Ifti Nasim

Survey


1) Birthdate:

1946


2) Birthplace:

I was born In Faisalabad, formerly known as Lyallpu, Pakistan. My partner was born in Punjab, India.


3) Date you first mark as getting together with your partner:

1975


4) City/state where you live currently:

Chicago, Illinois


5) Education:

I graduated from Punjab University (Lahore, Pakistan) with a Law Degree.


6) Careers:

I am a freelance writer, poet, journalist, and lecturer in different universities all over the world on poetry, sexual habits, and South Asia in diaspora.


7) Did you serve in the U.S. military?

No


8) How do you describe your sexuality and your gender?

I am homosexual and there is no doubt about it, and so is my partner. We are living together for almost 25 years. I hope that justifies us as gay. We both are male.


9) Do you have children and/or grandchildren?

No


10) If you are GLBT, please describe when you first "knew":

I believe I was in my early teens. I always liked the men and in the movies I liked the villain not hero of the film. I had a yen for bad guys. But in life I like soft and civilized people and lovers.


11) Who did you first "come out" to and when?

I came out in America to friends. In Pakistan I had a few experiences but I thought it was a passing stage. I did use pseudonym.

I came out to my friend Siraj who happened to be a childhood friend. He came to the States a year after me. He introduced me to a gay bar in Detroit because we both were living in Detroit. I was going to Wayne State University. Then I moved to Chicago. He followed me. We were not lovers. I took him to Bistro, my first gay bar in Chicago.


12) What troubles did you face as a GLBT person?

My family completely rejected me. I was labled as a sinner and i earned  a "fatwa." I did not go back to my country for 14 years because it is an Islamic country and I wrote a gay poetry book in my language (Urdu) called Narman. I was fighting for Gay and Lesbian rights in my community.

Lots of discrimination as a person of color. Even in gay bars there was a visible divided line between whites and blacks. Nobody knew where Pakistan or India were. So I had to invent some country. Everybody thought I was American Indian. They asked me about my tribe. But usually I told them I am Mexican.


13) Did you have mentors in the Chicago GLBT community?

I have lots mentors in Chicago. My first mentor was a bartender named Bill who was working Le Pub on Clark Street. I don't know where he is now. Le Pub was burned down.

Then I met Mr. Chander Ahuja, who is not gay but very gay-friendly and my counselor. I was paranoid due to cultural shock and the revelation that I am gay. I became insomniac. I sought help at Chicago mental health services. That's where I met Mr. Ahuja, and because of the fact that he knew my culture, it was easier for me to communicate with him. Over the year with his counseling I put my life together. I met Paul (Chicago Magazine), Jeff McCourt, and lots other gays and lesbians who helped a lot to cope with my sexuality.

Allen Ginsberg (the poet) and Del Martin (lesbian activist) are my role models. Michael Signorelli, I adore him. I was on his radio (Sirius) program. He interviewed me.


14) Involvement in organizations (GLBT and/or mainstream):

Sangat/Chicago - South Asian GLBT group (founder 1983; board member, volunteer)
Inter Faith - GLBT organization (volunteer)
Donor to lots of organizations, especially for women and children


15) When you were coming out, what were your favorite GLBT bars in Chicago?

Bistro and Le Pub (1974), Gold Coast, and Touch on Lincoln Avenue.


16) What were the key issues faced in the GLBT community when you first came out?

Loneliness and rejection. When I came out there was no organization or center. As a foreigner I had double whammy. Language was not a problem, but there was no information about any organizations. The only place we could meet was gay bars, which played a very positive role in the gay community at that time.

Also I faced a lot of color discrimination in my gay community. I was rejected by my own Pakistani and Indian community, and I was not totally accepted as a man of color in the white community, and also I was discriminated against in the black community because I was a foreigner with a thick accent. But I overcame these obstacles. The gay community has come a long way.


17) What issues do you see as key in the GLBT community today?

Lack of involvement of the GLBT community in the mainstream politics. We are living in cyber space too much. Our young generation is not aware what the GLBT community has gone through. No one knows about the Stonewall incident, which was the turning point of GLBT community. Mathew Shepard can still happen. GLBT violence is still rampant due to non-involvement of the young generation. Young people are lacking AIDS education.

After Del Martin departured from the gay community and formed a lesbian identity, there was a big divide line between the gay and lesbian communities. They were not looking eye to eye with each other on GLBT issues. They were indifferent with each other. Thank god now the tension is a lot less.

