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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."
- Technically, homosexual acts are illegal in Pakistan. The British introduced laws criminalising what is described as sex "against the order of nature" in the colonial era. Sharia-based laws dating from the 1980s also lay down punishments for same-sex sexual activity.
In practice, though, these laws are rarely enforced, and the issue tends to be dealt with inside the family.
"There was an instance where two boys were caught having sex in a field," says Iqbal.
"The family tried to bribe the police with money because they didn't want the story going public. When the police wouldn't back down the family asked for one detail to be changed - they wanted their son to be presented as the active sexual partner. For them, their son being passive would be even more shameful."
In almost all cases charges will be dropped, Iqbal says, but the boys will be forced to get married by their families.
Just occasionally, though, Pakistani parents do reconcile themselves to children entering a long-term gay relationship.
Akbar and Ali are one such couple who have made things work, against the odds.
"Ali's family was run by a matriarch," recalls Akbar.
"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."
Akbar and Ali have now set up home together with the support of their families. Akbar has a good relationship with Ali's mother.
"She comes to stay with us and I love watching soaps with her. At the end of the night she goes to her room and Ali and I will retire to our room. Two men sleeping in the same bed? Sure she knows what is going on. We don't have to have a big discussion about it."
Stories like this are, however, exceptionally rare. For many gay men in Pakistan, a heterosexual marriage and a life of anonymous groping is the long-term reality.
But life can be even more difficult for gay women. Expressions of female sexuality are shunned in the public sphere, even among heterosexuals. So how do gay women make their lives work?
In Lahore, twenty-something lesbian couple Beena and Fatima have come up with an inventive way to stay together.
Beena, although not publicly "out", says she is optimistic about the future. "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."
Fatima, who contributes to an invitation-only online gay support group, believes it's only "a matter of time" before Pakistan begins to debate gay rights openly, and people declare their homosexuality with pride.
"You can't stay in the closet forever. You have to come out. It's inevitable," she says.
Beena is less hopeful.
"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," she says.
"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."
It may take a generation for any real change to occur - even liberal Pakistanis tend to regard sectarian violence and economic instability as more pressing issues. But there will still be private spaces where gay Pakistanis can express their sexuality openly.
- Wow, this is news to me!
Pakistanis are beautiful people, Zayn Malik, Amir Khan...
- Their dicks taste like curry and their asses are too spicy
- Pakistan is one of the nations with the highest rate of gay porn downloads.
- The thought of rampant b.o. kind of turns me off, but it's true there are many good looking pakistani men.
- Then why is there so little Paki-porn?
- They're not uploading porn, R6. They're downloading it from the rest of the planet.
- [quote]"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."
He is a whore, darlin'.
- It seems to be the standard in that part of the world.
Pakistan is right next to Afghanistan, home of the "dancing boys."
Strange they're such restrictive societies, but yet so open at the same time. Weird.
- That's the whole ironic thing about these conservative religious countries. American soldiers coming back from Afghanistan were shocked at the pedophilia. Two power Taliban drug kings were fighting over a beautiful boy. Mullah Omar, the spiritual leader of the Taliban and a major procurer of boys to the Taliban, was called into help settle it and thus rose to prominence as a "peacemaker."
The local population says that birds fly above the city using only one wing. They use other wing to cover their asses.
- Well not to generalize- but my ex an I were together for 3.5 years and she went back to being straight- the pressure (internal and from family) is overwhelming with Pakistanis
- I often wonder whether a lot of the Middle Eastern guys who came to the US are escaping since they are gay. So many that come to my town seem like there's something there...
- You mean she went back to pretending to be straight, r11.
- My mid-eastern ex was about to get married. He had the hall reserved and everything was set. I met him outside a bar in New York. Maybe he was making a last ditch attempt to see if he could make it in the gay world. We talked, went back to his place, and I fucked his brains out. His conservative parents back in the "old country" were actually quite supportive. But it wasn't something they bragged about at the market.
- Actually, R11, it sounds like it might have been a good excuse.
- West Hollywood: where sex is available and relationships are difficult! :D LOL
- That's where my ex lives now R16. Right there on Kings Road. He and his new husband have a poodle. I almost don't recognize him anymore.
- [quote]Well not to generalize- but my ex an I were together for 3.5 years and she went back to being straight- the pressure (internal and from family) is overwhelming with Pakistanis
I don't think your generalizing. Sex and romantic relationships are always more difficult for women in patriarchal societies. This passage made me so sad:
[quote]"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," she says.
[quote]"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."
- There are some really HOT guys in Pakistan.
Years ago I was tutor in grad school and got involved with a Pakastani guy. HOT as the sun--loved to bottom, and was the sweetest person you could imagine. I was told that the relationship would end "later on" when the father decided on a wife. Sure enough, the guy ended up returning home right after graduation and got married. Have not heard from him in years, and often have wondered what he is doing on the down low. He did tell me that he first fooled around at 15 with his cousins, and that every guy he knew in Pakistan had the same story to tell: cousin or close friend, mutual jo that led to sucking, then anal, and always "quiet" and never "out.'
- Hot Crowd!
- I bet they don't use condoms. Wonder their knowing wives deal with contracting STDs?
- And let's not forget Mahir!
- [quote]I bet they don't use condoms. Wonder their knowing wives deal with contracting STDs?
Oh, yeah. A lot of the Afghans (male and female) seen by U.S. medical personnel have all sorts of STDs. Many were startled by the nature of the diseases given a culture with so many sexual proscriptions. IIRC, throat gonorrhea was a big one.
- Pakistan is not the U.S.A's friend.
I do not trust them.
