A young Singh in the UK has been in the spotlight the last few days after his appearance on a dating television show called “Take Me Out.” I just heard about it a show on BBC Radio 1 hosted by Nihal, which you can listen to in its entirety here. Nihal speaks with Param, the dating show contestant, and takes comments from listeners, who discuss Param’s appearance on the show and more generally whether turban-wearing Sikh men are discriminated against when it comes to dating and marriage. As you’ll see in the clip below, as soon as Param comes out, 20 of the 30 women turn their lights off, indicating no interest in him. One woman who left her light on said she is interested in him because she could use Param’s turban to store her phone.
I recommend checking out Nihal’s discussion on the BBC especially starting at around 44:00 into the show if you don’t have time to listen to the whole thing. One caller named Jasminder asserts that when Param came down, it became more like a comedy show and less like a dating show given how the women and audience reacted. He continues that turban-wearing men often feel invisible to women, not literally, but “when it comes to actually going out with someone.”
Something about this discussion hit home for me. Back in 2011, I discussed some of my challenges when it came to dating and insecurity in my post about dharis:
I was inundated with the voices of young women in my school casually referring to facial hair as gross or unattractive (with no intention to hurt my feelings I’m sure) and their preference for guys who were “clean-shaven.”
CLEAN-shaven. The implication being that facial hair is…dirty?
These are the messages we get from our peers and from the media every day. So naturally I assumed it was highly unlikely that any of my female classmates would ever be interested in dating someone like me. The combination of a dirty face plus a patka was enough to cause a whole lot of anxiety and insecurity for this angsty teenage Singh.
The discussion on the BBC program resonated with many thoughts and questions that often swirl around in my head when it comes to the topic of dating for me, and perhaps other turban-wearing Sikh males:
When insecurities creep up in my current romantic life, how much is it a product of the insecurity I felt as a young patka-wearing child who was bullied in school? Feeling like an outcast for most of one’s life most certainly takes a toll, even if the ways it manifests are more subtle in our adulthood. I’m no psychologist, but internalized oppression is very real, and as a community we probably need to take more concrete steps to address it, to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, as Bob Marley put it.
Is “success” in dating for us directly linked to our level of self-confidence and self-love, or will there always be real barriers/biases/obstacles for us because of our kesh, dharis, and dastars? Let’s be real. Turbans and beards don’t exactly epitomize the desired male in the west or even in South Asia for that matter. Of course, many would never consider dating me/us as a result. I’ve found that many people, even South Asians and people from Sikh backgrounds, make all sorts of assumptions as soon as they see my khuli dhari and my turban, especially if they also learn I don’t drink. I must be someone who is extremely “religious” (a term that carries a lot of baggage), someone who is very “serious,” probably not “fun,” and certainly not attractive in the romantic sense. Of course I wouldn’t want to date anyone who is so quick to judge in this way either, but the reality is nevertheless frustrating. I suspect it operates in much more subtle ways too.
Is it a growing trend for women from Sikh backgrounds to not want to date men who keep their kesh? This issue came up on the BBC program as well, and I’m not actually sure what the reality of the situation is. I have certainly observed Sikh women who see turban-wearing Singhs as more like brothers and less like someone to date, but is this really becoming the norm? Desire is a complicated thing, something that is deeply shaped by the society we live in. It’s clear that people in North America and the UK are not exactly socialized to find Sikh men attractive, so I’m sure that plays a role in who Sikh women in the diaspora find attractive. But as paghs and untrimmed/unshaved dharis become less fashionable in Punjab (and India in general), perhaps our own community is also socializing heterosexual women away from being attracted to keshdhari Sikh men. Of course it goes the other way too, with keshdhari and even amritdhari Sikh men having no interest in Sikh women who don’t shave or otherwise remove their body hair. (A friend has been doing some fascinating research on the subject, which I hope she’ll share on TLH some time). Strangely enough, I must confess that to date, I have never been in a romantic relationship with a Sikh woman, and not due to any conscious decision of my own. It’s hard to say exactly what this is about and how much of it relates to this trend, but it is worth noting.
In writing this, I am mostly interested in opening up a conversation. What have your experiences and observations been? In some Sikh spaces, conversations about dating at all (and dating itself) are taboo, which only exacerbates these sorts of problems. For Sikh readers of all genders and sexual orientations, have you noticed differences in your experiences dating Sikhs and non-Sikhs, desis and non-desis? What barriers have you faced or what suggestions do you have?
In the end, while I am sure my Sikh identity has limited the dating pool for me (not to mention fueled my insecurities, especially at a younger age), I can say with confidence that I have never sensed any lack of attraction to me from a partner based on my turban and/or beard. This is to say, of course, that many people indeed do find dharis — even khuli dharis — and paghs attractive.