me.
Right now, you can’t really identify anyone as lesbian or queer just but looking at them half the time. Most of my family don’t see me as someone who isn’t straight and they think they can say horrible homophobic things. Which is a big regret of mine, not being visible enough to stand up for my identity.
How was life after coming out and how did that differ from before?
When I was still questioning or trying to understand how difficult it was to place myself in these kinds of arguments. I grew up in this conservative family and went to a conservative school, and a lot of my friends where Muslim. A lot of us were homophobic about stuff and I definitely said homophobic things as a younger person and it wasn’t until I was older; like at the time I knew it was wrong and I knew it was shitty to say but then I started to realise that…that part of the reason that I’d get a little offended was because part of me knew or was questioning that maybe I fell into this category of people that was being shat on.
It became slightly easier to know where to place myself; before a part of me was scared of defending the LGBT community because I was scared my friends would be like “Oh shit, you’re gay.” But now I am, and I know I am gay. I know it’s okay and I feel like I now know where I lie on these things and I know things have changed.
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking about coming out?
It doesn’t have to be a big thing. For me it was taking very small steps and I guess for me coming out came in loads of stages. I probably knew something was up when I was 13 but it took me a while to understand what was happening. I think for young people it is important to remember that sexuality is a fluid thing; and it will change like definitely when I was younger I was more asexual or a-romantic. Whereas now I’ve grown older I’ve fallen more towards as bisexual and I can identify as that more.
I think that it’s important to see it in yourself first especially if you were in the same position as I was. I didn’t have anyone to turn to or a role model that I could talk to about this. It is important for yourself to find something to identify as and then come out slowly to the people around you that you trust. You don’t have to do anything big, just do it in the steps that make you feel comfortable.