Rahim Thawer works at a sexual health clinic in Toronto doing counseling with gay and bi men. He also works at an AIDS service organization doing bathhouse counseling. On July 1, he’ll be with Toronto’s Ismaili queers as they march in their first ever solo Pride contingent. Here, he talks with Denise Balkissoon about fetishes, racialization, HIV and, of course, The Ass.
DB: Why do south Asians need their own HIV prevention campaigns?
RT: A lot of people think that HIV/AIDS is still a gay white man’s illness, but in Toronto the rates are growing among women, including racialized women. What ethno-specific HIV organizations try to think about is, how can we reach our very unique communities? We’re working very strategically to do outreach in our cultural and religious communities. As great as some of the more mainstream organizations are, I just don’t think they have the capacity to tap into the important cultural nuances.
So this ad is a new campaign by The Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention (ASAAP) called “Protect Your Love.” That’s me in the train scene, but initially I was hesitant to participate. I thought it might be too reserved. I didn’t know what kind of messages it was sending out, whether it was trying to promote monogamy, or sell a particular version of same-sex love, etc. But, you know, it’s not. And it has some really important cultural nuances that can reach far and wide.
I think that racialized and historically marginalized people putting out their own messaging and doing outreach in their own communities is probably the most effective approach. It’s what community development really is.
DB: Do you meet very many non-white guys in your counselling practice who aren’t out, or don’t consider themselves “gay”? Who are they?
RT: Short answer, yes. But it’s important to recognize that it’s not only racialized men who aren’t out and perhaps married to women or leading otherwise “straight lives.” Our tendency to over-culturalize the phenomenon exposes our subtle racism and negative assumptions about these men.
Having said that, for the guys whom I have had conversations with that are non-white, they often talk about a range of things, from having fallen in love with their current (female) partners to the importance and value of having a family, to fulfilling family duty. Many speak about not having the option to “come out” at a younger age, or not ever considering same-sex attraction as a long-term relationship possibility.