A Dutiful Boy is an important book for me – it’s importance measured by the fact that one of my beautiful, dutiful sons singled this book out as my Christmas present. The book charts the pain of a gay Pakistani Muslim’s journey to acceptance, love and flourishing.
The book’s inner sleeve explains that Mohsin Zaidi grew up in a poor pocket of east London in a devout Shia Muslim community. His family were close knit and conservative. He became the first person from his school to attend Oxford University, and it was there that he found the space to become the man he was born to be.
Zaidi talks frankly about his own self-hatred and his prayers to be “different” and “cured”. The tensions and the love of Pakistani family life are well told. Throughout Zaidi is committed to his parents, brothers and his extended family of aunts and uncles and this is one of the most moving aspects of this story. The book is as much a memoir of their journey to acceptance as it is of Mohsin’s.
Counselling helped. I will treasure the exchange with his counsellor, Maureen Zaidi reports. Responding to Maureen’s questions Zaidi admits that he had thought of suicide. Maureen asked: “do you think your parents would rather a gay son or a dead son?” Zaidi didn’t know the answer. “ A dead son they could explain. It would be a moment in time and then they might move forward. They’d live with the shame of a gay son for as long as I was alive.” Then Maureen invites Zaidi to imagine a future in which he has a son.
“Now imagine your son in exactly the situation you are in now – the same history, the same conflicts, the same desires and the same fears. What do you do?”
Zaidi replied: “I grab him. I hold him tightly and tell him that he’s OK. That he is loved and that I don’t give a fuck about religion. That any God who loves me must love him as much.”
Then Maureen asks: “Now think about his sadness, what does that make you feel?”
“It makes me angry … really, really angry.”
“Digging deep into this pit of anger, I felt something shift inside me. My sense of justice kicked in. The anger felt good, powerful. Like rocket fuel. I wouldn’t be stalled by the obstacles put in my path. I would knock them down. I was surer than ever before that I would not marry a woman. I would live my life as a gay man, and, one way or another, there would come a time when I would face my family and force them to face the truth.”
Throughout this journey Mohsin remains the “dutiful boy”. There is secrecy about his gay life and there are enormous tensions along the way but there is integrity in the way Mohsin and his family will not let go of one another in spite of the pain and shame they all suffer and in spite of the distance they put between themselves.
This is a story in which all find their cure and it is a delight to read how Mohsin finds love and the freedom in which he can grow his work. Other people aren’t so fortunate and continue to struggle in cultures which hate homosexuality and seek to change, cure and deny those who are gay. Mohsin and his parents set up a support group for the families of LGBT Muslims.
In the first session his Mum said to the group: “My brother was sick and it … he has taught me a lot. We have so little time with our loved ones. Why waste it? God created my son this way and it is me who had the problem, not him.” His Dad joined in: “Children are not ours to disown, my son is not hurting anyone. He is a good person. I don’t care what anybody says. I know that Allah loves him like I do.”
A Dutiful Boy by Mohsin Zaidi was published by Square Peg on August 20th 2020