Pakistan: ‘A Gay Man’s Paradise’?

Gay couplePakistan may not seem like the most gay-friendly place on Earth. Not even close, since its anti-gay laws are technically more restrictive than Russia's (Russia's laws don't actually criminalize gay sex, Pakistan's do). However, with the advent of the internet, more and more members of Pakistan's underground gay community have managed to find each other and create an underground community. Thanks to a recent article released by BBC News Magazine, we now have a glimpse into that community. As it turns out, gay men in Pakistan are a lot more sexually active than some might expect. 

The article's title sums up the situation pretty succinctly: "Gay Pakistan: Where sex is available and relationships are difficult". Precisely how easy is gay sex to come by? Just ask "Danyaal", a businessman from the wealthy city of Karachi. He tells BBC that "if you want sex…it's a gay man's paradise." Danyaal is part of the city's underground gay party scene, where invite-only parties host sometimes hundreds of gay men in a private venue where they can be open about their sexuality. That doesn't mean that gay men in Karachi only get together in private setting, though. Ironically, one of the city's best gay cruising spots is one of its busiest shrines, the Abdullah Shah-Ghazi shrine:

"Every Thursday evening, as the sun sets, men from across the city gather there. A tightly packed circle is formed and those in the centre of the circle are groped by those on the periphery. To outsiders it looks like a writhing mass of men huddling around one another. Some even describe it as a 'mysterious religious ceremony'. For participants, it's anonymous group sex. This kind of behaviour is, of course, not condoned by Pakistan's religious authorities."

…Of course. Gay sex is also readily available via a malchi walah, or a "masseuse" who offers certain "extras" for a small additional fee (the equivalent of approximately $7.80 USD). These masseuses don't usually have to worry about local authorities, either, since many of them are loyal clients. "We get important people – police, army officers and ministers too," says one masseuse called "Ahmed". Ahmed even has two wives, who know about his unusual career choice and are fine with it.  "I know he has sex. No problem," said one wife. "If he doesn't work how will the kids eat? I get angry when people call them names. People are stuck in their ways."

Gay pakistanOne researcher, Qasim Iqbal, explained the possible origins of Pakistan's casual male-on-male sex culture:

"In Pakistan men are discouraged from having girlfriends and so often, their first sexual experiences will be with male friends or cousins. This is often seen as a part of growing up and it can be overlooked by families – it's the idea that 'boys will be boys'. Sex between men will be overlooked as long as no-one feels that tradition or religion are being challenged. At the end of it all, everyone gets married to a member of the opposite sex and nothing is spoken about."

Just like Iqbal says, while gay men in Pakistan have no trouble soliciting sex from other men, relationships are much harder to come by. More often than not, they will end up marrying a member of the opposite sex for convenience purposes while continuing to sleep with men on the side. Iqbal says that:

"Gay men [in Pakistan] will make every effort to stop any investment in a same-sex relationship because they know that one day they will have to get married to a woman."

Thus, in Pakistan's patriarchal society, long term man-on-man relationships are exceedingly rare. In the case of gay couple "Ali" and "Akbar", they were allowed to continue because Ali's family was run by a matriarch instead. Akbar told BBC:

"His grandmother was the head of the house so I knew that winning her over would mean everything else would fall into place. I took the time to talk to her and convince her that I was a good person. That was first and foremost. It wasn't about 'coming out' in a formal sense. It's more important to convince Ali's family that I'm a good human being.

"She once gave me a hand-embroidered decorative cloth that she had made as a teenager. She said she was giving it to me because she knew I 'take care of things'. It was a kind gesture and a very personal kind of acceptance."

GayMuslimsExist1-e1281529089994-360x270Unfortunately, it's much more difficult for lesbians, since any sort of outward expression of sexuality by women, gay or stright, is generally frowned upon. That's why lesbians "Beena" and "Fatima" have to keep their relationship rather discreet. Beena is still in the closet while Fatima contributes to an invite-only online support group for other gay Pakistanis online. Beena says that the two of them are looking to find a gay couple with which to enter into a marriage of convenience:

"I think we'll have a marriage of convenience. I know some gay guys and maybe we'll do a deal so we put in money together and they have one portion of the house and we'll have another portion. We may as well do that."

And as for the progress of LGBT rights in their home country? Beena has noticed a correlation between LGBT and women's rights in other nations. Unfortunately, that likely means that full equality will not come during their lifetime should they choose to stay in Pakistan:

"Gay rights in America came after women had basic rights. You don't see that in Pakistan. You are not allowed a difference of opinion here. My father is a gentleman but I wouldn't put it past him to put a bullet through my head. I'm all for being 'true to myself' but I don't want to die young. I think it's selfish for me to come out and campaign for gay rights now. It's selfish to the women in my family who are fighting for education and the right to marry the man of their dreams, or not to marry at all."

Comments

  1. GregV says

    There’s nothing selfish about standing up for the rights of everyone, INCLUDING yourself, Beena. What would be selfish is if you stood up for the rights of gay women but AGAINST the rights of straight women (or vice-versa). In an enlightened country, your sisters could find happiness in their own way (single or married to someone they WANT to have as a partner) at the same time that you find your own happiness.

