Storytelling is a social catalyst and powerful force for change. The Embracing Identities Project is a series of narrative interviews about coming out as LGBTQ and atheist in a variety of communities. Our mission is to increase understanding of the diverse collection of people who identify as queer and faithless, examine the intersections of identities and experiences within this group, and to inspire others to embrace their identities within their communities.
Make sure to check out other stories in the series too!
- Melanie Brewster: Don’t Tell Your Grandmother
- Aadil Salam, Pt 1: The Best Thing & the Worst Thing at the Same Time
- Aadil Salam, Pt 2: Coming to American and Coming Out
Aadil Salam is a PhD student currently living and working in the north east United States. His name, location, and other details of his life have been changed or omitted to maintain his anonymity. Aadil has a round, friendly face and a warm demeanor. He laid belly-down on his bed on a sunny, Sunday morning while we spoke—immediately sharing details of his life in a sincere and candid tone. His speech is quick, energetic, and conversational. He could go on long, twisting tangents after a single prompt, and he often laughed at his own long-windedness. Aadil was careful to clarify that his story is about his own personal experiences and does not reflect the lives of others in his community. At one point during our conversation, his daughter—an adorable brown-haired girl—burst into the room full of excitement about the TV show she was watching. Aadil excused himself and joined her in her excitement, while patiently leading her out of the room. When he came back, he shook his head, saying, “She’s so cool,” before we resumed.
NEW MEXICO TO INDIA
I apologize in advance—I’m an academic and we tend to ramble. My parents came to the states in the 70s and, like mostly everybody else from the Indian diaspora, ended up in New York City. When I was three years old, we moved to a remote town in New Mexico and that’s where I spent most of my childhood. There were only 5 or 6 Indian families and my parents found some sort of cultural identification with them, even though we were all coming from different religious backgrounds: Sikh, Hindu, Muslim. We’re Muslim, but we’re from a very small, minority Muslim sect, and so I was a religious minority as well as an ethnic minority.
We have religious schools where the specific doctrine and ideology of my sect are taught—they’re kind of like our version of Catholic boarding schools. One of these is in a fairly large city in India. I had a deep sense of spirituality, more so than my brothers, and I identified very closely with my faith throughout my childhood. In New Mexico, 90% of the time the only interlocutors I had within my religious community were my family members. I decided that I wanted to go away to religious school when I was in 7th grade. My parents were reluctant to send their kids away to get an education. They appreciated all of the opportunities available in America, but they also understood why I would go back and establish those religious roots as well.
So when I was 13, I picked up and began an 11 year course in this tight-knit, seminary-like environment in India.
I guess I was around 14 when I discovered my attraction towards men. I saw myself being physically drawn to the older guys in the dormitory, but these feelings weren’t as strong as the feelings I had for my best friend. These thoughts for him were shamefully put away and tightly knit in a box. The idea of me being a homosexual was so suppressed that I never believed these feelings were anything “real.” Now that I look back at them, I feel like those were the only real feelings that I have ever had of what it would be like to truly love and be loved. I remember thinking, “If only homosexual relationships were allowed I would want to spend the rest of my life with this person.”
The horrible thing—I mean, it’s the greatest thing and the worst thing at the same time—is that I met my wife at the University. Marriage is such an important fundamental to our society. My religion taught me that marriage is how you spiritually complete who you are. There’s a saying that faith has three parts—and if you get married, you complete 2/3 of your faith. We got married when she was 18 and I was 23. For the most part, I’ve had a wonderful marriage. Friends come over and they’re always saying, “Oh my gosh, you guys have something special.” There’s a lot of congruency in our marriage and a lot of understanding. As a domestic partnership, I would give it an A+. As parents, A+. We have a daughter and she’s the happiest five-year-old I know.
Being closeted and trying to live a heteronormative life meant that I was creating a set of feelings that were not really consistent with who I am. For the longest time I could trick myself, and make excuses to my wife, like, “Oh, I just don’t like the taste of saliva.” I knew how other people would act and how other people might feel. I would emulate those behaviors as best I could, but every night I would go to sleep and pray that I would wake up normal, and every time that I would go to a shrine I would always pray that the homosexual desires would go away so that I could just be normal.