ZERO POINT Magazine is a digital interchange on art, culture, politics + opinion for the Pakistani diaspora (and beyond).

Love and Lust in the All-Boys Empire of Lahore, Pakistan

Love and Lust in the All-Boys Empire of Lahore, Pakistan

Before coming to Yale University in the Elm City, I spent a roundabout of 13 years in the
186-acre red-brick campus of Aitchison College, Lahore; a semi-private, 130 year old campus
and institution that ‘officially’ prides itself on its heritage and singularity. Located in the heart of
Pakistan’s second largest urban city, it is a one-of- a-kind institution in the city with facilities and
opportunities unparalleled in, perhaps one could say, the entirety of the nation. It is also an all-
boys school. Primarily, like I was, most students are admitted at a juvenile age of six but from
the get-go, the kids are divided into two categories: day scholars who stay from 8AM to 2PM
and boarders (some of which start a year earlier) who make Aitchison their home.

My eldest, most-achieving cousin went to the same school, so did my brother, and I was
meant to be the third experiment for Aitchison’s renowned ‘turning little boys into men’
reputation. In Lahore, Aitchisonians, as ‘we’ are called, are said to be from the most privileged
part of the demographic and further, are represented from all four provinces. The ideals of the
school, its students, and managements mirror the greater perspectives of the general public of
Lahore, and then Pakistan itself. For example, boys under the age of 12 wear shorts in
summers and winters so they are ‘hardened’, cases of extreme hazings in some of the boarding
houses (which are, in concept, similar to Yale’s residential colleges) are widely talked about but
also ignored, and the younger students must call their seniors “Sir” followed by their name.
There are legions of similar examples, however, it would be dishonest of me not to clarify that
the trend of “Sir” has been relegated only to the ‘boarders’ — who are obligated — while the
‘day boys’ have largely either grown detached from school tradition or modernized. This
phenomenon does repeat in lots of other factors of the school’s legacies — horse riding,
hooliganism in intra-school sports etc. — but it also falters in lots others, for example, a day boy
will beat you as black and blue as a boarder will if you are heard dropping expletives about the
school. I have extended this explanation of my high school because it very accurately reflects
the attitude amongst boys with regards to tradition, which extends itself from history, which
assisted me profoundly in understanding the complex LGBTQ+ culture in Aitchison, then
Lahore, then Pakistan. To expand on this idea and better draw out the LGBTQ+ culture that I
have experienced over the past few years, I will be elaborating on two social milieux in which I
have interacted with it: firstly, the gay culture in Aitchison College, both current and historical,
and secondly, the presence and interactions of LGBTQ+ people in Pakistan, in general.

When I realized I was gay, I had already started the second level of Aitchison, the Prep
School. I did not know how my peers would have reacted but something about the secrecy
through which I looked at beautiful men zipped my lips. I felt like I had to lie about kissing the girl
I bicycled with or finding an actress hot to keep reiterating an identity. Because when I did come
out, I handled it so pragmatically, so argumentatively that the few intelligent, curious people I
was surrounded with wanted to listen. The moral Islamic followers would always look for reason,
the unsure commending what they call persistence, and society forgiving my ‘sexuality’ for the
attributes they typically held as model and respectful. I was not an object of their immediate
disgust because I ‘might be gay’ but I was not outwardly feminine (a curated intention) or ‘weird’,
and so I had humanized the concept of a homosexual for a lot of people.

But this was the result in a dispassionate, macro-social stratosphere, there were always
minuscule mishaps/oddities and the way society manifested in deep personal relationships
amongst or across the LGBTQ community was, for me, the most striking. The small-scale
mistakes were as simple as questions like “I like you, man, but I just don’t understand the sort of
homos who…” but their repetition directed me to be an assimilator, a traitor to my larger cause. My friends would talk about and to other gay people condescendingly, turn down my volume
and excitement for new Lady Gaga music, and often refer to me as a “khusra” (Urdu slang
mirroring “tranny”) playfully. Having been outed to my siblings by one rumor mill or the other, I
slowly prodded their boundaries by making references to my sexuality or relationships — “that
guy was so good looking,” I would ‘unsuspectingly’ remark sometimes — to usually a negative
or silent response.

However, the realization that the same spectrum that births these micro-aggressions can
easily be physically and mentally dangerous to me did not hit until I was already 17 and in my
second serious relationship. My boyfriend was a varsity Hockey player, masculine as they
come, and an almost feared school prefect. He was a senior-most boarder and thus, behind an
understood veil, every sin that I associated with the school and one more he concealed well; he
hazed his juniors and had them refer to him as ‘sir’, he would ignore and facilitate weird and
convoluted school politics, but above all, he was a closeted bisexual man who raped 13 year
olds (he was 21 himself) and got away with it. When we had started dating, it had felt like the
most natural thing to ever take course.