    This article makes me think of when I was about 8 years old and I felt like nobody in the world understood this concept except me. I tried inventing in my imagination some scenario — ANY scenario — where I could have a good future in American society.
    Maybe, I thought, I could come out to a friend only once I knew that we were both secretly in love with each other, and then we could move to a new city and say we were brothers.

    Or maybe when I found that special someone, we would keep a secret between ourselves and a gay female couple and we could marry the two women and have a secret door in a duplex to mix and match the “real” couples together once we got inside the door.
    It was just hard to imagine — even 10 years ago — the day would come when the majority would take a “live and let live” attitude and people would not have to lie.
    It’s too bad that in Pakistan and in Russia and so many other places, they still have to lie.

  2. says

    With few exceptions/qualifications, the author is actually describing ancient Greece, too. Except, back then, they had no Greek equivalent for the word ‘homosexual.’ You had a boyfriend, a wife, or ideally both, and if you had neither there was something wrong with you. Unlike in modern Pakistan and elsewhere in the world, the norm was older male (lover), mentor, married with kids, and young man (beloved), pupil and eager to learn everything from soldiering to politics. The best exemplar of this quasi-religious “institutional pederasty” was the Sacred Band of Thebes. The rare exception was Alexander’s Macedonian army, which allowed same-age lovers conscription per his own example (his right hand man and highest-ranking general was a boyhood friend and lover, back from when they were both tutored by a young Aristotle). In general, sexual roles in the Greek model was rigidly fixed – the mentor tops, and the submissive bottom gets to try the dominant role only when he himself got married (and had grown a full beard), had kids, and found a boy of his own to mentor. No flip-flopping and, cultural historians say, femoral sex only – no anal or oral (if you want those, you go to a whore house). Women were for making babies only. “Falling in love” with a woman was not as edifying or ennobling as with a man (Plato). Aristotle even said that women have more teeth than men (this from the “father of Western science”). Wives don’t even eat in the same table with their husbands. It was totally a man’s world, as with Pakistan today.

  3. Hagatha says

    Even here in America we have gay men who think that the threat of getting caught is more exciting. You find them in the rest stops, tea rooms, and on Craigslist ads that start ” Bi guy, discreet…”

  4. Jase says

    “My father is a gentleman but I wouldn’t put it past him to put a bullet through my head.”

    Wow. The cognitive dissonance there is amazing. It almost reads like a parody of a homophobic culture.

  5. andrew says

    Isn’t there a real danger that articles like this reveal to much information and will make the lives of those gay men more difficult in that Muslim nation?

  6. Meah says

    Fascinating article.

    So in the evolution of LGBT rights in muslim countries, unlike here, lesbians are probably not going to be able to have as much influence as they’ve had in the West ?

  7. Bill S says

    Plenty of men were having gay sex from the 40s onward. The difference is that modern LGBTs want to live openly. If these guys think Pakistan is is a “gay man’s paradise” just because they engage in lots of furtive gay sex while fearing reprisals from their family, they’re not getting what the movement’s all about.

    Oh, and cuties in the top pic.

  8. Zeta says

    “For participants, it’s anonymous group sex. This kind of behaviour is, of course, not condoned by Pakistan’s religious authorities.”

    It’s not condoned by the women married to these men who are down low, or safe sex advocates either. A ‘gay man’s paradise’ shouldn’t include unsafe sex. If the AIDS rate rises in Pakistan, we’ll know why.

  9. Matt27 says

    I found this very interesting. I hope TL we’ll keep finding articles about gays in countries we usually know very little about. I am glad gay men in Pakistan have found each other.

  10. Rick says

    No, Bill S, the difference is that “LGBT’s”in the West are anti-male woman-idolizers (as GregV’s comments demonstrate) whereas Muslim men actually like (no, love) other men and express it sexually with great frequency……without feeling any desire to parade around in high heels or behave like women in any way.

    I have always felt totally liberated when visiting Islamic countries……and repressed when returning to the West….not the other way around

  11. Brian says

    Is that why you’re closeted here in America, Rick?

    You sure do have many complaints about gay males and gay male communities, and yet you continue to avoid doing what a great many of the commenters you loathe do, which is to live by example and have a visible presence, even online.

    It is of course obvious that you’re just trolling and only come on here to rile folks up because you have nothing better to do. It’s just rather telling that a man who complains so much about women and cries out for examples of strong gay male role models is so unwilling to show everyone his own example of being a strong gay male role model.

    Are you a closeted gay man or are you a right-wing straight man who is obsessed with gay men?

  12. Abdullah says

    I am a Pakistani, and a straight man. I must say that I, in a way, felt both sad and happy after reading the BBC report about our gay subculture. Sad, because firstly I had to read about this in a foreign publication, and secondly, because of realizing the pointless complications in the lives of so many people because of ridiculous social taboos.

    Still there is some joy and a glimmer of hope that one day my society may have a chance at equal rights for all people, regardless of their faith, gender, socioeconomic class and lifestyle preferences, sexual or otherwise.

    I’m particularly proud of the transgender community recently getting the right to not just vote in the national elections but to actually hold public office. There’s also some progress in same-sex marriage, albeit as long as one is willing to navigate certain social and legal loopholes – i.e. one of the partners has to pretend to be transgender by dressing up as the opposite sex. Not perfect, I agree, but certainly a step in the right direction.

    Peace.

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