Ever since inception, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is influenced by several Islamic ideologies. This country’s independence adopted many British Era laws which also includes the Article 377. The one which criminalizes being born as gay. Because their entire society is highly guided by religion homosexuality still remains as a taboo. All the huge sects of Islam have totally forbidden homosexuality. But the existence of an homosexual community is not to be written off in the Pakistani society. Similar to several other countries across the world, the LGBTQIA+ community in Pakistan endure many hardships and struggles.
But what does it really mean to live as a homosexual man in Pakistan? All the things we hear about the way Pakistani government treats the LGBTQIA+ are true?
This week, FSOG did an exclusive interview with Abdul, a 27 year old gay man from Karachi. He is a computer engineer, and on the side, makes queer desi digital art for the internet; depicting his experiences as a gay man in Pakistan.
Dive into his story, to find the answers to all your questions.
The person’s identity is kept anonymous as per their request.
Realizing and accepting myself:
I realized some time in school that I was gay. It took me a while to accept it, because I didn’t really know what it meant and what kind of life it entailed. In the mid-2000s, there wasn’t any discourse on homosexuality in Pakistan. There weren’t any desi media representations that I knew of. It was a very different time from now. Funnily enough, I learned most about my sexuality, gender, queerness and other things from… video games and anime forums.
Queer internet nerds my age from thousands of miles away would talk to me about my sexuality and teach me about what kind of life I could potentially have. In some ways, it is wonderful how the internet was in 2005, basically a portal to another world. But even for these kids, being Muslim and queer was not really a familiar concept.
In mid-00s, the world was still reeling from 9/11, Afghanistan War, Iraq War and the continual presence of global terrorism. So seeing myself in those terms, as both Muslim and Queer, took a while. But at the same time, just as I did not choose to be born queer, I did not choose to be born in a Muslim household. And my Muslim upbringing is, in some ways, an inextricable part of my person.
Coming out to my family and friends:
I came out to my parents when I was 15, and I have come out to each of my friends since I was 15-16. My friends have been nothing but amazing and supportive. Every single friend I have told has been very understanding even when they were previously bigoted about gay people. That’s the great thing about friendship, it can change people’s preconceived notions.
Even now, my biggest anchors are these friends. The first time I went to get tested for HIV, I took my straight guy friend with me. Every time a hook up went south, I’d signal another straight guy friend for help. They know everything about me. We’re always there for each other. They’re why I have been able to fight and survive for so long.
My mother didn’t have such a positive reaction. Her knee-jerk reaction was to lash out and deny. But over the years, she has begrudging accepted it. She has accepted that I am gay, but she has not given up on the task of getting me married to a girl. I love her more than anything in the world but sometimes she drives me up the wall.
Growing up as a queer in Pakistan:
I don’t think being Muslim made any difference to me being queer, except on a very personal level in my beliefs, which I was questioning for a number of reasons. I became openly an atheist at 16 and I never really cared that much about religion before and even less so afterwards.
When I was young I was ruthlessly bullied because I was a feminine kid. As an adult, as a masculine man, I have had basically no problems because of my sexual identity. Pakistan is a very conservative society and generally people don’t care what you do as a man, if you do it behind closed doors. This is obviously not as good as genuine acceptance and freedom, but in relative terms, I have less to complain about compared to some other groups, such as for example women.
These days, I am a strong believer in Islamic Modernism, which means rethinking a lot of the ways in which we interpret Islamic jurisprudence especially in terms of the culture and time we exist in now. If we are to assume that Islam and Qur’an came for all times and cultures, then we need to put that into practice, especially in matters of social justice and human rights.
Pakistan’s queer dating scene:
Ironically, it is easier to date a man than to date a woman in Pakistan, hahaha. I can easily bring a boy over to my house and in my bedroom without anyone suspecting a thing. I can go on many dates without anyone being privy to our romance. A lot of these things, in Pakistan, I can’t do with women.
Pakistan’s society towards the LGBTQIA+:
There are a lot of contradictions in Pakistani society. As a gay man, I only feel qualified to speak about gay experiences, so I will limit myself to how homosexuality manifests in the culture of Pakistan.
In the very old-school and culturally isolated Pakistani world I grew up in… homosexual behavior was everywhere. Men have sex with men everywhere, in villages, in schools, in hostels, at workplaces, at madrassas, in public transport. Literally every place you could think of, I have been offered sex or have been hit on.
But these people don’t identity as gay. They don’t talk about having sex with men publicly. They don’t acknowledge it to anyone except in secret with other men who have sex with men. These people definitely don’t identify with any part of gay culture or identity, nor do they act feminine. In most cases, they have wives and children and happy marriages.This dabbling into homosexual behavior for these men is not necessarily looked down upon by society… no one cares what these men do. Men are afforded more freedom for sexual exploration than women.
But openly identifying as “a homosexual”… is a problem. Saying that you are homosexual, pardon the verbiage, means you are a “gandoo”. And that is less than ideal.
There are such unsaid rules among gay men:
The world I grew up is where all the men I had sex with espoused these unsaid principles. You can engage in homosexual behavior and be respectable person, as long as you act masculine, don’t talk about it, keep it extremely private and don’t ever refer to yourself as a homosexual.
These attitudes are very old-school and they’ve been changing. Thanks to internet, TV, and smart phones, western terminologies and conceptions of homosexuality are slowly taking over the “men who have sex with men (MSM)” community. But it still has that distinctly Pakistani conservative flavour of “Don’t talk about it. Don’t say it out loud.”
This is the culture and world I have been trying to depict in my illustrations.
The punishments in Pakistan for LGBTQIA+ are usually societal than legal:
There is one Article 377 but it has never been used against gay people in its history. The ramifications for coming out can be more socially isolating. For example, there are certainly no laws protecting against workplace discrimination for being gay. I know one person who was fired explicitly for being a gay activist. In fact, my primary reason for staying closeted is mostly that my boss might not like it and might try to fire me.
I’m also scared that I might get kicked out of my rented apartment if they find out I’m gay. I’m not scared that I’ll be murdered or put in jail… which is a possibility quite remote to me, unless there is a massive cultural sea-change. Instead, I’m scared I’ll be socially isolated. I think there is a long way to go before the LGBTQIA+ community could be fully normalized in Muslim countries.
At the same time, I think it is unfair to say that queer people are brutally punished for “coming out” in 50+ countries with wildly different cultures and standards.
Five most common misconceptions about the LGBTQIA+ among muslims:
1. It’s western agenda
2. It’s a choice
3. Trans people are all intersex
4. Trans people are not really trans
5. Being gay is the same as being trans
A word for the ones who are muslim and scared to come out of the closet:
Trust your friends, trust your heart, trust your loved ones. Have faith, and come out to those you trust. You will be surprised at how much of a relief it is.