by Shaheryar Ali
The problem of LGBT rights in Pakistan becomes especially complex taking into account, the “combined and uneven development” of the Islamic Republic , the conflicting influences of westernization, and Islamisation, the post-modern conditions and the “queer” turn of the “world Wide LGBT movement” itself.
Despite all the hurdles Pakistan has seen an unprecedented explosion of “Queer Culture” . There has been a mushrooming of Urban Gay life style in larger cities of Pakistan. There has been an increase in “gay consciousness” in the media. There has been going on a slow transformation of “gender roles” especially visible in urban Pakistani male, described as the “rise of meterosexuality in Urban Pakistan” in the contemporary fashion discourse. An analysis of meterosexualiy reveals its nothing but “liberalization” of gender identities and roles. The things considered to be “taboos’ for “masculinity” have gained acceptance in increasingly larger number of males. The “attire” once considered to be “identification” for homosexuals has now become mainstream urban male fashion. The low waist jeans, bright and exotic colors, chokers, bracelets, rings,waxing, all could be traced to “attire” of an underground “homo” of the 60s in London.
The media has become increasingly aware and manipulator of aesthetic value of “male figure”. A lot of music videos that have emerged from Pakistan has “consciously” or “unconsciously” utilized celebrated “Queer” themes from western media. An especially popular theme used has been an inspiration from landmark American Drama “Angeles in America”. Shirtless male is an increasingly popular media phenomenon. All these images, to an extent, represent the changes in society which is slowly becoming aware and conscious of some thing which it insists on declaring “non existent”.
There is no “Gay-Lib” in Pakistan, the historic “pederastic” tradition in a confusing mix.
For the past few years the development of Gay culture in Pakistan has taken world by storm, the impact has been strong on “culture” but it political expression has been virtually “non existent”. BBC notes that homosexuality is better off in Pakistan due to “don’t ask don’t tell” policy that is a result of an age old tradition of tolerated pederasty, social taboos and lack of political activism.
Recently the ultimate “queering” shock the society got was Ali Saleem and emergence of “Begum Nawazish Ali”. A classical Derridian “gender deconstruction”. The show subverts and challenges lot of norms of Pakistani society. But it was tolerated and even celebrated to some extent. So much so that HH Naimat Ullah the ex Nazim of Karachi granted an audience to Begum Sahiba. He belongs to the “official homophobic” party of Pakistan “Jammat e Islami”. Begum Nawazish Ali is a “classical post modern phenomenon”, that exhibits ambivalence not only to “gender” but also to “sexual orientation”. Ali Saleem , dresses up as woman, flirts with cute lads on TV, is searching for a “bride” and according to various interviews is “bi-sexual” or in a rather “innovative” use of language “Try-sexual”. On top of it “He is proud of leading an honest life in Pakistan” .This is Judith Butler and post-modernism at its best.
On the other side there exists a “modern gay” type phenomenon in Pakistan. There have been various underground events in Karachi. Lahore , Islamabad and Karachi have “gay parties” whose tales have reached as far as the Guardian UK, that wrote some time back:
“Under a starry sky filled with fireworks, about 150 gay men clambered to the roof of an apartment building for an exuberant party. Bollywood music spilled into the streets as dress-wearing men twisted and whirled flamboyantly.Some older men with moustaches and wearing traditional shalwar kameez stared silently from the sidelines. But most of the party-goers were in their 20s, dressed in jeans and T-shirts, and looking for a good time. “We just want to have fun,” said one of the organisers, known as the “hot boyz””
The Guardian, has caught only “one” of a gay party, dozens happen in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. There are dozens of “cruising spots” in cities where Lawrence Gardens Lahore and Expo center in Karachi stand out proud for their activity.
A former Chief minister of Sindh lost his job because he was caught by the press “cross dressed” in one such party in Karachi. The eflux of many young men into the West for “education” has helped increase awareness of “gay” as identity. The “internet” explosion and “cell phones” have transformed the Urban Pakistani gay culture, making it “introvert” , “safe” and “invisible”. There exist numerous forums, communities and website which have replaced the traditional pick-up spots. An anonymous commentator stated: “This new culture has caused a devastating blow to “Gay liberation” because most urban gays don’t feel a “need” to be liberated.”
