Three native Pakistani men write about living inside their sexually ambivalent culture where gay men live behind masks and love in secret. There is a gay subculture in Pakistan but it is virtually invisible and exists only by word of mouth and in furtive situations–in nighttime parks, discrete parties and in one’s imagination or memory. Internet liaisons and clandestine boyfriends are typical of the ‘scene’ in this Muslim country. Curiously, Pakistani law appears to tolerate male-to-female transgenders/cross dressers (hijras) and it is generally safe to be so.
The Prince is Gay
by Zafar Khan
To be gay, Muslim and Pakistani isn’t one of the best combinations in the world. I’m gay, have always been and probably will remain so. Yet, I did not choose to be gay. When people, especially homophobic males, talk disparagingly of gays or use slurs, I cannot understand it because it is not a habit I acquired. My fascination for the male body goes a long way back to Kindergarten. My foggy childhood memories are warm with tender hugs from grown-up adult men. A naked thigh, chest or armpit made my heart beat faster.
It was all right then yet today when I am a grown up, handsome man with a degree and a lot of exposure to different cultures why being gay is considered almost a curse?
Forget about gay bars, discos and entire gay cruising districts (there are none in this country) I have enough problems trying not to drown in the flood of social, cultural, religious taboos. No one (except some super-flamboyant effeminate queens) and nothing gay is “out” or “open”. Even a mild flirtation comes with a dose of guilt; as if I had considered robbing a bank. All I did was look in his eyes and smile. He loved me back.
Even on local internet chats men balk once they realize they are chatting to another male and quickly close the window with, “I’m male and not gay.” Topic of sex hadn’t even come up. Isn’t education meant to enlighten one’s mind? The big cities of Pakistan are teeming with “foreign educated” people. So how come instead of liberating themselves they are meekly walking to the gallows of marriage? Everyone is paranoid about being found out or talked about and desperately wants to identify with the “straight” hetro-crowd. That is fine but the constant state of “withdrawal” does not help people to open up with each other and bond. At the most people will have a quick anonymous humping in the sack and that too with a fake name then never see each other again.
Although I just want to smile and say, “I prefer men,” when I am badgered to get married but I do wonder what my love life will be like. Will it be eternal fantasy? I see all the gay-married-men (GMM) and feel sorry for the double lives the GMM live. They take their wives to parties but their eyes widen at the sight of good-looking men. Sometimes I imagine I am getting married, songs and music and guests, I’m signing marriage papers and wondering what happened to my soul? I thought I could love the way I wanted to and make love to a person I desired, who was not forced upon me.
Who do I blame?
For I must blame someone.
So who hugged me?
The strong, hunky, young peasants who tilled my father’s lands.
They did. I was the landlord’s healthy, beautiful boy, innocent and vulnerable and ‘open’ to peasant love. They hugged me for hours; holding me against their big hairy comforting chests, without undressing. As if they sensed I was love-sensitive and willing to receive it. They treated me like a flower or a piece of china; with love, care, tenderness and always with respect. They were tall men and I was a little boy. They never hurt me. Oh, why were they always so tender, so gentle? Was it because they were uneducated peasants and didn’t know the mind games people play in urban cities?
It was tender loving, not sex. When I sat in their laps it aroused them. When aroused they unfolded their loincloths and revealed their massive, throbbing masculine magnificence. Hot and hard with passion and desire. What was a curious child to do? Touch, naturally. It felt good. Strong and exciting. It also gave me a sense of power and control. A small child exploring an adult’s nakedness.
Nira used to milk the cows at dusk. Strong and robust but always gentle he was young, easy to arouse. Under the starry night I would go look for him in the barns. He would put the pail of milk in a corner and open his dhoti to reveal his thighs and youthful, hungry virility erect between them. The smell of barns was intoxicating.
Abar tended the oxen. Tall, well built and brutally handsome, he had a perfect body due to hard physical labour. During cruelly hot summer afternoons, dust blowing outside I lay down on his mat with him. He would sing to himself, oil and comb his hair, kiss me in between and part open the folds of his dhoti and bare his enormous ramrod erection. I would play with it as long as I wanted to. He never forced me to do anything. It was my little hands on his massive organ and nothing more.
Nabbi used to shave his pubic hair every Friday while I watched. In the afternoon he took off his dhoti, spread it on the floor as a sheet and sit on it with his legs wide apart. Dipping the razor in water, shaving all around his pubic area and under his balls, he kept whistling and smiling at me. I sat patiently and watched. It wasn’t about sex, merely routine. Although in the shaving process he would end up with a big hardon. He never insisted but if I felt like it I could; touch and stroke his wet erection!
Today I live in a big cosmopolitan city. There is no Nira at dusk nor any Abar in a dusty summer afternoon and only memories and images of a virile young man shaving his pubic hair.
