Friday, June 03, 2005

Viva Gay Pakistan

Here's an interesting article which a friend wrote up. Some bits I agree with. Others I don't. The most immediate (and facile?) response is: if things in Pakistan are quite as hunky dory, why don't you reveal your name and identity ? Do we have another Deep Throat in the making ? Read on:


Gay Pakistan - 'less inhibited than West'
Throughout South Asia, homosexuality has been a taboo subject. But there are signs in some areas that gay people are now becoming more open in their behaviour. In this column a gay man in Pakistan talks about the advantages of being gay there compared to the West. He prefers to remain anonymous.
It is all too common to hear examples of the repression of sexuality and oppression of sexual minorities in South Asia.

Open displays of straight and gay sexuality are taboo in PakistanBut the problem with sweeping generalisations about sexuality, or anything else for that matter, is the exceptions.
I am one such exception - a gay man who grew up in Pakistan, became aware of his sexuality while studying in the US, had most of his early experiences of love and sex there, and yet decided to come back home to Pakistan. It will surprise many when I say that I actually feel more comfortable about myself while living here than I was in the West. It was not always so of course. Before my return, I felt quite aggrieved when my straight brother downplayed my apprehensions about being gay in Pakistan.

I cannot remember a single occasion in almost 10 years that I have felt threatened with regards to my sexuality in Pakistan It really was not a problem, he suggested. How insensitive and naive of him, I thought. My brother has won the point since though. While I maintain discretion in many respects, I have come out to most of my family, with their loving support.
I have also come out to all my friends, and rarely meet anyone aggressively hostile to gay individuals. I have lived with a lover independently without anyone raising an eyebrow.
I have attended gay parties more uninhibited than any I have seen in the West.

'Differently configured'
In fact, I cannot remember a single occasion in almost 10 years that I have felt threatened with regards to my sexuality in Pakistan. An entirely unrepresentative experience to be sure, as far as the experience of a majority of Pakistanis is concerned. But there is no representative sample that I can think of.

Pakistan has 'conservative religious and cultural attitudes'Sexuality itself is so much more differently configured in Pakistan than in the West - which is where the language of the sexuality debate comes from. This is especially true in terms of people's perceptions of their identity and behaviour, in terms of class, with regards to family and religious obligations.
I would not for a moment suggest that it is easy being gay in Pakistan. Homosexual acts are illegal, and conservative religious and cultural attitudes mean many gay people are afraid to openly acknowledge their sexuality. They face ostracism by their families if they do. But in a sense the American military's approach of "don't ask, don't tell" is applied throughout this society.

'Taboo matter'
True, there is a fine line between discretion and suffocating silence. But being straight is not that much easier, and is in fact sometimes more difficult when it comes to physical relationships.
What is perhaps closer to the truth is that overt expression of sexuality itself - both gay and straight - is a taboo matter in Pakistani society. But whereas heterosexual courting and coupling is all too obvious, gay socialising can take place without attracting as much attention - with brazen abandon in a society where many forms of overt physical and emotional intimacy between members of the same gender are tolerated and even admired. The opposite holds true for such public expression between members of the opposite sex. Just as everywhere else, however, things are changing, driven by the exposure to information via technology. The internet, satellite television and films all combine to give a new generation of gay men and women context to their emotions, a sense of identity, an outlet for expression and perhaps most importantly, the ability to communicate with each other.

No wonder, then, that I met my boyfriend on the internet.


Blogger Uber Homme said...

What fun to be the first to comment on my own blog. Well its not really mine, so I guess this is kosher. Although I agree with most of what is said, (though I fear the accent on the positive is skewed)I think the article focuses entirely on the exterior - the parties, the internet, the freedom to touch and talk etc. The fact is that for the vast majority of Pakistani men, homosexuality is a very secret experience. Clearly, this is the result of social barriers and consequences. And secrecy (even in moderated doses)plays havoc with the soul. It is all very well for a hundred odd gay men to dress up and dance on a beach, but is this really the kind of liberation one is looking for ? I'm not so sure. At the risk of sounding horribly zen, until there's internal liberation, the outer trappings are meaningless.

1:54 pm  
Blogger Sin said...

I was furious when I read this, and not only because everyone in the world immediately e-mailed me, congratulating me on having written for the BBC. "Do I look or SOUND as though I have a boyfriend?" was my peeved response.

I think the article was tragically skewed, and although "cultural differences" tend to be the great limbo for all anthropological statements, in this case, you're absolutely right: this isn't the liberation that we're looking for, or even the liberation that we need.

6:29 pm  
Blogger J said...

Well, my first thought was also that its Sin who must've written this, due to the whole US, straight brother & Uber's friend thing :).

9:15 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

Hello World: To Whom it May Concern! Sin did NOT write the article! It was written by a friend of mine, but friend in question happens not to be Sin. We do have other friends, as it happens! Cheers.

