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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 June 2005, 20:29 GMT 21:29 UK
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.

Demonstration in Pakistan
Open displays of straight and gay sexuality are taboo in Pakistan
But 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.

Donkey and cart in Pakistan
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.

This debate is now closed. Thank you for your comments.

Your comments:

Who are we to judge? And when did sexual orientation became one of the five pillars of Islam?
Kashif Iqbal, Norway

After spending a couple of years in the USA (an open society), I believe that homosexuality can never be defended. The Lord has made men for women and women for men.
Samee, Pakistan

I dare him to come out in public and announce himself as gay. He is accepted in his social class because the elite don't mingle with the commoners.
Waqas Khan, USA

I think this guy is kidding himself. I don't believe many people in Pakistan are comfortable knowing a gay person. Any normal family would have disowned him immediately. I was born and brought up in the UK and there are thousands of Pakistanis where I stay. Without a doubt I am certain nobody would accept a gay person into Pakistani society here so how can it ever be acceptable in a conservative Muslim nation such as Pakistan? Also as homosexuality is forbidden in Islam how can this guy still call himself a Muslim?
Tariq, UK

To say that gay socialising is easier in Pakistan because physical intimacy between men is not questioned the way it is in the West, is living in a fool's paradise. If this person seriously believes that close contact among men equals acceptance of homosexuals then he is fooling himself. And he knows this, because if he felt homosexuality is acceptable, he would come out with it to more people, not just to his "liberal" friends and family. Acceptability of homosexuals may be on the rise, but it is because people feel socially pressured to do so, just like some people in the West are pressured to be tolerant towards minorities.
Aamir, UK

There is no problem in being gay as far as I am concerned but there is some thing wrong in a Muslim being gay. It is not allowed in Islam and is surely against the laws of nature; it is one of the signs of the end of the world. I don't think you remain a Muslim if you indulge in anything like that. As much as you have right to choose, I would never appreciate anything like this.
Manz, UK

People keep saying that homosexuality is a sin or not allowed in Islam. But can someone post the actual passages where it explicitly forbids it? Manz thinks it is a sign of the end of the world. However homosexuality has been going on since time began. I am gay and I am a Muslim. Why can't I be both? I would never choose to be this way, why would anyone? I have stopped asking Allah why he made me this way, because I have accepted that I am his creation, and not the spawn of the devil!

It would be nice if other Pakistanis also realised that fact, instead of hiding their intolerance, fear, hatred, and general nastiness behind the mask of religion. My friend, who like me was born in the UK but of Pakistani heritage, had a mixed experience of coming out to his family, it was his family in the countryside in Pakistan that were fine with it, though never talk about it. But the self-righteous middle class family in the city, along with the family here weren't too keen to say the least.
Ahmed, UK

It's surprising to hear of family and friends to be accepting of this person's sexual preference. Homosexuality is a sin in all the three major faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). It's no secret that Pakistan has its share of gays and lesbians but any act to look for acceptance will be disastrous, since Quranic Laws cannot be changed for a few people.
KM Sheikh, USA

I could go on and say that Homosexuality is forbidden in Islam, but that would probably kill this dialogue. I do not support or condone homosexuality, but at the same time I feel that God is going to be the final judge. I think this guy's experiences are a lot different from what an average Pakistani's experiences would be. The average Pakistani is the one living in a village, working day and night, maybe even half-educated.

Not someone whose family is open and welcoming enough to accept their son coming out as gay. Sounds more like a privileged family with a lot of money to send their sons to the US for studies. Maybe religion does not have any place in their hearts or homes, and that's why he's feeling accepted. It's his social circle specifically, not the country.
Ali, USA

In conservative Islamic societies, where a large number of women observe "Pardha" (or veil in front of males who are not immediate family), homosexuality is historically prevalent; but it is never flaunted, as we see in western societies. Late Molly Kaye's (MM Kaye) novel Far Pavilions quotes an Afghan song:
There is a boy, across the river
With his bottom like a peach
But alas, I can't swim.

Suren Sukhtankar, USA

I am straight but not narrow. I agree mostly that the West is obsessed with people's sexuality while most people in the East, sex is private, very private. It is not anybody's business. I remember when I was in school in US, in the land of the free, what I wore, how I spoke, where I touched others and when but then I was immediately scrutinised by people around me seeking to know my sexuality. Who the heck cared, I thought. In that sense, the land of the free and individual rights, has very little of it in the West.
Kalai, Malaysia

More power to him. Gay people are born like that, no-one chooses to be gay or become gay. I believe that gay people need our support. It was nice to read that in Pakistan gay people can live a good life too.
Farva Khan, Islamabad, Pakistan

This guy is living in a fantasy world. Being gay in Pakistan... wow, he had the courage to tell his family and somehow they supported him (I am not sure if the are followers of any religion or not, but it's forbidden in Islam, just as it is in Christianity, just as it is in Judaism).

I am sure he is the subject of jokes to all that know about his sexual orientation, this not being my personal view but a lifelong experience of living in Pakistan. Homosexuality is a taboo in Pakistan; it's looked down upon to the extent to docile boycott of the gay person. Nothing is changing in Pakistan in this regard; do not take this article as a guideline for the Pakistani's society's take on homosexuality.

This person, and the editor for that matter, has serious lack of information in this regard. Pakistan is not a small country and most of the population is conservative. I really cannot think of any city in Pakistan (other than a few corners of the liberal Islamabad) where this guy can announce his homosexuality.
Saad, Pakistan

Men loving particularly younger men is pretty common in most part of Pakistan. Maybe it is due to Muslim belief that God has promised to those who will earn to go to heaven will have not only "Hoors" (virgin women) but a choice for what it is called "Ghilmans" (young beautiful boys).
Alex Ijaz, USA

An important factor that our gay friend forgot to highlight was his social class. Similar to the western world, it is becoming quite fashionable for the eastern elite to display an open acceptance and patronage for the gay. And, the reason why the author finds "gay socialising" easier in Pakistan is because half the time people don't know its happening.

It gets camouflaged between the Punjabi hugs that you see men giving on road sides and the happy-go-lucky hand-in-hand swinging of two best friends. Ignorance is not acceptance. And ours is an extremely intolerant society. Yet, I must add, every human being has a right to life and freedom of living. Let's leave moral judgements to Divinity!
Qizilbash, Pakistan

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