First Dates star Jay Kamiraz opens up about growing up gay in a Muslim family and how a vicious attack by seven men almost killed him!
We must be suckers for good old fashioned here at GuysLikeU because every time we tune into the fantastic First Dates, we can’t help falling hook line and sinker in love with the ever-hopeful romancers seeking Mr or Mrs Right. And this week was certainly no different, when choirmaster Jay Kamiraz was matched up with handsome investment banker Robbie (If you haven’t seen the episode yet, catch it on 4OD pronto). We were thrilled when the pair hit it off, and we were genuinely gutted when it turned out that Robbie’s pre-planned travel plans around the world meant that romance was sadly a non-starter. Awww, shame!
But it was Jay’s exuberance and surprising honesty that caught our attention most, in particular when he shared the devastating story of a vicious homophobic attack he endured several years ago that almost killed him. We caught up with the 30something self-confessed male Bridget Jones to talk about growing up as a gay muslim and how that savage attack changed his life forever!
The entire nation seemed to fall in love with you on First Dates. Were you nervous about putting yourself out there in front of millions?
Oh thank you. I was very nervous about putting myself in front of millions in a dating scenario looking for love and reaching out to a whole new audience about my story and experiences. I was also worried about how people would take to me.
What kind of guy were you hoping to meet?
I was hoping to find someone I could connect with who would embrace my Mr Fabulous sassy attitude in life. I was looking for someone tall, handsome and funny.
You seem pleased with Robbie – were you disappointed that it didn’t work out.
I’m not disappointed at all. We shared a wonderful dating moment and were moved by each other’s story and journey to finding our selves and feeling accepted by others. He’s off on a trip around the word now and I hope he has a wonderful time and sincerely hope he finds someone that will make him happy. My Mr Right is out there. In the meantime, I will continue to live life to the full and not compromise with my fabulous attitude.
How is homosexuality viewed within the Asian community?
It’s still a closed book that no one opens or talks about. It’s considered by many as ‘Haram’, bad, an abomination. In certain countries they still stone and beat gay men, which is just disgusting. You would have thought that this sick narrow minded way of thinking would have stopped by now, but it continues to exist, especially within the Asian community. It’s all about saving face, pride and pecking order and status in life that governs where you rank within the community.
When did you first realise that you were gay?
I always knew I was different and it was very obvious from a very young age that I preferred Barbie to Action Man I guess the minute I fell out of my mother’s womb and fell straight into her heels I was singing ‘I’m coming out, I want the world to know’ to quote a well know song.
Knowing that you are growing up in a community that isn’t accepting, how did that make you feel?
I thought I was the only person in the world who felt like this. As a strong willed youngster I embraced my fabulous. I mean , I could not hide my walk, I was mincing around the place thinking I was Kate Moss & Naomi doing the catwalk you know work it work it…Sashay Shante supermodel walk
So how did people react to that?
Getting bullied, ridiculed picked and laughed at by boys at school made up of majority Bengali, Indian and Pakistani Boys. I was called ‘Half Man Half Woman Half Goat’ – er, don’t ask, they were obviously terrible in maths or making sense.
Were you able to confide in anyone or did you have to keep it to yourself?
I was very fortunate that I had one friend Carl who I was able to confide in who came out to me first and we have been friends ever since! Twenty six years to be exact. We amused ourselves by making fun of the bullies and acting like a bunch of school girls which infuriated the alpha bullies. It was our coping mechanism to survive the torment.
You say you couldn’t keep your gayness in at 17 when you fell in love with someone. Can you explain how open you were at this point?
I was not out in public but was trying to educate my family at age 17, a rebel with a cause, but kept hitting a brick wall. Understandably it was a difficult issue for them one, to take in and two,to accept at the time.
Had boys at school picked up on the fact you were gay?
It was obvious. I never confirmed it as I was still searching to find myself, but I was called everything under the sun; you name it, I was called it. It was horrendous vile and very distasteful.
You say it took ten years for your parents to accept you as you are – during that ten years what kind of relationship did you have with them?
It took 10 years but I loved my family and despite me coming out to my family I was still their son. I tried to educate them but it fell on deaf ears so instead I carried on being me and chose not to bring up the word gay, despite the many times my parents tried to steer me towards a good Indian girl. My parents are very integral and humble and they taught me to forgive and understand. I guess they learnt to somewhat understand me and tolerate it. I guess after 10 years of loving them unconditionally and slowly, gently letting them into my world in doses helped break the hard exterior and get to the core.
How did that happen?
By me moving out of East London and learning to live on my own and having to experience living rough on the streets and find my way with the strength to find support and a home to call my own.
Were there any people within your family who supported you?
