Outsiders in London

All photographs:  copyright © Milan Svanderlik - London - UK


Sonita Turner

Age: 37

Born in Enfield, England

Father’s place of birth is unknown / Mother born in England

Ethnic heritage / Father: Pakistani / Mother: Irish


Sonita was born in Enfield but has no recollection of her birthplace;  early on, her family moved to East London and that is where she spent much of her life.   She remembers her mother, on her own, being a rather insecure figure and, though there were men in evidence periodically, they never seemed to stay or to become a part of the family as such.   The only reference ever made to Sonita’s father was that he was a jolly delivery driver and that he came from Pakistan.   Sonita was the fifth of nine siblings but, as a child, she remembers only her older brother, whose father was different from her own.   Two other boys and a girl were already elsewhere - the first man in her mother’s life had taken them with him when their marriage came to an end.   After Sonita was born, her mother had two more daughters by the new man in her life and, once that relationship had ended, she had her last son and daughter with another partner.  

Asked how she would describe her mother, Sonita replies:  “Above all, my mother was chaotic:  I felt that she never knew what she wanted from one moment to the next and she was often extremely depressed and bitter.   This cast of mind affected her emotions, her thoughts, and her entire outlook on life, not to mention the way she acted and responded towards other people, including all of her children.   ‘I gave a birth to you, so you owe me for the rest of your life!’ was a declaration often heard in our house.   We were all to be eternally grateful to her for our very existence and this was the most frequently deployed weapon in her armoury, an armoury she utilised to subjugate us.”   Sonita’s mother had Irish roots and her own mother had abandoned the family home when she was a just a small child, something that must have been highly unusual in that generation.   Her father, Sonita’s grandfather, having returned home from serving in the Second World War, had had to raise his children singlehandedly, something he seems to have done reasonably well, considering that he was a man broken by war service, unable to find any useful employment - his life was exceptionally hard indeed.   “My mother’s life had always been overshadowed by a depression that was never diagnosed clinically, though that’s not to say that her life was altogether lacking in highlights;  as a young woman she was very striking and certainly had no difficulty attracting men.   It was my impression that she had been perpetually in search of her ‘tall, dark, handsome stranger’ and all the men in her life were, without exception, Pakistani men.   With no husband around and with her children to look after, she never worked, so we had to survive on state benefits;  we were poor and we all felt it.”

“If there is one word that summarises my early childhood, it is shame!   I remember always feeling a massive sense of shame, shame for existing, shame for being who I was.   My mother reminded me often enough that I was an unwanted baby, an ‘accident’, a reminder of yet another of the selfish men who, in her eyes, had just walked into her life, used her, and walked out again.   This had a profound effect on my young life;  in this world, I felt like an outsider from the start.   Because, as a child, I couldn’t make use of the question, ‘Why me?’ as a self-defence mechanism, shame clung to me always.”

But there was more to it than that:  in her mother’s chaotic state of mind, perhaps even because of it, there was an imperative to impose strict discipline, an almost militaristic order upon her children.   Sonita’s memories of her early childhood are all coloured by the verbal and physical abuse inflicted by her mother.   Almost any incident would provoke an explosive reaction.   “After school, we were lined up like soldiers for our shoe inspection, and if any of us had scuffed our shoes, the culprits were separated out for punishment.  We were poor and shoes were expensive, so a scuffed shoe was seen as a sign of irresponsible, careless behaviour which had to be rooted out.”   The children were always expected to be tidy and to obey maternal orders without fail;  there was only ever one way of doing things and that was her way - the only way to set the table, the only way to wash a plate - any deviation would be punished with violence.   While Mother was the only adult in the house, she ruled her children’s lives with a rod of iron;  there was no-one there to moderate this ill-treatment, no father or grandmother, no-one who could mediate or offer the comfort, reassurance and love that might have provided a brief respite from this harsh treatment.   “Of course, we knew when men came to visit, men who never seemed to stay for long;  we were offered sweets to keep to our rooms and to stay out of the way, but these men, these ‘visitors’, were never a part of our lives.”

Sonita went to a local primary school in Leyton and did well.   She was clearly bright, unusually articulate for her age, intelligent and a quick learner.   Being advanced in her class, she remembers being asked to assist others who were struggling.   “I so longed for recognition and praise, things I never got at home.   I had a lively personality, was bit of a class clown and others naturally gravitated towards me.   This is not to say that I didn’t also have to put up with derogatory remarks about the way I looked - coming from an impoverished home, my clothes were old, worn and sometimes in tatters, so my appearance overall was sadly not much to inspire admiration or envy.”  