A UNHCR reports suggests:
“The Internet is reportedly contributing to a sense of growing “solidarity” amongst homosexuals in Pakistan (UN 10 May 2005; see also The Guardian 14 Mar. 2006; BBC 2 June 2005). Online chat rooms are said to provide a “safe and anonymous forum for middle- and upper-class gay men” (The Guardian 14 Mar. 2006).According to a 5 October 2005 British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) article, “increasingly,” same-sex couples are living together in Pakistan’s larger cities, including Karachi and Islamabad. However, a 2006 Guardian article states that it is “rare” for homosexual couples to live together and that many gay men end up marrying women to “avoid scandalising their families” (14 Mar. 2006). Another article from IRIN notes that, while the atmosphere in larger cities such as Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore is “mildly” more tolerant, in rural areas, conservatism is “extreme” and homosexuals remain “closeted” (UN 10 May 2005)”
On top of all this , away from “urban middle class” phenomenon, there exist a very strong pederastic tradition , the society as a whole is more tolerant to same gender show of affection . A lot of “homoeroticism” is evident in society ranging from “horse play” to “male bonding.””Two sources indicate that cultural practices in Pakistan, which permit public displays of affection between members of the same gender, make it possible for gay men to socialize without attracting attention (BBC 2 June 2005; The Guardian 14 Mar. 2006)
“Nevertheless, several sources consulted by the Research Directorate indicate that homosexuality may, in general, be “silently accepted” in Pakistan (UN 21 Sept. 2006; ibid. 10 May 2005; BBC 2 June 2005; The Guardian 14 Mar. 2006; Pink News 14 Mar. 2006). Assaults on homosexuals are said to be “rare” (The Guardian 14 Mar. 2006). In the country’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), it is apparently well known that ethnic Pashtun men take young boys as lovers which, according to IRIN, is “a practice now deeply embedded in the local culture” (UN 10 May 2005). In March 2006, a group of gay men wearing dresses participated in a festival in Lahore (The Guardian 14 Mar. 2006; Pink News 14 Mar. 2006).”
Source: UNHCR: A report into state of homosexuality in Pakistan.
All this is an “illusion” because it is nothing but “living a lie” and than celebrating it. The painful fact remains that in this upper and middle class “gay utopia” of Pakistan, the real plight of gays in Pakistan has drowned in the confusion. The western educated elite may find Pakistan more “open” for gay activity, because the upper classes has always lived a “underground” life in Pakistan. Ali Saleem may interview and rub shoulders with the most powerful and “pious” of Pakistanis but the majority of “cross dresser” community of Pakistan, the Hijras leads the life of extreme poverty and shame and humiliation.
The urban middle class lads may easily live a dual life of marrying a girl and dancing in a gay Party but the poor gay lads of smaller cities and villages live in a hell of denial, temptation, torture, suicide and murder. There is dual hell, of temptation and denial. The result of this conflict is either religious fanaticism or depersonalization and death.
This illusion of “Queering” will not live long as religious parties have already started a campaign against homosexuality. As Khurrum notes in “Humjinsparast” an underground “gay magazine”
“So its very clear that Pakistani society is now on the path of extremism as rigid Islamic parties are gradually progressing forward to take the charge of the country and turn it totally against the dream of Quaid-e-Azam. Just to give you an idea what these parties think about homosexuality I am pasting here the text written on the website of Jamat-e-Islami – http://www.jamaat.org/qa/homo .html
“In the present time, we are witnessing the wrath of God on these homosexuals in the form of AIDS, which is affecting innocents also.”
How misinformed people from Jamat are or they are using AIDS as propaganda against the homosexuality. Well its not only Jamat most of the straight people believe that homosexuals are responsible for AIDS. The World Health Organization reports that heterosexual contact is responsible for over 70% of all AIDS/HIV cases worldwide”
Khurrum also gives a detailed analysis of sodomy laws, and their transformation under Sharif’s Islamization and later MMA’s legislative attempts, which have now effectively put the Pakistani gays on death roll. The political awareness shown by Khurrum and very small and dwindling gay movement is unfortunately not shared by majority of “queer Pakistanis”.
Internet, lies, hiding and partying will not give anything to gays of Pakistan. They have to enter a political struggle. Sooner or later.
