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.