At the age of 11, Sonita progressed to the local secondary school where she didn’t do so well.   Partly because circumstances at home were hardly conducive to study or to self-development, and partly because of her growing despair, Sonita started to give up - she simply could not see the point of it all.   Regrettably, while her considerable academic potential was undermined by the impossible circumstances at home, the school failed to recognise her plight and so offered no help in surmounting these difficulties nor ensuring that her abilities were nurtured regardless of a malign maternal influence.   “I know now that I could have been a high achiever - in my heart, that was what I truly wished for - but my world would not have countenanced such aspirations.   What didn’t help either was that my mother was actually antagonistic towards education;  having herself received only the most basic post-war education, like so many other poor parents, she sent me to school simply because the law said she had to.   All she really wanted was for me to leave as soon as possible, get a job and start bringing in some money to help sustain the household.   Sending us kids to school was nothing but an inconvenience.”

Sonita’s mother’s depressions, her spells of bad temper and her outbreaks of violent behaviour became increasingly frequent, almost daily occurrences, and only at school did the children have some time when they felt safe.   After considerable hesitation, Sonita shared something she had rarely spoken about before:  “At the age of 13, my mother banned me permanently from sleeping in my bed.   She never explained why she had made this decision and I never dared to dispute it either;  it seemed to me simply another way for her to exert control over me.   So, from that time onwards, I slept in an armchair in her bedroom with a coat over me to keep warm.   Each night, the routine was virtually the same:  my mother would get into her bed and I had to stand next to the bed, facing her, and wait for her to fall asleep.   Only once she was fast asleep was I allowed to take up my armchair and go to sleep myself.   Most nights, I would have to stand by her bed for what seemed hours on end till she nodded off.”

“On one occasion, when I was about 14 years old, I vividly remember becoming so consumed by rage about the way she was treating me - being made to stand at her bedside, watching her lying warm and comfortable, then falling off to sleep - that I seriously entertained the idea of killing her there and then, of getting a knife from the kitchen and plunging it right between her shoulder blades, ending her ill-treatment of me once and for all.   But I knew I couldn’t do it, so I seemed destined to carry on suffering at her hands.”


Asked how she coped with puberty, a time of turmoil for most youngsters, Sonita replied without hesitation:  “I didn’t cope well at all.   My mother never gave me any kind of nurturing or support;  instead, because I had my first period late, at the age of 14, she labelled me a late developer and said I must be inadequate.   Of course, by that age, most of the other girls at school had adjusted to their new womanly state and had acquired new clothes to complement their developing femininity, whereas I was left behind in cheap, ill-fitting stuff found in rubbish chutes or second-hand from social workers.”   Sonita was again made to feel like an outsider, standing out from the crowd and inevitably being ridiculed for it.   There was nothing to counteract her longstanding sense of shame and it stayed with her right through to adolescence, when there always seem to be quite enough reasons for teenagers to feel inadequate and embarrassed anyway.  

Smiling, Sonita continued:  “But hormonally, there was nothing stopping me!   Almost every week, I had a crush on someone or other, but they always rejected me.   I suppose because of our circumstances, I had always been a daydreamer, daydreaming was my escape from the nasty realities of life at home.   Perhaps not surprisingly, I went on to become a romantic daydreamer too, casting an eye over all the handsome boys I saw around me and imagining their tender love, love that would transport me to another world, far away from the one I had to live in.   I also differed from the other girls in that I dared to take the initiative:  I made romantic advances to boys, though almost without fail these were successful only in frightening the lads off.   Over time, I came to be seen as the ‘class tramp’, a picture of poverty that no boy was going to be seen with - all the other girls around me looked like beauty queens in comparison.   I shed many a tear over this but perhaps it made me stronger and even more determined;  deep down, I hoped that someone might see beyond my impoverished attire, see the person I really was.”

After a little thought, Sonita continued:  “The physical violence I suffered from my mother got worse as I grew older;  it was a daily, sometimes even an hourly event.   Theoretically, we could all have resisted;  we might have fought back, defended ourselves, but after so many years, fear of our mother was too deeply ingrained in our psyches.   I will never forget my mother caning my older brother when he was 18 years old:  at that age, he was six feet tall and towered over her, but there he was, bent over the table with his trousers down, unable to resist, paralysed by that same fear of her the rest of us had.   By then she had total control of our lives.   We feared that to resist her commands was a fate worse than death.   She would often say, ‘I gave you life, and I will take your life, if needs be’ - those were the words of our own mother.   On one occasion, I remember her strangling me until I lost control of my bladder and nearly lost consciousness;  the look in her eyes left me in no doubt that she was capable of doing worse.”

