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Gay Pakistan: Where sex is available and relationships are difficult

26 August 2013 Last updated at 19:40 ET Gay Pakistan: Where sex is available and relationships are difficult By Mobeen Azhar BBC World Service, Karachi Pakistan is not the kind of place that most people would associate with gay liberation. But some say the country is a great place to be gay - even describing the port city of Karachi as "a gay man's paradise". Underground parties, group sex at shrines and "marriages of convenience" to members of the opposite sex are just some of the surprises that gay Pakistan has to offer. Under its veneer of strict social conformity, the country is bustling with same-sex activity. Danyaal, as he's asked to be known, is a 50-something businessman who lives in an affluent part of Karachi, and uses his smartphone to organise Karachi's gay party scene. "One of the first things I did online, maybe 12 years ago, was type in G - A - Y and hit search. Back then I found a group and made contact with 12 people in this city," he says. "These days there are smartphone apps that use GPS to tell you how close you are to another gay person with an online profile. There are thousands of gay men online in Pakistan at any one time." The party scene is big - so big, he jokes, that he rarely gets time to himself. "If you want sex too, it's a gay man's paradise. If you want a relationship, that may be more difficult." These invitation-only parties are a rare opportunity for gay men to be open about their sexuality. Pakistani society is fiercely patriarchal. Pakistanis are expected to marry a member of the opposite sex, and the vast majority do. The result is a culture of dishonesty and double lives, says researcher Qasim Iqbal. "Gay men 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," he says. "After getting married they will treat their wives well but they will continue to have sex with other men." Sex between men occurs in some very public places - including, surprisingly, Karachi's busiest shrine. Families go to the Abdullah Shah-Ghazi shrine to honour the holy man buried there and to ask for God's blessings, but it is also Karachi's biggest cruising ground. 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. Most Pakistanis view homosexuality as sinful. The vast majority of clerics interpret the Qoranic story of Lot as a clear indication that God condemns homosexual men. Some scholars go even further and recommend Sharia-based punishment for "men who have sex with men". The shrine is far from the only place in Karachi where gay sex is freely available. It is, for example, easy to buy from a malchi walah - a masseur who offers massage and "extras" for the equivalent of £5, or $7.80. "We get important people - police, army officers and ministers too," says one masseur, Ahmed. He claims to have slept with more than 3,000 men during his working life - despite having two wives and eight children. One of his wives, Sumera, wears a burka and the niqab, but she has no objection to her husband's chosen profession and wishes more people would keep an open mind. "I know he has sex. No problem. If he doesn't work how will the kids eat? I get angry when people call them names. People are stuck in their ways." Sumera's position may appear surprising, but in fact it's not hard to understand, says Qasim Iqbal. "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'," he says. "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."

http%3A//www.bbc.co.uk/news/23811826


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