33 responses to “Pink Pakistan: Queering in Confusion”
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The approach for any marginalized group is always political action.
Regardless of our myriad disagreements over history, nationalism blah blah, whenever you will start any movement for civil rights for any marginalized group based on religion, gender, race, ethnicity, language or sexual orientation, you will find a pillar of support in me.
Would it not be better that, instead of just talking about gay rights on its own, we strive for the system which makes life easy for any one who is marginalised ?
Our society is full of all kinds and varieties of prejudices and marginalisation, because of the archaic system that underpins it. To start with 50 % of women are marginalised.
What an irony. In dark middle ages of West, Islam and Muslim world was considered lecherous and debauched (and hence destined for Hell), due to its tolerance (and possible propogation) of and freedom for all kinds of sexual orientations.
Badaltaa hey raang asmaan kaisey kaisey.
Silsila e roz o shaab, saaz a azaal ki fughan,
Jis se dhikhatii hey Zaat zero bum e mumkinaat.
Homosexuality is certainly not unknown to the Muslim world.
Everybody is aware of the fact that many of the Sultans of old, when bored with their harems, opted for yuong boys.
Homosexuality esp pederasty is par for the course across the River Indus. And Karachi was notorious for its gay brothels even in the 1840s, a highly descriptive report on the same cost Sir Richard Burton his job with British Govt.
“many gay men end up marrying women to “avoid scandalising their families”
This is just from anecdotal evidence, but gay men also make the worst kind of domestic abusers and, in our village, also tended to have the most children. Digging up stories on that is a real challenge, Shehryaar… because wives of gay men are twice excluded – they are women, and they are wives of gay men.
Although of course the word ‘gay’ fails to capture their identities, because in our villages, you can have sex with men and still be ‘the man’ if you have enough clout, and of course, a submissive wife and a good number children. They don’t identify with the emasculated, feminized faggot of the West.
you can have sex with men and still be ‘the man’ if you have enough clout, and of course, a submissive wife and a good number children.
If this guy can give his wife her due share (ahem)that should be fair enuff.
a very interesting and brave article on an important topic. good on you, sherry.
Thanks for this piece. This article was submitted to PTH some time back. However, we took our time to publish it as other events were overshadowing debates on important issues such as this one.
While I do not agree with some of the contents here, I do congratulate sherry in writing this and enlightening us all. The comment on indus and karachi being a brothels centre was distasteful.
A little attempt to score points when the issue is shared. The gays in India are making noises as well.
Sultans huh? What about Alexander the great and the great Lord Mountbatten. It is an age old trend and evolving societies have to deal with it in the twenty first century.
…Don’t forget Raja Ranjit Singh 🙂
“because wives of gay men are twice excluded – they are women, and they are wives of gay men.”
Hmm,never thought of the wives situation from this viewpoint.
Wonder who is more sinned against,the wives or the gay men who feel societal pressure to marry?
The comment on indus and karachi being a brothels centre was distasteful. A little attempt to score points when the issue is shared.
Not at all, sir. Homosexuality has a well known history in India too. It has been documented in Kaam Sutra.
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firstly i dont have any problems with queer people, they can do whatever they like but homosexuality isn’t allowed in Islam.I don’t get it that how can a person call themselves gay and muslim as well ?
secondly i think reasons for homosexuality in Pakistan differ in the upper-class/urban people and lower-class/rural people. in the rural areas or for that matter even in smaller cities there is so much conservativism that the only person a man can talk to or look at (or socialize with rather)without getting into trouble is with a man. this then progresses to the stage where a man has a relationship with another man.
Thanks for the comment. Regarding your question about the contradiction of being gay and muslim. i think its a very imp dilemma in gay muslims. I am not a believer and never was, so i really cant understand it, but i have seen many friends struggle with it to the point of suicide.
Well adjusted gay Muslims have different approaches to reconcile their faith and sexuality
1) A modernist approach exist which re-reads Islamic tradition and states homosexuality is not forbidden. If you search the net you will see many gay muslim sites with this theme
2)Than there is an approach of “Allah made me Gay”, do good deeds and be good human being leave rest to his mercy
3.Than there is more pragmatic approach, they are muslim and gay just like there are muslims who r muslims despite drinking Whiskey, or sleeping with girls. both of which are forbidden in Islam. How many str8 guys think about Islam and Koran when they are talking to their girl friends on Ufon late night package? Talking to a “na-mehram” is haram in Islam as well
So every one has his own reasons . I dont have any opinion in this debate.