“At secondary school, I talked with the other girls, comparing our lives, and discovered that during the weekend, they would sometimes go to the cinema or out to eat pizza with friends.   Neither my siblings nor I had ever experienced such treats.   I’d never been in anyone else’s house to see how they lived because I was never able to invite them back to our home.   To us, of course, the lives we led seemed normal;  we had never known anything else.   We thought that violence was part of everyone’s life, that subservience was the only position for children to adopt.   Only in my teenage years, as I became more acquainted with the lives of others, did I start to question things, try to understand better why my mother hated me so much, why she felt the need to beat me, scream at me, humiliate me - never far from my mind was the thought that she was probably quite capable of killing me, and might indeed do so at any time, any moment.”   Sonita was made to feel like an outsider in her own family, in her own home, with the fear of violence ever-present.   Her own daughter’s very existence appeared to irritate her mother, the fact that she was still living and breathing and perhaps growing into an attractive and desirable woman, diverting from her the attentions of any potential ‘dark handsome strangers‘ who might come along.

Sonita was fifteen and a half and still at secondary school when one day her situation took a turn for the worse.   The weekend had been filled with the usual mixture of horrendous accusations and tantrums, interspersed with violence;  Sonita reached the point where she could take no more.   On the verge of tears, she recalls the occasion:  “I was ordered to take the rubbish out, so I did, and once I was outside the flat, all I could feel was the desire to be free, to get away from the living hell of our home.   Suddenly, it struck me that I couldn’t go back inside, that I couldn’t endure any more of the mental torture, the violence, the abuse, the emotional blackmail so, with tears streaming down my cheeks, I simply walked away from our block of flats and on to the street.   I had no possessions or clothes with me, only what I had on my body.   I took one look back at the window of our flat and thought, ‘It’s now or never’ and then I just ran, and ran.   I ran for my life.”

Sonita ran to Leytonstone and, while this was no vast distance from her home, it felt like many miles away.   She had nowhere to go and, being still a minor, knew that seeking help might only result in her being escorted back home, heaven knows to what further misery.   Feeling that she could trust no-one, she slept a couple of nights in Epping Forest, walking aimlessly around the neighbouring areas during the day.   The world around her felt alien and she found it hard to imagine that somewhere in this world there could be a place for her too.   “I should perhaps have been scared of strangers, but I wasn’t;  what I was really scared of was being found by the Police, or by the school authorities, and being forced to return home.”

At this point, however, Sonita’s story took a remarkable twist:  she remembered the kind words of a Pakistani girl who had visited them some years back, a girl who had witnessed Sonita’s torments at home and who had given her a note of her own home address, just in case things became completely unbearable some time in the future.   For years, Sonita had kept that little piece of paper folded up in her pocket, as a sort of talisman, and now she realised that this was possibly her only hope of safety.  She managed to find the address, it was another a block of flats, and marshalled the courage to knock on the door.   An Asian woman answered:  unfortunately, the girl who had given her the address was there no longer - she had been unable to cope with her own demons and had committed suicide a year earlier.   Sonita saw her only hope of a safe haven fading away there at the front door but, faced with the pitiful sight of a persecuted, vulnerable, homeless young girl on her doorstep, the lady of the house took her in.   As a temporary measure, Sonita was offered the protection of a home and safety, giving her time to decide what to do next.

It was a Pakistani household comprising one woman, her husband and children, together with several brothers living under the same roof.   Nephews, uncles and other family members visited frequently, as is the custom in such families.   Sonita stayed there for several months, keeping well away from school as she knew only too well that her mother would have initiated a search for her and that school would be the first place she would go to.   In order to repay her hosts for their hospitality, Sonita looked after the children, participated in the preparation of meals for the whole family, and helped to clean the house - all the time, she made an effort to keep a very low profile.   They were kind to her;  they had offered to share their house with her, to feed her and to protect her, knowing all too well how vulnerable she was.”

