Life Stories: Rav Bansal - Broadcaster, Baker and Podcast Host
Updated: Jan 31, 2020
There isn’t much of an introduction needed, but I’ll give one anyway. His brilliant smile and infectious energy rubbed off on all of us on GBBO Series 7 and he is the host of one of THE best podcasts to be released recently ‘Do You Wear That in the Shower?’ – an irreverent take on the inane questions and microaggressions people of colour with various identities experience. Rav’s story was of particular interest, as he chose to come out this year during Pride Month and became a visible queer role model, heightened by the fact that he is also of the Sikh faith and wears a turban – you don’t see people like him very often. Meeting him lived up to the hype (and the gin martinis went down well too!).
31, male, he/his/him, Gay, Punjabi
Life Right Now
Since I’ve come out, I want to create safe spaces for queer people, especially those of colour. One of the things I’m excited about is launching a queer brunch club in partnership with a hotel in London (watch this space!). It gives me the opportunity to use my skills in food to create something magical which will help people connect, network and meet others with similar interests all while enjoying delicious food and mouth-watering cocktails. We then talked about Rav’s signature dish, Chilli Paneer quiche (and OMFG yes!).
I’m also busy with my podcast, which is a funny take on the microaggressions we face daily, exploring people’s experiences and learning from them but also helping others understand what’s acceptable today. The response has been amazing! The idea came about as I was on a date (I clarified if it was with a White man, which obviously it was) who asked me very seriously ‘Do you wear that (my turban) in the shower? I initially found it funny, but it got me thinking about the weird questions any of us can receive about our appearance, background and culture. More broadly, I wanted to do things that aren’t always connected to food and tap into my own activism.
I knew I was different when I was 12, but didn’t have the language to explore what that actually was. It felt like I wasn’t quite ‘normal’ and I use that word deliberately as I thought something was wrong with me. It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I realised I had an attraction to people of the same sex. This terrified me as I saw the word ‘gay’ something to be fearful of. I decided to bury those feelings in the hope they went away – but of course they didn’t.
For the longest time, I decided not to explore that part of myself and it was to my own detriment, both physically and mentally. It took me until I was 26 to be comfortable enough to come out to myself. Until then, like other South Asians, I’d accepted that I’d eventually get married to and have kids as part of my destiny. When I realised nothing was going to change, I knew I had to accept it, which is when I decided to speak my truth. And since then life has only got better. Looking back, the thing that really held me back was that I didn’t see any role models who were gay. I genuinely didn’t believe that Sikh people could be gay.
My Family & Culture
Understanding my religion and its position on queerness played a big part in helping me accept myself. Although I was born into Sikhism, I didn’t fully understand it. I looked for anything that explicitly said you could not be both Sikh and gay – and found nothing. Sikhism is a religion based on equality, which in turn gave me the reassurance I needed to come out.
I know I’m lucky to have the support of my parents as not every queer person of colour has that. Initially, the community spoke to my parents as though something really bad had happened, almost consoling them. However, my parents have become activists. My Mum saw this as an opportunity to help other parents with queer children. It’s been a process and continues to be so but I’ve realised teaching them hasn’t been as difficult as I expected it to be.
I’ve made a point of being honest about who I am. My Dad has wanted me to continue with that honesty. I talk with them unapologetically about dating, gay marriage and even the possibility of having a child. They have also been proactive about learning more about my sexuality and come to me with their questions. I wanted them to feel comfortable to do so, and they’ve taken me up on my offer! My Dad’s immediate acceptance of me was key to my parents accepting me overall.
After coming out to myself, the next step was coming out to my family. It was a difficult stage of life and my family noticed that something wasn’t right. I’d become withdrawn and you could see it. My sister knows me really well, so she sat me down and asked me to open up; I remember I just broke down. I couldn’t even say the words to her and sent her a text message as she sat there saying ‘I’m gay’. Like me, she was concerned how my parents would react and immediately became my coach on how to handle my parents. I’m so grateful to her for her support.
After a few weeks of contemplating the worst, I decided to tell them. I initially had mixed reactions. Although I think it’s fairly obvious that I’m gay, my parents haven’t interacted with gay people and therefore never associated it with someone who is Sikh. They needed some time to process all of this – it took me 26 years! What helped was that their faith didn’t distinguish between anyone who was gay or heterosexual, which gave them permission to accept me for who I am. I know other queer people have a strained relationship with religion, but Sikhism doesn’t say anything about sexuality. I only came out publicly after I’d given my parents time to understand and accept who I was. For me, this was a matter of respect for them.