Now a new kind of discrimination has started. ‘60s and ‘70s GLBT generations are facing an age issue. We don't have enough medical insurance and no family who is going to take care of us. The younger GLBT community doesn't have role models like the straight community has. So the older GLBT community feels abandoned. There is no lobby for the older GLBT community in Washington. Even for AIDS medicine there is no effective lobby. We have to work on it.

Also, still loneliness, rejection, low self image, and alcoholism.


18) How have AIDS and/or other health issues impacted your life personally?

AIDS was a turning point in my life. I lost lots of beautiful friends. My childhood Shuakat's death impacted me a lot. Of course Rock Hudson's death with AIDS was a big shocker to all the GLBT community.

The callousness of Ronald Reagan was another shocker. That was the first time I saw the ugliness of religion and its followers. All those card-carrying Christians scared the hell out of me. I ran out of my country due to all the religious zealots.

Now I have to face the wrath of another kind of zealots. I started a South Asian AIDS awareness and prevention organization in 1988, and gave lectures on that issue in the younger crowd. Use of condoms was a weird experience for me, because our generation never thought of using condoms. Everything and my lifestyle was completely changed.


19) How would you describe the "diversity" within the Chicago GLBT community?

Chicago has a very diverse GLBT community. But as a foreigner and a man of color I faced very different kinds of discrimination from the white and black communities, which I mention in my poetry book Myrmecophil (part of the curriculum of Truman College). Also Myrmecophile is included in the GLBT Literature for the Past Fifty Years compiled by John Howley (Santa Clara University, California).

Something Never Changed (a Poem)
Nigger
Sandnigger
Camel Jockey
Etcetra,etcetra
I was called many names.
I could not change the people
So I tried to change myself into a perfect American.
A conscious effort.
But after all those years
It's still the same.
Only the words have changed.
Now they call me
Sissy
Faggot
Pansy
Cupcake
Cock sucker
Etcetra etcetra.



20) If you consider yourself a "political" activist, how do you define this?

I am a Democrat and I am against war. I arranged many rallies against the Iraq war with the help of my mentor Andy Thayer. Andy taught me a lot. Bob Schwartz is another activist. So basically I am an activist.

As a journalist and a writer I am very much involved with the South Asian community to bring them to mainstream politics. As a journalist, I am always involved in different "causes."


21) Describe what you feel your personal legacy is to the Chicago GLBT community.

I was inducted in GLBT Hall of Fame in 1996.

I wrote a poetry book "Narman" (hermaphrodite) in my language – Urdu - which was the first book in Urdu with direct gay longing and desires (Economist London).

I wrote articles in English and Urdu on gay issues.

I wrote a book of poetry, Myrmecophile, which was in the curriculum of Truman College.

I wrote a gay-themed short story book in Urdu called Shabri.

I am an activist.

I’m a founder of the South Asian GLBT organization Sangat/Chicago. I was given an honorary Doctorate of literature from the World Peace Academy (Delaware).

I have done lots of work for the South Asian GLBT community for AIDS and political asylum.

As a businessman I was the top salesman of Rolls Royce and Mercedes Benz and Loeber Motor, and brought a fine example in business for the GLBT community, and acceptance of the GLBT community in that straight, anal retentive business of car sales.

I volunteer in the GLBT community for causes, and brought acceptance and awareness of the GLBT community in the South Asian community.


22) This project is also about "defining moments." Please discuss some of those in your life.

My father was a journalist and we never had enough money in the family. So I "depended upon the kindness of strangers." I worked from childhood to make extra money. So I never shied about using my body. When I came to Chicago I danced in Bistro with bearded lady with or without drag for money.

Getting out of poverty was my main aim in life. Poverty kills a person’s potentials. I could never hold a job long enough because I was afraid my employer or colleague will find out that I’m gay. Finally I came out and I flourished a lot in writings and business. Coming out was my defining moment and it happened in 1984 at Loeber Motors Chicago.


23) Additional comments and memories.

I admire people in the GLBT community who stood by me, especially Prem Azie, Robert Engler Klien, Andy Thayer, and lots of friends; my family who rejected me first then got back with me; Tracy Baim who has Windy City Times and brought a new generation in the GLBT community; Karan Hawkins, Cara Jepsen, Israel Wright, VJ, NN, there is going to be an endless list. So I’ll stop right here.



Out and Proud in Chicago: An Overview of the City's Gay Community, the book is edited by Tracy Baim and features the contributions of more than 20 prominent historians and journalists. It is published by Surrey Books, an Agate imprint, and is hard cover, 224 pages, 4-color, with nearly 400 photos.
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