A little haltingly, Sonita continued this part of her story:  “I was just under 16, with little experience of life, vulnerable and intensely lonely;  I would have welcomed any sign of tenderness, kindness or understanding from anyone willing to offer it.   Thus, I fear I became what I would now call ‘easy prey’ for the men in the household.   I felt a sense of gratitude towards them, for they had opened their home to me, and I felt that I owed them a lot.   I’d been given food and shelter, I was safely away from the hell of living with my mother and, for the first time, I even felt wanted.   I was being noticed as a woman too:  for the first time in my life, there was someone who actually noticed my existence and who wanted to be tender to me.”  

“I lost my virginity to one of the older men in the family and then, over a period of time and in what seems, looking back on it, to have been a sort of haze, he was followed by a succession of other brothers and nephews, leaving me in a state of total confusion,   They were all manipulative, coercive and predatory and they took advantage of my innocence;  they took away a part of me that until then had been untouched.   After each of these encounters, I was deeply sad but I still felt gratitude towards them, for sheltering me.   Each time some new man showed interest in me, extended his hand towards me, I just hoped that he might not expect anything in return but, sad to say, that remained only a dream, a hope:  they all offered me companionship but expected sexual favours in return.   After the act, they would just walk away, leaving me to feel worthless, used and ashamed all over again.”

Asked if she considered this to have been a series of rapes, after some consideration Sonita replied:  “Yes!   I never consented to having sex with these men but I didn’t know how to say no;  no-one taught me how to do that, or even when to say no.   I simply wasn’t saying anything but I felt I had no choice really, I had no options.   I felt that by saying no I would be throwing their hospitality in their faces, that it would be almost an insult.   I felt that being compliant was the least I could do.   And then I reached the point when I felt I couldn’t take any more and the situation started to get brutal.   For the second time in my life, I had to escape from a home and a family, returning to the cold, inhospitable streets, streets full of strangers, not knowing where I could go, where I could seek safety, or even, do I dare to say, where I could perhaps find affection and love?   By this time, I was just over 16 years of age.”

One day, Sonita was discovered by someone associated with the family from whom she had fled, someone whom she recognised, but he was one of those who had never attempted to take advantage of her, as the others had done.   Sonita continued:  “He had his own issues:  he was a habitual user of drugs and alcohol and certainly did not fit into the conventional mould of Pakistani family life.   He lived for the moment;  he seemed carefree, almost wild, but he was also full of fun.   While I was with my host family, we had sort of befriended one another, as perhaps two outsiders might.   Having learned that I had run away, he  cycled around the neighbourhood on his BMX bike looking for me.”

It was clear that this young man liked Sonita a lot;  they connected emotionally too and she had begun to see in him someone who genuinely cared for her.   They shared many tender moments together.   He was older than she was, but still a young man at 21, and he was never demanding, but always gentle and generally quite different from the other men Sonita had encountered.   And naturally enough, though perhaps once again out of some sense of gratitude or duty, Sonita became his lover.   Unfortunately, their relationship was not destined to last very long, for he finished up in prison again for one of his many misdemeanours.   As is often the way, it was just at this time when Sonita found she was carrying his child;  and once again, she had nowhere to go.  

In the circumstances, sleeping on park benches was no longer an option and, out of desperation, she returned to her family home.   Much to her surprise, her mother welcomed Sonita with open arms:  “In some crazy way that only she could know, she must have missed me.   Perhaps she had missed her punchbag, perhaps the fear that I might never come back had triggered in her heart some remaining trace of maternal instinct. Perhaps I am being too cynical and she was genuinely happy to see me back.   Who knows?”   This domestic harmony prevailed for only two weeks but it was a happy time nonetheless - Sonita was looking forward to having her own little baby doll and perhaps the baby might have a loving grandmother too.   She wanted to be the best possible mother to this child, to give it the happy, loving childhood that Sonita herself had never had.   Unfortunately, her mother’s more usual personality traits soon reasserted themselves and she started to rage again:  “The familiar crazed, manic look returned to her face, a look I knew only too well.   On one occasion, when she was in one of her more violent rages,  I remember vividly her attacking me and dragging me around the flat by my hair, while I was trying to shield myself from her blows and simultaneously protect my swollen belly and its precious cargo.   I knew then that my mother was almost certainly insane and that in order to survive, in order to protect my child, I would have to leave once more.”