February 8, 2009 at 3:23 pm
Do you see any scope for Secular Movement in Pakistan as well as Gay Rights Movement?
What would you suggest to kick start such moevements?
[Comment was left on “Contact” page and is being posted here]
Secularism in general is not an automatic solution to issues of homophobia and Gay liberation.
The scope of a gay lib in Pakistan is quite gloomy if one is realistic.
I am generally skeptic of all modernist identity obsessed politics which have proved futile so far. Having said that there is a case of what we in “queer movement” call “Strategic essentialism” in post-colonial societies where modernist transformation is not complete. Here “Gay” can be politicized as an “essential identity” to “de-criminalize” homosexuality in a general political movement focusing on “democratization” and “civil liberties”. So whenever Pakistan undergoes a genuine “democratization” and its post-colonial state apparatus transformed civil liberties can be granted. All right based groups till than work as lobbies within that wider political movement and party.
The main work must be done at social level where bigotry and hate must be checked. This brings lasting change and ultimately finds an appropriate political expression
The real problems start after “de-criminalization”
when Tolerance and integration emerge as hegemonic and de-humanizing phenomenons. The issues in western societies are facing these days .
i read your piece on me. I am humble.
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i am simply speechless. Mr Nasim thanks. Its an honour
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i liked your piece very much, but am curious – what are conditions like for lesbians in Pakistan? I cannot imagine they have these opportunities open to them, to explore their sexuality and identity.
Jael , their condition is quite the same. Though because of the general muslim-male dominated world view of girls being “asexual” passive creatures. Lesbians dont emerge as a great threat. The are being discriminated by keeping them “invisible”. Modern Urdu short story writer Ismat Chugtai explored lesbian them in her short story “Lehaf”. It was during partition times i think. Kishwar Naheed has also tried to explore the themes. Lesbians are generally not very visible in the under ground gay world of Pakistan as compared to their male counter part. This could be yet another expression of male dominated society.
I could use a little help if possible. I am a gay songwriter/singer who had a bit of notoriety in 1979 with an album “Tell Ol’ Anita” and on the 4 pages in Google covering that project, they seem to think I am dead. (he WAS a great songwriter etc)…I would like any fans I might still have out there to know I am alive and have written 12 songs for a new album “3 On A Dime” and 9 of these songs are now on video on YOUTUBE “Shithouse Shootout”, “Heart Of The City, “Heaven Sent An Angel” “Gypsy” “No Quiero” “Jamaica” etc…They closely show I am much older at 62, gray hair but very much alive from the waist up. I have new music coming out in June on an Australian label Chapter Music Thank you very much for any assistance you could give me. regards Conan
“Shithouse Shootout” has been restored to YOUTUBE Sorry for the inconvenience.
The new CD will be available in 10 days but I need a mailing address to get you your copy…Conan
Nice to know about it but our pakistan is for every one, just need control …. Pakistan is full of different kinds ……
Nice to know about it but our pakistan is for every one, just need control …. Pakistan is full of different people ……
i m from pak,,,and a GAY ,,,,i hve been really confused about my gender identification,,then when i got the internet ,,it became open to me WHO AM I ,,many comments i read about gays n lesbians,,,some says tht ISLAM doesn;t allow homo sex ,,,but wt i observe tht ISLAM and common sense goes along each other,,wt common sense says is tht one can;t be a gay unles ot until nature makes him a gay,,and no one wants to be through this painful experience of being gay ,,,so how can ISLAM contradict the NATURE,,,i did not opt for this i did not pray ALLAH to make me a gay person,,,its all wt i got from nature,,,,,,i m very sad now a days espeacially when my parents somtimes talks about my marriage cos i m 27,,i usually think and sometimes laugh tht wt r they tal;king about,,MARRYING A GIRL can’t be my choice,,BEING GAY AND IN PAKISTAN BELIVE ME ITS HORRIBEL AND PAINFULLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL…..lekin jub mujhe KHUDA ne esa baanya hai tu os me KHUDA ki koi maslihat hogi ,,wt i can i say more,,,but a very guud article i must say,,,nice PTH
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