Coming out has been an extremely audacious process for me as it seemed next to impossible to accept myself as who I am, given that the dynamics of Pakistani society are quite unique from Western cultures. At times it is considered a homosocial society, where men experience more same-sex physical proximity and intimacy than any average American or British, but with rapid globalization, the stigma has also been attached to this homosocial behavior.
Being brought up in a traditional middle class family of Lahore, I have always been discouraged to ask questions and been advised to conform to pre-existing knowledge and cultural values without getting skeptical about it. But I was born an inquisitive child for whom Whys, Whos, Hows and Whats has been very important. And I guess, this is the result of my innate curiosity and inquisitiveness which made me realize and accept my gaiety. My questions were regarded as the biggest dilemma of my childhood life as my elders used to say, “Pata nae yeh iitni ajeeb ajeeb baatain kyun karta hai? Hum nay to kabhi koi sawal nae poacha tha apnay bazarguan say. Bus un kii har baat maan letay thay chup kar kay.”
This thinking pattern is a part of our collective unconscious that my parents, grandparents and perhaps great-grandparents all were a part of – the kind of people who were used to spending life in accordance with what has been passed on to them under the name of morality and values. Any possible deviation from those mythical and folklore-based traditions was considered unholy and blasphemous. But, things were different for me. It was not a matter of me being gay but generally I was different from other children of my age. I had individual opinions, or tried to, anyway.
I tend to see certain level of pseudo morality, injustice and hypocrisy within the framework of norms handed over to me. I could never understood than why the hell we Sunnis need to hate Shias when they are Muslims as well? Why have men been given an edge over women in Islam when I see my father being rude to my mother? I never got satisfied with the replies to those questions then.
I knew from day one, as far as I can remember, that I liked men. This awareness came when I was 6 or 7 years old and one night, after my parents went to sleep, I turned on the TV and started watching an old Lollywood movie. In one scene, the protagonist was shirtless and that was the moment, I guess, when I felt something different, something I was unable to define at that time. I still remember that the next day, I couldn’t concentrate in my school and had severe headache. What I was feeling at that time was mixture of shame, joy, fear and guilt.
My way of talking, walking, behaving and expressing things was different and that was clue enoughfor my father who tried to carve out a physical and emotional hardcore man out of me, after his friends and relatives started pointing out potential feminine streaks in me. Alarmed by the situation, he did what every conscientious father might have done and I quite intelligently dealt with the situation by manipulating my walk, talk and behavior like the man I was expected of becoming – prototype my father and my society have carved for me. I was 10-11 years old than.
Whenever I saw my kind of guy, I did experience warm sensation on my face or a flutter in my chest. But I always used to lower my eyes and shun my feelings. Considering it an abnormal feeling and a budding disease, I even used to pray to Allah to take this scourge of perversity away from me, but he never did. Why, I came to know later in my life.
Being bullied at school for being gay as well as a chubby kid, I turned out as an extremely aggressive and emotionally aloof man who give doesn’t give a shit about anything around him. Actually, it was a defense mechanism, a kind of maneuvering to repel people away from me, in the fear that they might stigmatize me. Wearing that mask, I used to think that my ordeal was over but it was becoming tougher as I entered in college. Being exposed to a large number of men, badly managing my newly acquired puberty and having no one to confide in, I was heading towards acomplete disaster.
But, somehow, out of blue, I befriended a college fellow and unexpectedly one fine day we both started talking about this issue after cracking a Pathan joke. And I came out to him and to my surprise, he also joined me in this coming out. I can’t tell you how relieved and unburdened I felt that day after sharing my loathsome secret with him. But still, being Muslims, we considered it a sin and a perversion. After that I just happened to identify and befriend several other boys in campus with the same orientation. It was indeed a strengthening experience for me as I realized that I wasn’t alone. Whether it was a disease or a perversion, a natural calamity or choice, I now knew I wasn’t the only one, that there is a whole group of us with same thing.
Then as I moved for my graduation and than Masters, I started doing research regarding this issue while continuously praying to Allah every day, in the hope that one fine day, He would take pity on me and let me find a solution for it. I came across the scientific research evidences, in both medical and psychological literature, which clearly states that it’s a natural phenomena, not a matter of choice and my heart knew that I never opted for it and it was natural for me, not an ‘adopted perversion.’
But that scientific scholarship was hardly enough for me because being a traditional Muslim I had been told that it’s forbidden in Islam. And I don’t want to forgo my religion for my orientation’s sake. I still remember how terrible those fruitless ‘research’ days were when nothing functional was coming out of it. Capital punishment or celibacy, that’s what Islam seemed to offer me at that time. What I needed wasn’t any permission to have sex with a man. That was hardly enough. What I was actually looking for was a way to envision a life of love, intimacy and commitment with a man in the context of a religiously alive traditional Islam. And finally, one day, just like a guardian angel, I met my expatriate cousin, who has been researching the issue of homosexuality within Islamic literature. He shared extremely valuable information with me regarding the alternative viewpoints on the issue based upon the analysis of Quran, Hadith and Islamic jurisprudence. I gave a thorough study to the works of Scott Siraj ul Haqq Kugle, Daayiee Abdullah, Muhsin Hendricks, Pamela Taylor, Samar Habib and other distinguished scholars, analyzed their work, evaluated it and followed my spiritual institution.
And then finally I came up with my stance. I realized that Allah doesn’t hate me, He doesn’t detest me. And that my gayness is a hard-wired element of my personality, which can’t be changed and why should it be changed because it’s a manifestation of my Allah’s diversity, not a moral failing.
After this, my attitude towards my own self as well as towards others started changing for the better. I became more confident, happy, peaceful and contented while further disseminating this positivity. From that day onwards I decided to educate, help and facilitate people in general and sexual minorities in particular, with all the resources available to me. I wish that one day all sexual minorities will get full and complete acceptance, not tolerance or sympathy, but complete acceptance for their difference. I know it’s difficult, but I’ll continue to work for this cause.
(A version of this article was published in the July-August issue of Gaylaxy Magazine)