For a long time, my queerness had nothing to do with my career. However, recently I’ve started to celebrate my identity and bring this into what I do for a living, whether it be my brunch club or my podcast. As I said before, I’ve thought about how I can weave together different aspects of my identity and try new things that will inspire other people. By being visible and talking about my experiences, if I can help even one person, then this has all been worth it.
When I look back at GBBO, it was a transitional phase. Off camera, I was going through a stressful time and although people said I had such a positive attitude on the show, I was going through a dark time. After being eliminated, I didn’t really care as it meant that it gave me time to address some of the personal issues I was working through. It was a relief. I’m now very deliberate about what I say ‘yes’ to and the projects I work on. There have been offers and deals on the table, but I’ve said no as being true to myself and my activism is important to me.
Love, Dating & Relationships
I’m not dating anyone at the moment. To be honest, I find it quite difficult to trust people based on a past experience that has left a negative impression. When I turned 30, I felt like I needed to be in a relationship. It upset me that it wasn’t happening, but looking back it was also on me as I wasn’t putting myself out there.
I’m open to dating and meeting someone, but I also question whether I actually want/need to be in a relationship. One of the things I’m making peace with is that I may end up alone. I say this not to garner sympathy, but in terms of accepting it as a potential reality and only moving into a relationship with someone for the right reasons. I’ve also decided that when I’m 35, I’ll pursue the option of having a child – even if that means doing it alone. I know that I want to be a Dad one day and I’ve been doing my research – it’s not cheap! Love is often associated with romantic relationships, but I want to explore unconditional love for a child and create a family.
I don’t have much experience of being out on the scene, and for the longest time I avoided it. When I’m out in queer spaces, I feel strange. Because I’m visibly different to what is typical of the scene, it’s like being in a fishbowl in which I stand out. Sometimes this can be a positive thing, but other times it’s uncomfortable especially when I’m the only queer person of colour in that space. But then you have events like UK Black Pride! I went for the first time this year and felt emotional. It was beautiful to see all these queer people of colour being celebrated and celebrating each other. I felt like I belonged.
Where we can, we need to continue being visible and proactive in using our voices. Not just within our community but across wider society too if we have any hope of creating change. The reality is that our voices are not heard or celebrated in the same way as our White counterparts. Each little step we take in being visible is a form of activism. I think queer media could do more, especially some of the major publications where you hardly see people like us. I keep going on about being visible, but I know how powerful it is by the amount of emails and DMs I get.
The first is Dr Ranj. I remember meeting him at the Asian Awards and almost burst into tears. Seeing someone who is also Punjabi and out was a big thing for me and I was excited to finally meet him in person. Also, Canadian music producer and DJ, Kanwar Anit Singh Saini aka Sikh Knowledge who was the very first openly queer Sikh person that I ever came across, he will always be an inspiration to me and happens to be extremely talented too. The brilliant Le Gateau Chocolat is also someone who I admire - self described as a 'Black, bearded, plus-sized drag queen', Le Gateau is unafraid to be visibly queer in the most fabulous way and has broken down so many barriers around gender and cultural expectations.
Words of Wisdom
Don’t feel pressured to come out if you’re not ready. So often the Western ideal is to be out and proud but it often dismisses the cultural aspects people of colour often contend with in their lives. If you do choose to speak your truth, allow both yourself and those important to you to come to terms with who you are.
Embrace life! Specifically, in a way that allows you to fulfil your happiness. We’re here (and queer) for a finite amount of time so why spend it focusing on coulda, woulda, shoulda. Try and find your happiness in a way that will make your life easier.
Do what makes you happy. So often we fall into what other people expect from us and we compromise our own happiness as a result. Start living your life for yourself; once you find your happiness, the whole world begins to open up and you are able to achieve things in a much more proactive way.
Gin martinis done, it was time to head off. I felt like I’d been talking to a friend who I’d known for a long time. Rav makes you feel comfortable in his company and his humour and openness put me at ease. I only hope I did the same for him. Most importantly, his courage is being so visible for the community can only be a good thing, especially given the tricky intersection of queerness, race and faith.