Now I go to parties where I see men with trendy haircuts, fashionable clothes and funky lingo who speak in ‘double entendres’ but have no balls. I mean literally. They thrive on giving wrong phone numbers and names. Their flighty personalities seek a quick dash in the sack with someone, anyone and disappear.
Everyone wears a tight mask and fritters his energy in trying to hold on to his mask. At times I wonder why I feel so alien in my own country. Hypocrisy and denial are the strong traits I see in most people.
Middle and lower-middle classes are more relaxed and comfortable with homosexuality. The upper classes, paranoid beyond description are most comfortable in their closets. The tragedy is that even when they know about each other’s sexual orientation they cannot talk about it openly. They discuss the latest trends and music videos in a phony way but will not be able to say the word gay. I can sense their attraction towards me and I notice their eyes wander towards my crotch, check out my shape and size but they talk rubbish and never confess their attraction.
I am not advocating that everyone should wear a button saying “I am gay” but I am asking for progress towards liberating our minds.
Instead of nurturing fear we need to bond confidently so that the fear of being outed by some moron is lessened. Even though we are all marooned on the same island we are still not doing anything for each other’s survival. It’s all about a quickie; ten minutes sex. They work in banks, the stock exchange and in multinational firms but beyond their jobs and status. I consistently wonder, where is the personality? It is not the city but the people who live here that disgust me. I consider moving out. Go some place where I can meet people who have substance and do not generate mistrust.
Maybe I should wander back to the sleepy village of Nira and Abar where physical beauty is in abundance. Men with sculpted muscled bodies of an Adonis, handsome faces from Omar Khyyam’s tales and sensitive natures longing for a lover not just lust. After ploughing fields all day, they cuddle with lovers under the stars, cool breeze blowing on their sweaty bodies.
But no, it’s not possible. The landlord’s little boy has grown into a tall, well-educated man who inherited the lands. Nira and Abar have aged and lost their virility and are fathers of grown up sons. Distances between me and my childhood lovers have widened and they aren’t only physical distances.
I am now their prince, their landlord. I stand tall, unsmiling. I am well dressed. They still live in poverty and wear dhotis. I hear them but I am not even listening. I look but I am not even seeing them. The smell of barns no longer exists. They see a tall young man but I am dying to show them the little boy. They raise their heads and look at me respectfully. I look in their eyes and search for the still missed tenderness and desire.
They have moved on in life. They are matter of fact. I lower my eyes. I don’t want to reveal the look in my eyes. Living in a big cosmopolitan city did this to me: taught me hypocrisy, fear, and withdrawal.
Suddenly there are new barriers between us, which I cannot cross or perhaps I don’t want to cross. They mustn’t know. They will never know. For them I am a grown up man now, no longer Nira’s little boy. I am not sure even if they remember the warm memories. Now I am their prince who will marry a princess someday. Amen.
No one will tell them. Their Prince is gay.
Write to the author: email@example.com
The Invisible Men
By Saqlain Haider
DNA Magazine (www.dnamagazine.com.au)
Updated March 2006
Somebody recently asked me, “What’s it like being gay in Pakistan?”
I never thought about it. I’m too accustomed to hiding my feelings for other guys.
Pakistan is a Muslim state. Ninety eight percent of the population are practicing Muslims I was born in Karachi, the largest city and the business capital of Pakistan I was raised as a Shia Muslim
I was 19 when I went to university in Lahore to study graphic design. I still strictly believed in the religion but by that time I was sure that I was gay, even though I could not express this to anyone. At art college, however, I started changing my beliefs about many things including religion and relationships.
I recall that when I was just nine years old, I fell in love with one of my father’s colleagues I just loved being close to him. I remember once he was repairing his car and his shirt was open I was mesmerized by his hairy chest I stood there in awe for quite some time. He smiled but was unaware that I was enormously attracted to his masculine physique.
During my school days I had two friends who shared similar feelings about men. There was also a group of gay bashers who used to call us ‘homos’. I started liking the school team captain. That was when I realized that I was different.
Eventually I found more like minded guys at university. We talked about men, their physiques, their hairy chests, but never confessed our secret encounters It is considered bad to have sex with a man especially if you are the ‘bottom’.
By the middle of my studies, I understood one thing for sure: I didn’t want to be considered sissy or feminine so I drastically changed my physical behavior from submissive to dominant. Liking men doesn’t mean that you had to be effeminate. I want to love a man being a man.
There were still many social obstacles. Only hanging around with guys could lead to being labeled a homosexual. So l made a couple of female friends to cover up my sexuality. During university, I heard stories about some female students being lesbians. But I could never find out it is considered highly unethical to ask girls such questions.
By graduation, friends had started talking about getting married but I never thought of that. How would it feel to get married to a girl and have sex? My mother was expecting me to be just like my brothers, who had married and started families. I had to do something to delay those wedding plans for myself. The family pressure was growing and I didn’t have many excuses left.