Then, by a stroke of good fortune, another ‘dark stranger’ entered her mother’s life, another Pakistani man, but on this occasion he asked her to live with him in his house,  to start a new life with him.   He was the first man who had ever done that.   Unexpectedly, Sonita found herself with a home of her own, except that legally, passing on a council flat in this way was not permitted.   At first, Sonita was overjoyed:  she was free from her mother’s unhinged tyranny;  she had somewhere to live and, together with the child that would soon be born, she would be safe.   Except Sonita was not very mindful of the harsh practicalities of life:  the rent had to be paid, food needed to be bought, and bills had to be settled, though she had no money and no income.   So her new-found nirvana was short-lived;  within only a few weeks, the neighbours had thoughtfully reported her illegal occupancy and, now heavily pregnant, Sonita was duly evicted and placed in a hostel - an extraordinary decision indeed.  

At the hostel, Sonita met a young Nigerian man who almost instantly determined that she should be his wife.   “He was a very kind, generous man, a really good person, and he remains a close friend to this day.   At that stage, to be honest, I had no-one;  I had nothing except the new life that I nurtured inside me, so I allowed this kind man to take charge, to take care of me, to be my companion, and to share his home with me.   I have to say that although I knew he had fallen head over heels in love with me, I felt no such emotions towards him.   I respected him greatly and I saw him as someone who was very generously taking care of me and my baby.”   They shared a flat in East London and there Sonita’s daughter was born, a healthy, beautiful baby, full of life.   A new chapter had opened in Sonita’s life.  

“With motherhood, I suddenly grew up.   During pregnancy, I had continued to be a sort of kid - it almost felt as if it was not real - but now I was real mother and I grew up overnight.   I also realised that my present situation couldn’t continue, living with a man I had no feelings for, other than gratitude, of course.   He was a good man and had great expectations of our relationship;  I was his dream come true yet I knew I could not be part of that dream.   Once again, I was consumed by shame, only this time it was compounded with guilt as well, guilt for not being able to return the love, affection and all the generosity this man had extended towards me and to my baby daughter too.   I therefore seemed destined to be ‘on the run’ yet again, though this time I was running away from a man for whom I was everything he hoped for.   I ran back to my mum again, the only place I could go to in the circumstances - by that time, she had married her new Pakistani man, the one who had offered her a new home and a new life.”

There was now a significant parallel development in Sonita’s own life, she said:  “Having gone through the birth of my daughter, in a strange way, I went through a sort of rebirth too, the birth of the true me perhaps.   I fell in love with a woman, Nikki, my best friend from my school days.   I was 18 years old and it was a revelation to me.  The relationship and the emotion were amazing, like nothing on earth I had experienced before.   I now understood why after most of my relationships with men I had felt so downcast, so empty.   With Nikki, it felt like discovering the very essence of life.   I had found the real purpose in my life and, for once, I felt myself fully alive.   My first experience of true love towards someone else brought me almost unimaginable happiness.”

Sonita’s relationship with Nikki had to be carried on in secret;  her mother had a strong, conventional religious morality which would under no circumstances have countenanced having a daughter who was a lesbian.   Fortunately, together with some friends, Nikki managed to raise sufficient cash to fund the deposit on a flat and, together with Sonita and her daughter, they moved into their first independently-rented home, again in East London.   Nikki spent a great deal of time with Sonita and her baby daughter - it was a period of true happiness - but inevitably Sonita’s mother discovered the true nature of her daughter’s relationship and, as predicted, she did not react well.   On a daily basis, Sonita had to endure long, biblical lectures about the cardinal sin of homosexuality, and her mother deployed every iota of emotional blackmail she could muster.   “During a period of weakness, I succumbed to these incessant tirades;  I started to question the morality, the ‘rightness’ of my relationship with Nikki.   I decided to put the relationship on hold to give me time to ponder the consequences, to consider if indeed this might just be a regrettable, one-off aberration in the context of my emotional state.   And then, perhaps to prove something to myself - perhaps even to my mother - I started to date a man again, this time a young Barbadian man.   He was very good-looking and our relationship was certainly physical, but only sort of;  I just went through the motions, never able to connect with him emotionally and most certainly never achieving anything like the rapture I had experienced with Nikki, for whom I still had deep affection and longing.   Then I discovered that this new man of mine was leading a parallel life, a life that I’d known nothing at all about and that I’d rather not talk of now.   But that gave me a good excuse to get him out of my life and to realise my own foolishness.   I knew that all I really wanted was Nikki back in my arms and I was lucky, she forgave me and came back to me once more.”

