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Sana: Surviving rape and racism, living as a proud lesbian

Sana was born in Pakistan and moved to Birmingham in 2005, after being forced into marriage with a British Pakistani man. She identifies as a lesbian and is currently living in London as an asylum

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Sana was born in Pakistan and moved to Birmingham in 2005, after being forced into marriage with a British Pakistani man. She identifies as a lesbian and is currently living in London as an asylum seeker.

My husband was an alcoholic, he used to take drugs, he used to rape me badly in bed.  I hated whenever he touched me or performed sex with me; I hated the smell of his breath. He used to throw hot food and tea on me if he disliked what I was cooking. I was scared of his appearance and terrified of him. His family used to call me ‘Paki Paki’ and ‘freshie’. My brother-in-law would say, “Mum can you ask that freshie to make tea for me?” I started losing weight. I was living in a horror situation.

I so wanted to want that relationship to work, because as a woman you get married only one time. If you are divorced, it’s a trademark as well. You don’t have any choice.

Our communication gap was huge. My husband asked his mother to enroll me in an English course as there was no way I could understand him. I started English lessons and my teacher was so impressed she said I should enroll in other subjects.

College was the place I was confident, happy, cheerful and excited. I did not skip my classes because I enjoyed my lessons.  When I started going to college I noticed there was a huge cultural difference between the UK and Pakistan. I saw people holding hands and hugging, kissing openly. I saw cross-dressing and people with tattoos. I was extremely shocked by this. I had come from an extremely strict-minded background and it was difficult for me to accept all this. It was a lot to take in.

I went on a Yahoo chat room group for lesbians, and through there I starting talking to Louise and got more interested in her. The Internet world was very new for me. Louise started sending me her intimate pictures and we used to do video calling. We had a couple of dates together and liked spending time with each other.

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Shame, ‘honour’ and abuse

One day, I was so stupid. I did not sign out. My husband found out that I was talking to a lesbian and he got really upset and angry. He started beating me up and banging my head against the wall, but I tried convincing him by saying that Louise is my college friend. I was not allowed to go to school and then my laptop was taken away from me.

After this incident my husband raped me constantly, three times a day. My body was shattered and I could not take the pain. My husband complained to the family that I had misused my freedom by talking to lesbians and becoming ‘Western’.  They called my family back home and said how I was misusing their kindness and I should be ashamed.  With this incident my father got very ill because I had disrespected him. He had a stroke, and my uncles had me sent back home to see him.

I went back home, and they saw- my mom saw my bruises, because I was red and blue. I was very thin. My uncles, they did not fret one bit.  I said to my mum, “I don’t like him, he forcefully has sex with me, I don’t enjoy him”. I begged her that if she would not support me this time, I would kill myself, and I even did attempt suicide by drinking bleached water.

At last my mother agreed that I should not go back to my husband, but I could not live in Pakistan- this was our secret, between me and mother. She spoke to her friend in London, who was happy to keep me in her house and help me get a better life.

I escaped my family home and came to the UK. Back home in Pakistan, it was chaos as everyone started searching for me. I had shamed them, dishonoured them and they wanted to find me to kill me. My father could not take the situation and he had a heart attack and passed away. My mother and brother were chucked out of the family house.

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Living in London as a lesbian asylum seeker

In London, I claimed a domestic violence case. I used to work in McDonalds while also studying A-Levels at college, and I knew that my mom was suffering financially. I worked in McDonalds to support my mom, and we rented a place for her and my brother in Karachi.

My application for asylum was refused. The Home Office said, “We gave you a temporary visa for two years, as a trial period time with your husband. Now, if you don’t want to be at home, if you don’t want to live in Karachi, you can go to Islamabad, there are certain organisations that can give you protection. But I know what ‘protection’ there means. So I kind of got angry with the system, I stepped back. I thought, “You know what? I’m gonna live like this”. I couldn’t work at McDonalds anymore, I was kind of illegal.

Last year on my birthday, I told my mum. I said: “I have been lying to you. I am a homosexual, and my mum said, “You know what? Your dad passed away because he was feeling guilty about you, that he made a decision, I am homeless too… I don’t want to speak to you.” That was the last thing I wanted to hear. In December 2015, I came to know my mom passed away in a terrorist attack, along with my brother.

Up to April, I attempted suicide three times. After the third time my mum’s friend said, “You know what, I’m not gonna keep you with me here unless you go and see your GP.” I went to see my GP, and they put me under a crisis mental health team. Soon after that, my mum’s friend said: “We know you are suffering and everything but we have our daughter. We want your room to be given to her so can you leave?”

The mental health team knew my entire situation and they suggested that I should claim asylum under my sexuality. I found a room to rent and paid my rent by selling my dad’s watch. Later on, my landlord said if I cooked for his family and cleaned the house on a regular basis he would allow me to stay without paying rent.

I have suffered so much from loneliness and depression, but now I’ve met a European woman, and we’re taking things slowly. I told her about all of my relationships and she accepts me for how I am. I like her way of living and the way she sees life.  We have made plans to move in together.

I can say now that I am a confident lesbian woman. I am a free soul and I liked going out now to LGBT clubs such as Club Kali and Urban Desi-Scala. I feel privileged and proud of that because I don’t want to hide myself.  I feel like Soho is my second home because there is GAY and I have good relations with all the staff especially the cleaner there.  I have attended several Pride parades this year including London Pride, Brighton Pride, Croydon Pride and last but not least, Micro Rainbow International’s 10k Pride to raise money for the LGBT community. That Pride run really meant something to me because I was homeless too, so I could relate to it. I am doing a lot now as a member of the LGBT community, in ways I could not even think or dream about it before.

Find out more: Support for Muslim lesbian asylum seekers

Homosexuality is criminalised in nearly 80 countries and in 10 countries homosexuality is punishable by death. A number of LGBT people flee their country of birth to the UK and claim asylum on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

For more information on organisations that support Muslim women who identify as lesbian or bisexual and may be seeking asylum, visit LGBTQ Muslim charity Imaan, Micro Rainbow International or call The Muslim Women’s Helpline.

Read Sana’s story about living as a lesbian in Pakistan here.

1000women@naz.org.uk

1000women is a platform for minority ethnic women to tell their own stories, on their terms. To find out more about joining the team or sharing your story, write to 1000women@naz.org.uk

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