On Pakistan's LGBTQ Culture
I pulled my chair a little closer to the table so I could hear my friend more clearly. He was talking slowly so the girl sitting on the table in front of us wouldn’t hear us. “That’s Humaira” he said in a hushed tone, referring to the girl in a 'sleeveless' shirt and jeans sitting at the next table. “Well what about her?” asked another friend who also dragged his chair closer and leaned in, just so he wouldn’t miss a word of the gossip. “My friend Jamal caught her in a car with tinted windows” he pauses and looks at our curious faces before finishing his sentence… “kissing.” He says, finally, after a longer than necessary gap. The guy next to me leans back in his chair and grunts in a disappointment. “So what? That happens everyday.” The waiter comes in to take our order. “Not like that” he continues after yet another pause. “He caught her kissing another girl!” It was he who leaned back this time, with a smirk on his face.
Gay culture is on the rise in Pakistan as teenagers, mostly students, learn about same sex-relationships and want to experiment with it themselves. The government of The Islamic Republic of Pakistan unsurprisingly, does not want this to happen. A government university in Lahore went as far as to release an official notice to it’s female students stating they would be ‘immediately expelled’ if they were found sleeping together or even sitting on the same bed. It seems just like everything else, this too started in Lahore and was soon spread out in other cities as well. But the government fails to understand that the roots of homosexuality in Pakistan goes back much further than the current generation of young adult Pakistanis.
Growing up as a fair-skinned (read: privileged and automatically attractive) male in Pakistan, homosexuality is nothing new to me, or to others like me. All through our childhood we are warned by our friends, mostly as a joke, to stay away from Pathans, as they are known to be fond of young white boys. I’d like to take a second here to point out that Pakistanis are some of the most racist and colourist people on earth. I say this according to no statistic but according to my experience living here for the past nineteen years.
Other than the jokes, many a times have I met people who casually just wanted to touch my inner thigh or wanted to kiss me on the cheek. I’ve met older men who’ve tried to talk me into taking a stroll with them to a dark empty street. I’ve met men who wanted to give me a lift to wherever I was going and halfway through the ride asked me if I had a girlfriend, and after slowly proceeded to ask me if I was into “male-male” relationships. Neither of those men were millennials or looked as if they had learned this from the internet. They had probably experienced the same thing during their childhood and now wanted to exercise it on others: now that they finally had the chance.
What I’ve experienced isn’t new - it’s fairly common. Being gay in Pakistan is something that has caused a recent uproar amongst Pakistani youth, and the government is clearly not happy with it. But, what baffles me is that the same thing has been happening in male hostels and colleges for decades. So, why does the government take action now? Why was a notice not sent to an all-male university? Is it okay to be a gay or bisexual man, but not if you’re female?
If the government is really against homosexuality, why not nip the evil in the bud and ensure no child grows up being told to discriminate against by staying away, specifically, from that Pathan male or female. Surely a notice warning female students to sleep in each other’s bedrooms won’t end the spectrum of “forbidden” sexuality. But why try to end it? Pakistani youth receive no proper form of sex education. They are left to figure out the mystery for themselves, so why not leave it solely to them to figure out their own sexuality? It seems as though the government believes it is our parents who are responsible to educate their children on the topic of sex. Yet, it seems we’ll never really find out how the government wants the latest generation to be educated on this topic. But, it’s clear experimenting with each other is not one of them.
Right now, all I know is that Humaira was caught in a car kissing another girl, but the real question is: How many more will be caught before the government establishes sexuality as a natural part of being?