But then, during intercourse, he would sometimes refer to me with female pronouns and
other times call me his dad’s name (clearly, there were a lot of complexes in play here). He
would play Hockey for hours if I was being a clingy ‘boyfriend’ — a word he hated using — to
remind himself that he was a man. Somehow, a serious relationship with me that extended
beyond its sexual nature created a conflict so scarring in his mind that he lost all grip of his
educational goals and mental sanctity. On a rooftop intoxicated, he almost punched me black
and blue because I had held his hand. Somehow my first boyfriend’s “I wish it would have been
a vagina, of course” seemed pale in comparison to how flippantly this one mentioned that he
had been having sex with a ninth grader for a week when he finally confessed. He would
actively talk about his brotherly love and concern for me to my friends who already knew we
were getting up to no good. A day before we had finally broken up, he kept taking off my clothes
and kept going a step further until the end despite my repetitive (although, no physical)
hesitations and disapprovals. When we did break up and someone outed our relationship to the
entire school, he felt the only way to avoid defamation was to paint me a seducer and borderline
sexual offender - sometimes even a case to be pitied that he entertained. All the other gay
people I knew in my school had never been in relationships and barely intended on having any -
their experiences constricted to adventures on Grindr. My friends would come confirm with me,
despite having lived the days with me, whether I perceived casual sex wrongly as a relationship.
Some exclaimed his heterosexuality and declaring that “he’s just so horny, he’ll screw anything”.
I uncovered step after step how common sex between men was in my school, and mostly, in the
boarding houses. I realized my biggest mistake was not having sex with this toxically masculine
athlete, my mistake was trying to reconcile with it, label it, call it something, and pretend I’m
living in 21st century United States and not the consistently islamized Republic of Pakistan.

As I started talking to more and more people, sometimes meeting many of them online who shared a similar experience, I discovered that a homoerotic “friendship” between two Aitchisonians was not a new concept, in fact, it was even a reputation these boys had. My conservative, Muslim art teacher did not express shock at my relationship and rather spent time consoling me that ‘men from his tribe are disloyal and cheat on their temporary boyfriends a lot”. What I had previously thought was a platform where LGBTQ+ people were invisible, I learned was just a place where those experiences and identities were concealed, written over, and forgotten for the best. The ‘men’ of Aitchison cannot bare not be men so they will explode, be angry, and let these insecurities consume and ruin their sanctity but they will hold on to this school and its
expectation from them. The ‘men’ of Aitchison cannot love other men or be anything else. The feminine gay guys discussing Rihanna’s MET Gala dress were simply relegated to womanly art
boys.

I saw this ideology parallel itself in the larger status quo of LGBTQ+ communities in Pakistan.
The lesbians were just cool, butch girls who weren’t interested in the facades and annoyances
of femininity, or if nothing else, they were treated as undisturbed open door gossip because
“girl-on- girl is sexy” and somehow, it was not seen as degrading as a boy wanting to imitate a
girl and wanting to have sex with a more masculine boy, which was what gayness was
perceived as. In a way, the gay community learned how to embrace that image and take pride in
their femininity. As empowering as it was for a reasonable majority in the gay community, it
could not have been more other-ing to another reasonable majority. Trans culture was barely
visible since Islam befuddled that debate way before any of us could even begin it - the religion
allowed and demanded respect for those naturally born transgender and while their
communities took up time fighting for their rights, the concept of someone’s gender identity
being different from one naturally and successfully assigned at birth was rare, almost unheard
of. Social media revolutionized the playing field and its biggest manifestation came in the form a
Facebook group where all LGBTQ+ people added other members from the community, talked
with and got to know each other, and imbue a sense of identity. The group was proudly, fittingly,
named ‘Cestrum Nocturnum” or the night-blooming jasmine - its roots were, once again,
associated with an overflowing, confident femininity in gay men. Once again, all other members
of the LGBTQ+ spectrum were mostly ignored, with lesser common categories never even
coming into discussion. As I met more and more people, I saw another pattern or idea that I was
first introduced to by Malorie Blackman’s “Boys Don’t Cry” - the prevalence of homophobia in
men who experienced homosexual tendencies but were almost brainwashed by the concept of
masculinity.

On a more positive side, however, the emergence of a forceful 21st century reinvigorated the
debate and pushed more and more opinions over the fence in Pakistan. The United States
Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage in June, 2015 caused havoc on the ideological
main-stage in the progressive, educated communities in Pakistan. Hamza Ali Abbasi, a widely-
known actor in Pakistan, wrote a long post denouncing the celebration of gay marriage while
many other organizations adopted support. The high-school and collegiate level debating
competitions took up the subject for discussion while the progressives and the closeted either
silently or chaotically changed their profile pictures to the Pride logo. A lot of my friends came
out in the past two years and saw partying or being loud while being LGBTQ as a rebellion, a
much needed outcry. One of my best friends, who is very popular all over Lahore, has a mother
that fights for women rights and a father that actively makes jokes at the expense of LGBTQ
people but he tells me, and everyone around him, that in this wavering, unstable platform of a
confused Pakistan, being queer is a revolution and at this time in the world, revolt we must.

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