My three younger sisters were my biggest reason for me doing what I did. I wanted them to grow up understanding the right way to be in life. And I achieved that. They are my rock and my best friends who have all ended up in a caring or teaching profession. I believe that experience, time, care and love helped them grow into wonderful women who accept me for who I am and love me and teach the same to their children who love their Uncle Jay. That makes me smile.
How did this break from your parents affect your life
Being apart from my family killed me and trying to get accepted was so hard but I soldiered on and did not give up the belief that one day it will all be ok. Some people might give up but not me. Perseverance pays off and sometimes, in my case, hurt considerably but I have no regrets. Family is so important to me.
You mentioned that you were victim to a physical attack from a group of other Asian men.
Yes, it was very brutal, unprovoked attack and they left me for dead. I was severely beaten up by seven Asian men armed with baseball bats. I required an emergency operation as I had just hours to live. Five hours of surgery saved my life and I had to be fitted with a colostomy bag for a over a year. I also needed physiotherapy to help recuperate and walk again.
During the attack did you think you were going to survive?
I felt ‘That is it I’m going to die’ and blacked out. I was so scared what the set out to achieve they did. They took away the sparkle the fabulous and left me wounded and defenceless.
What was the aftermath of the attack, physically and mentally? Was it a tough journey to get back on your feet.
The aftermath of the attack I had to learn to walk again. Had a colostomy bag for one year four months which was successfully reversed with intense physiotherapy and healing. It was a very traumatic time for me.
Did it ever make you feel like going back in to the closet or did it spur you on and make you think ‘I’m not going to let them beat me’
It actually made me more defiant. I was not going to let them win and destroy me. They got their way bringing me down but I was going to heal build and get my fabulous back. I might have been down in the gutter but I was not going to allow them to kill me any further.
Do memories of the attack still haunt you?
The attack does sadden me but then I look at how I have overcome so many obsticles and what i have achieved and for that I am proud.
Did you have an active life on the scene did you go to bars in secret, have a bunch of secret gay friends. How did it work?
I guess my gay lifestyle started in my 20’s I spent three or four years healing and rebuilding my self worth after my attack. Once I was in a good place I lived and experienced the gay scene nightlife and made some great friends walked into relationships that tested me as a person further.
Do you think there have been any changes in the way the Asian and Muslim people view the gay community
Like many religions, being gay is frowned upon within the community. I don’t think much has changed within the Muslim community. Well not that I have seen. It will be a tough nut to crack
What more can be done about making the community more accepting.
Educating the young. Introducing equality base topics into Schools and coveting sexuality. I would happily campaign for this motion with the right support.
Have you done anything yourself to change views – do you campaign?
I would love to campaign and help motivate and inspire other young Asian LGBT community in fact all members of the LGBT community. I feel there is room and media would play a huge role and also having more openly gay asians in TV and radio and all media platforms would help spread this message effectively. I would love to be a role model.
How did you reunite with you parents and do you have a strong relationship again?
I have a beautiful relationship with my parents. I remember inviting my parents to my fabulous north London home cooking dinner and making a curry and both my mum and dad came with my brother and sisters bearing gifts. My mother helped me in the kitchen, complementing me on my cooking skills and asking questions like who is the wife in your relationships which I found endearing. I replied laughing there is no wife, just two people that equally love each other. Moments like that are precious and cherished with great warmth. I had to fight back the tears and once they left I cried let out with joy. I had my family back. Time was a healer. The accepted me.
Are you able to bring men home to show them? Would they approve of you getting married?
My parent’s have met my ex-artners and got on with one extremely well who is now my best friend. We have known each other 12 years. We call ourselves the collective duo ‘armed & fabulous’.
Over the past ten years how has your romantic life been? Have you been lucky in love?
I have basically been the male equivalent to Bridget Jones. Unlike her, she found her Mr Right. Me on the other hand still looking for my tall handsome man. One good thing to come out of one relationship was a best friendship that is integral in every way.
Have you had your heartbroken?
I have had my heart broken several times but I guess it makes you only stronger and wiser. I learnt so much about myself and despite the relationships not working out I evolved more and came out of my shell and became myself. Mr Fabulous was back.
What advice would you give to other young Muslim guys who are coming to terms with their sexuality.
You’re not alone, find a support group. Be strong, be defiant. You are no less of a person. Be yourself. If you have the courage to speak out then do so. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are so many helpline networks you can find the encouragement to live your life openly gay and proud.
Having appeared on First Dates what were the reactions?
I am so thankful for all the support I received from people who saw show. I am humbled by the warmth of so many of you out there. I am now planning to write a book about my experiences so that others can find the strength and conviction to be themselves and proud to be Gay.
For help with dealing with religious homophobia check out www.nazandmattfoundation.org
First Dates is now Channel 4 on Tuesdays!