Nuwas Manto gives a touching personal account on what it means to be gay in a deeply religious and conservative country like Pakistan, where homosexuality is considered a sin and male effeminacy scoffed upon.
In Pakistan the word ‘gay’ is synonymous with the word ‘eunuch’. It doesn’t really matter whether you have a penis or not. One of my friends quite sincerely, in order to indentify my sexual orientation, asked me if I get erected and if I ejaculate. Upon receiving a positive response he thereby concluded there is no way that I can be gay. Of course, it doesn’t matter if one gets erected while watching gay porn or straight porn. That has nothing to do with his sexuality. Poor Kinsey. Such an easy and traditional method to identify sexuality and he spent years on research!
But this unscientific approach towards human sexuality is not limited only to my friend, but to a majority of Pakistanis, who view Islam and homosexuality as being mutually incompatible. It’s none of their business what the heck science has to say when it comes to diversity in sexual orientation. What matters is the word of Allah, the Supreme Being. I am not trying to be anti-religion, but anti-Irrationalism. Twenty years ago, it was a rare sight to see a woman driving on the roads of Lahore. Today it’s impossible not to see one, or else you are not in Pakistan. But even today if a woman gets divorced, or worse, if she demands a divorce she is considered to be a shame, in the former case, or a slut, in the latter. According to a family friend of mine, those women who can’t be good housewives can’t be good women at all. So, I guess those men who can’t be good husbands can’t be good men too. Hey wait! World, we are out of good men in Pakistan!
But of course, men are men. You see, there is no harm if straight men penetrate into the backs of these filthy gay men. After all, they are the ones penetrating, not being penetrated into. In Pakistan there is no concept of diversity in homosexuality: ‘Top’, ‘bottom’, ‘versatile’. Every gay man is a bottom. I myself, seemed to believe this till I met some who really were not. Due to lack of knowledge concerning the field of human sexuality, there is a belief that homosexuality is based upon lust, not love. That is the information that heterosexist minds are fed upon. In my country, as I explained before, there is no difference between a eunuch (hijra) and a homosexual man (not gay woman). Therefore if you get into a fight with a gay man there is always the best way to insult him. This most astonishing word that the founders of the Urdu language ever created: Khusra! I have become used to hearing it. During school, because of my effeminacy was made fun of. My family has always been, and I guess will always go on to till I don’t change myself, tell me how I should become more manly. How I should talk, walk, speak, eat, hold the glass, and the list goes on. I am told that I can’t be open about my sexual orientation because that would bring shame to my family. After coming out and writing openly on facebook about my sexual orientation and my non-religiosity, my brother sent me a furious message from the UK telling me to better mend my ways before he kills me for defaming the name of my father .Of course many homosexuals take their own life! When your family is not supportive, when some of your friends hold on to you (but still view homosexuality as a disease they must tolerate), when many people who are in a process of becoming good friends of yours stop talking to you the very next day after you told you’re gay, there seems to be no other way out but to kill yourself.
But then that sort of humiliation is not limited to your enemies only, but also extends to your family. Whenever there is a fight between me and my sisters, they have one word to shut me up. Yes! You guessed it right: Gay. Why am I telling you my story while my task was to inform my Indian friends about the gay subculture in Pakistan? Well, my story speaks for many. However I am still lucky. I know what gay rights are. I know what I must demand from this world. I know it’s okay to be gay, and although I am an Atheist now, I also know that it’s okay to be gay and Muslim at the same time. I have done research on Islam and homosexuality to some extent and so I believe that homosexuals can live peacefully in the Islamic world only if the interpretations of the story of Lot are done in a way that is devoid of bigotry and hatred.
But many homosexuals don’t know that. They are happy to be gay and perform namaz five times a day as long as there is no mention of homosexuality and the name of Islam together, whether in a homophobic tone, or in that of advocacy. If that happens they are torn between sexuality and religion, both of which are equally important in a man’s life. You must not be surprised when I tell you that when I talked about re-interpretation of the Quran in order to reconcile homosexuality and Islam, there is no way they can digest such an idea. How can all the Ulema be wrong? And more importantly, there seems to be such a crystal clear mention of homosexuality as a sin in the Quran. Guess what, there is no word for homosexuality in the book! The words used to describe it are anything but ‘homosexuality’. The closest that it comes to is the incident where Lot asks the people whether they would give up the woman that God had given them, for men (his guests, who were Angels in reality subsequently came to inform him of his near destruction). Now there can be various interpretations of that. But even when you ask you anti-gay or confused homosexual friends to quote where in the Quran there is a direct reference to homosexuality, and when they are unable to do so, they find it hard to absorb the information. Okay, I understand. Twenty years of radical anti-gay brainwashing isn’t going away in a day or two. But what really piques me is the fact that in order to defend their religion orientated homophobia, my people would even go on to defy scientific evidence.
But not all is bad. More and more people now believe that gays should have rights to a proper life too, although not in a large numbers. Again, as long as homosexuality and religion are not brought face to face, people won’t be ready to tolerate homosexuality. Now when homosexuality is discussed in relation to Islam, there is an obvious defensive behaviour. What is really funny is that these same people forget their Allah’s divine anti-gay verses when they are offered a blowjob! I have tested at least two guys who went to lengths to explain to me why Allah hates homosexuals. But when I offered to have sex with them , they didn’t lose a second to accept it. (Of course I didn’t have sex with them. I have some self-respect you know!)
The female homosexual scene is almost non-existent. Lesbians seem to not exist at all. Therefore they can be saved from the general wrath of society when they dress like boys and act like one. There is no concept of tomboyish girls being lesbians, although there is a strong notion that all effeminate men are gays and all gays are effeminate (something that I must admit even I used to believe at one point of time). But returning to the discussion of Pakistani gay woman, I seldom hear about a lesbian, and have never heard about an out and proud one. But my poor sisters suffer from two kinds of discrimination: based upon both gender and sexual orientation.
My Indian friends must have noted that Pakistani Gay sub-culture is not much different from that of the Indian one, nor are our fears, hopes and everyday toils. Therefore, we must erase the international borderlines with love and respect towards one another, and work towards helping our brothers and sisters live a life of bliss regardless of their nationality, sexuality, religion, or ethnicity.