Most of my gay friends got married too. There was no other choice A few of them wept in front of me because they knew they were not doing justice to their wives. Along with the guilt of deceiving their wives they were, of course, having problems in their sex lives. One friend even went to the extent of telling his wife he was impotent. During intercourse, his only way was to either imagine his boyfriend, or simply let his wife play with him until he was hard.
Most of my sex partners are married. The night my boyfriend got married was devastating for me. A month before his marriage, he tried to convince me that having sex with men is unnatural and that I should marry too.
My gay life is definitely undercover but I have discovered new gay friends. I was surprised to find a centrally located park that is a cruising area for most gay men in Lahore. I checked it out and was surprised by the many in attendance there. Normally you wouldn’t see anything suspicious. It is an ordinary cricket ground during the day but at night it transformed into a gay cruising area for men from all walks of life.
I’ve picked up a few guys there, taken them to my apartment, had fun and that is it. The good thing about picking a guy from the park is that there are no strings attached; they never ask for a long-term relationship. Most of the guys who visit the park are married bisexuals. But I also see gay couples cruising there together for a third.
The Internet has brought a whole new vista for gay life. Now people chat on the net and fix up a meeting somewhere. Since Pakistani society hasn’t opened up to gay culture yet, most guys use false stats. They also give false information about what they will be wearing at the rendezvous in order to see the other guy from a distance and then leave without meeting him if need be.
There are no nightclubs or bars in Pakistan because drinking alcohol and dancing are prohibited by religious and state law. This doesn’t mean that all dancing is banned but ordinary people don’t dance. Rather, they go to the movies and the theatre to watch professionals. Most of society still believes that good people don’t dance or go into professions like music or acting. The only occasion when an ordinary Pakistani dances is at a wedding or at the cricket when Pakistan wins against India.
People arrange private parties in their homes. Naturally, gay people do this too. The invitation is passed by word of mouth. Anyone who has any interest in men is welcome. I have never heard of gay bashing at such parties because they are arranged very discreetly. The alcohol is usually arranged on the official permit of a non-Muslim friend. If you get caught drunk in public, you can face severe penalties including jail and extreme humiliation; the only way out is to bribe the police officer who catches you.
Going to a gay party is quite an experience. People turn up in all kinds of drag and costumes. They feel free to express themselves in a party of like-minded people. The party is usually held at a place where there are lots of rooms so that if you find the right guy, you can take him to one of the rooms and have some fun.
In Pakistan, there are defined roles [in gay sex] for tops and bottoms. The masculine, straight-acting guy will always be the top, the effeminate guy will be the submissive bottom. The macho guy will never suck the other guy’s dick or kiss his partner on the lips. Many Pakistani men prefer sex with boyish looking guys.
It is unlikely that Pakistani society will begin to show tolerance to gays and lesbians in the near future. As an example of the entrenched homophobia, I have a friend who recently had to break up with his boyfriend because his mother discovered the relationship. One evening at the dinner table she revealed everything she knew of her son’s homosexuality, humiliating him in front of the whole family.
The only factor that could bring about change is the arrival of the Internet and satellite TV. Some gay-like characters have begun to appear on television so perhaps society’s vision will begin to broaden. It is hard to imagine, however, that Pakistan will ever acknowledge the existence of homosexuals in the near future.
Gay Life in Pakistan
Reprinted with permission from Danial’s Cave web site:
I know that most of the people visiting my site are not Pakistanis. They don’t know much about my country and how is it to be a gay in Pakistan. So I thought that I should add some thing to tell you guys about my country and the city I live in.
You must have a bad image of Pakistan. You must have an image where Pakistan is shown as a fundamentalist Islamic state. Or maybe you have an image of a poor third world country where religion is used to exploit human rights. Pakistan is badly portrayed by western and international media. They mixed lots of hype with a little truth.
It is true that Pakistan is an Islamic state but Pakistan is not a fundamentalist state. People have freedom to live their lives their way; it’s just a small group of religious leaders who ask government to implement Islamic laws. But no government in Pakistan takes them seriously because what they are asking for are not the real Islamic laws.
Being a gay you can always get sex in Pakistan. You can go to gay spots, which are usually public parks, bus stops and restaurants etc. You can pick guys from there or get picked by some one. Pakistani police do not often take action against people practicing homosexuality in private.
What you can’t do in Pakistan is to say loudly that you are gay and you think that it is ok to be a gay. You can’t talk about religion and homosexuality, you should not feel proud of your sexual orientation, you must remain careful when you are at public places and so on. There are strict laws against homosexuality in Pakistan. But these laws are never implemented in reality.
You can find many cross dressers in all the big cities of Pakistan. These cross dressers or transgender people are called hijra. Pakistani law has nothing against hijra and it is very safe to be a transgender in Pakistan if you are a male to female transgender/cross dresser.
A photo essay of Hijras of Pakistan is available online.
Gay Afghanistan (unusual Islamic homosexual practices)
Islam and Homosexuality
Gay Pakistan News & Reports 2001 to present
Gay Muslim Reports