11:03 am  
Blogger s said...

i didn't think sin could have written it for a moment, because it would have been a much more well written article then, with a liberal dose of sarcasm and big sin words thrown in!!

and to be honest, this sounds like complete bullshit, because it is obvious by what he says that pakistan doesn' accept GAY's, it just doesn't think anything much of two men hugging, two men dining out or two men dancing together...our society is (in a way) still too naive and the focus on the hetero couples.

i see (desi) men walking down the street where we live, holding hands, all the time. while i am quite aware, i still don't actually think they are gay, because while i walk past, both lech quite openly - so like he said, paki men are quite openly affectionate towards each other anyway, so it sounds like no one really realizes when someone is doing it cause they're gay.

this does NOT make it more uninhibited, it just makes it less aware...

since he is comparing to the US, i have to say that at least the US is open to debate (or allows debate) regarding gay marriage. anyone suggesting this would be hung in pakistan!!

1:05 pm  
Blogger assiniboine said...

Well, I knew exactly who it actually was, and while he's a vastly amusing and attractive guy, I wonder somewhat which alternative universe he's living in. (I of course assume he's not listening in....Perhaps that observation should be tactfully re-phrased.)

A rather snotty Indian journalist of my vague acquaintance in Bombay took it upon himself to post this article on a gay Indian newsgroup with the somewhat spaced out -- well, bone-stupid -- editorial comment, "I think the commenters who point out that this guy is probably from a fairly elite background are probably right as well." Oh good for you: how perceptive.

I am fairly well acquainted with ruralish (as 'twere :)) Western societies -- well, one, anyway -- and, I confess it readily, only very superficially acquainted with a certain rural Pakistani society, but believe me, the overtures that were made to me in the latter would be unthinkable in the former. I seriously don't believe that such overtures -- I discreetly forbear to elaborate on the specifics; details gladly provided in private on request -- were governed by any perception that goras are particularly amenable to Alternate Lifestyle proclivities: always it was, and bearing the considerable language barrier in mind, "Where you come from, do guys ever...ahem, ahem, nudge nudge, wink, wink...? And would you ever consider...ahem ahem...?" Needless to say I affected incomprehension but the overtures kept right on coming from other quarters and, believe me, my style is not one that would ordinarily provoke such inquiry, perhaps more's the pity.

All of course, be it said, indicative of what one does from time to time as opposed to what one describes oneself as being: but really, we are talking about a pretty recent innovation in the West, this business of gay identity, and I increasingly take issue with the proposition that there is an East-West dichotomy as opposed to a traditional and rural versus cosmopolitan and urban. I of course assume here some greater element of local cultural authenticity in rural agrarian societies than in urban bourgeois ones but still....

3:08 pm  
Blogger Uber Homme said...

Mac: I agree! I think the point the writer was trying to make (perhaps not in so few words) that in his experience life isn't quite as bad as its made out to be. He has some kind of a point. "Elite" as my background may be I'm really not aware of mass persecutions/prosecutions for homosexuality in Pakistan. These usually happen when homosexual behaviour is coupled with criminal activity. Second, I think it is dangerous to transplant western notions of sexuality, gay or straight, onto other cultures. For example, while fully accepting your urban/rural thesis, there is a huge difference between New York urban and Karachi urban. There is very little work on societies such as ours, whereas the labelling (or scaling in Kinsey-ian terms) derives from models which are based on "western" experience.

11:42 am  
Blogger assiniboine said...

Hmmm…well, the Kinseyan scaling didn’t deal with labeling or identity but only with the discrete issue of same- versus opposite-sex attraction and, importantly, it came out of research conducted in the 1940s when the labeling we’re talking about was confined to the most rarified of bohemian loci.

On the other hand, it was immediately post-World War II and during that war, certainly, and possibly all wars, ordinary mores were, we are told, considerably suspended*; it was full speed ahead and damn the torpedoes in more ways than one. Well, so Gore Vidal insists — and (a) he was one of Kinsey’s survey respondents and (b) he is one of the few who stoutly maintain that gay identity is a crock; there are no homosexual people, just homosexual acts. Whether that was then or is now a valid proposition is another question. I’m inclined to agree with Vidal with respect to a considerable proportion of those with homosexual inclinations — certainly back then, and still today with respect to those who haven’t succumbed to the pressure to “come out.” And the pressure to “come out” — and to a large extent, the concept itself — is a very recent phenomenon. And a fortiori the idea that to be closeted is dysfunctional: it doesn’t take account of those who aren’t openly gay not because they are closeted but because they don’t consider their identity amenable to characterization by their sexual repertoire. And that’s not an East-West issue, surely.

Is that how you’re glossing the BBC item? If so, then I entirely agree.

But the thesis in the article is surely a little confused, because he does say that notwithstanding stereotypes about deeply conservative societies, he finds it possible to live an openly gay lifestyle in Pakistan — and the indicia he describes are pretty “Western,” n’est-ce pas?
*Of course generalisations are invidious: Paul Fussell in his "Wartime" delivers the interesting tidbit that the Canadian component of the Allied Forces in WWII survived or perished virgo intacta. A veteran of the Singapore Army tells me the same applies there today.

8:56 am  

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