Sonita’s life with Nikki was back on track and she came to recognise deep within herself that her homosexuality was not some passing phase - a lesbian was what she truly was and any hope she might have had of achieving happiness with a man was therefore groundless.   Nature can be cruel, however, and three months after parting from the Barbadian man, Sonita discovered that she was pregnant again and feared that Nikki might reject her because of it.   In fact, Nikki’s response was exactly the opposite, she was delighted, saying: “We will have a baby of our own, something that so many gay couples long for but can’t have;  it’s the one thing I always wanted to give you but I never could.”   Sonita’s second daughter was born, to be loved by both of them.   Sonita’s relationship with Nikki lasted for over five years but as they both matured and grew into adults, they gently grew out of love too, though they remain good friends to this day.  

It is safe to say that, while Sonita‘s life from that point up until the present was not always plain sailing, she was single-mindedly determined to build a good, happy home for her two daughters;  she was emphatic in her determination to break for ever the vicious circle her mother had helped perpetuate and so prevent yet another generation from experiencing the same suffering and abuse she had gone through.   In her own words, Sonita sums it up:  “I have striven to be the best mother that I could be and at the same time give meaning and purpose to the legacy of my own life story.”   Sonita also focused her efforts towards helping others in the community, others who were facing major difficulties, surviving in dysfunctional families, coping, living with the violence, humiliation and cruelty that was inflicted upon them when they were most vulnerable.   Initially, she worked as a volunteer with Social Services, working especially with children in care.   On the basis of this experience, she then took the initiative and, having enrolled as a mature student, studied Social Work at the University of East London, completing her qualification when she was thirty and making a transition into Youth Work:  “I enjoyed being in the front line.   I was there in the thick of it and by having direct contact with the youngsters, I was able to make a real difference to the lives of many of them.”  

By now, Sonita had also fully accepted herself as a lesbian and had, in many ways, come to terms with her own past.   She experienced a great sense of liberation:  “It might be a cliché but it really was like waking up and saying to myself, ‘This is the first day of the rest of my life.’   I know I am never going back to men, so I will live my life as it is now as fully as I am able and explore sharing the joy of living with as many good people as I have the opportunity to meet.   At that point, I suppose symbolically, I cut my beautiful, long hair short, so as to make myself unattractive to men, and was welcomed into the lesbian community with open arms.”   Sonita concludes with a broad smile, “I became a ‘Lady Killer’.”   She is currently in a relationship with a transgendered-man which many find intriguing, bearing in mind her firm commitment not to bother with men any more, but life is rich in its diversity and whenever it is predictable, it is almost certainly also dull, and nothing about Sonita’s life is ever dull.

Sonita felt she was an outsider in her own family from the very beginning and being asked how she would summarise the biggest disadvantage of that situation, she ponders the question for a moment then says:  “Possibly the biggest disadvantage of not being loved in my family home, is that I did not learn to love myself;  I never understood who I was, or recognised my own worth.   Once that changed, once I had rid myself of the shame I had felt for years as a child and young woman, it was a revelation and that moment of self-discovery came to me when I fell in love with Nikki, my first true love.”

Asked how she might describe any advantages that being an outsider had brought, she says:  “The experience I went through undoubtedly shaped me into the unique person that I am today.   I also understand others and have acquired considerable insight and empathy - having experienced myself so many aspects of human behaviour at its least appealing and most inhumane, the motivation I developed, the struggles I had just to survive, this has given me a great advantage in the work I do today, helping others in need, enabling them to heal themselves, and discover who they truly are.”

Invited to reflect on whether, if she had had the choice, she would have chosen not be an outsider, Sonita responds:  “It’s  50 / 50.   It would certainly be enlightening to have experienced how it feels to be wanted, to be raised, nurtured and loved within your own family, including by the father whom I shall never know.   My mother took to her grave, seven years ago now, the knowledge of who my father was and I should have given almost anything to have known that - where he came from, how he looked, what his roots were.  The other half of the answer is simple:  without travelling the road of the outsider, I simply wouldn’t be the person I am today.”

Interview Date: 5th February 2014

Updated:  16th March 2014

Sonita’s early memories are coloured by her mother’s abuse;  for her, the word ‘shame’ summarises her childhood.   She remembers always feeling ashamed, ashamed for being who she was, ashamed for even existing.   Her mother frequently reminded her that she was unwanted, a painful reminder of another selfish man who had walked into her life, used her, and walked out again.   Feeling an outsider in her own home, with the ever-present fear of violence, Sonita’s young life was profoundly troubled.   Unloved by her mother, Sonita never learned to love herself.   Only once that was remedied, once she was unburdened of the shame she had carried for years, did revelation, that unique moment of self-awakening and discovery, come to her and she was able to find her own first love.

Photography: London 5th February 2014