- R25 = Indian
- This is also the norm in Turkey. It is just the way of these countries...have sex, don't be gay.
- ...and I am thinking that it will become the way of America in part. Straight for Straight is more common than ever.
- While never uttering the word Egypt was homo heaven when I was there 10 years ago.
- It's weird how societies that discriminate against gay people can be tolerant of straight people engaging in homosex. We need both to allow gay people to have relationships with each other and straights freely to get off with them.
- R30 but then the guys getting off would be called gay.
It is not the sex that outrages, it is the gay.
- "It's weird how societies that discriminate against gay people can be tolerant of straight people engaging in homosex. "
In repressive, patriarchal societies there tends to be a huge divide between tops and bottoms. A top man is seen as normal, a man known to be a bottom may face social discrimination, or may be murdered to "save the family honor".
In a patriarchal society the female or "feminine" partner is the one who gets punished for breaking all the repressive sex laws. Dominant male sexuality is unchecked, or forgiven almost anything.
- Man on man sex seems to be okay as long as you don't call it gay.
- You couldn't pay me to have sex with a Pakastani. The smells!
- You couldn't pay me to have sex with an American. Like fucking a bottle of bleach.
- [quote]It is not the sex that outrages, it is the gay.
Why is that, I wonder? To me, it's the same thing. I guess they figure as long as you're not marrying the person you're fucking, it's all good. That sort of rigid thinking is hard for me to grasp.
- Why so hard to grasp, it is often true in America as well. Str8 for Str8 is very common.
Gay is not where it is at for most men who have sex with men.
- During an international conference in San Remo, Italy I couldn't help staring at a gorgeous Pakistani diplomat. Tall, hunky, large dark eyes, lots of hair, Armani suit. The second day of the week-long conference he approached me. I couldn't believe my good luck.
He was a high ranking P politician, married, 3 kids, loved getting pounded. I look back on that week rather romantically.
- Straight men don't have sex with men.
- Yes R39 we understand your position. Men who IDENTIFY, SELF IDENTIFY as straight do however.
- Seriously, do they slather themselves with some kind of oil? They smell really bad. Same goes with indians and why do they not use deodorants?
I would imagine a company like Axe spray would clean up over there!
- any Paki dude Tumblrs?
- R39 exhibits the mentality of a frigid frau who thinks that because her husband is straight, he doesn't stop at the park for a blowjob.
- But, r41, would they use it? Seems like they think they don't need it!
- OK, R43, tell us about how straight men are into dudes. I'm listening.
- The point is, r43...
If a guy is having sex with another guy, he is by definition, not straight. Got it?
- Pakistani men always hit me up on dating sites. And not the pretty ones, either.
- Yes, R40, I understand there are men who self-identify as straight who have sex with men.
AKA closet cases.
It's hardly a secret. Was there something else we needed to know?
- Most Indian guys are butt ugly. No big loss.
- Oh really, R49? I mean it's all personal taste, but Jesus.
- Years ago, just out of college, I had a roommate who was Pakistani. I was fascinated by the customs -- he had a fiancee that had been chosen for him by his parents, and he would speak to her on the phone about once a month. Yet he lived in America and I always got the impression that even though it was understood that he would return home and get married and "start his life," he really didn't want to do this.
I always suspected he was gay. I was in the closet myself at the time, and I wasn't attracted to him. I noticed how he would use his arranged marriage situation as a convenient excuse to shut down any female attention that came his way.
For a while, he and I worked out at the same gym. That was awkward, since the gym was the one place I could go to meet men and express my sexuality. Having my roommate there curtailed that activity somewhat ... I started to notice that he spent a lot of time hanging out in the steam room, and if I ran into him in the showers, I would just say "hey" quickly and move on. One time as I was walking into the showers I saw him in there with a fully exposed hard on, and I quickly turned around and left. I think both he and I knew what was going on, but neither of us mentioned it to each other.
Eventually, I moved into my own home, came out of the closet, and found a great boyfriend. He moved back to Pakistan and got married. I hope he is happy, but I feel sorry for him.
- R 50. Most look like mixed Indian genes.
- "Where sex is available and relationships are difficult" I believe that is the way it is everywhere.
- It's so annoying-these Muslim countries. There are SO many hot guys there that will never have the chance to live their lives as they want and mix with gays of the rest of the world out of fear of death and being disowned.
- LOL [R54] that you have to include the word "hot" in your post - like that is the REAL tragedy! Lol...
- post pics
- Last week in Pakistan a five year old girl was raped by various men and left at the hospital where she later died. Apparently this is common in both Pakistan and India.I'm hoping a devastating war between these two countries starts soon, it will make the world a much better place
- Because little girls/boys aren't raped anywhere else, right, R57? Because there isn't an entire industry in places like Bangkok for (mostly) Western men who go to fuck children. Right? Because there isn't a church protecting them. Right?
There was an outcry and a call for justice in India after what happened, and those animals are now going to be put to death for what they did.
When do 500K people plus thousands of others who have been maimed/blinded get justice for what Bush, Cheney and the rest of the neo cons did to them?
- r57 Why don't you hope for devastation in America (which is first world) when similar incidents happen? People like you disgust the shit out of me. All you think about is spilling blood.
- "In a study of child sexual abuse in Rawalpindi and Islamabad, out of a sample of 300 children 17% claimed to have been abused and in 1997 one child a day was reported as raped, gang raped or kidnapped for sexual gratification."
- r60 Search for similar studies in first world countries as well. It's funny how you don't want the rapists of first world countries to die, but when a third world commits a crime, you want every single one of them to die.
- Oh, shut it r61, r59
We all know, specially, r57 and r60 that rape in Muslim countries are more devastating than in our Western 1st world countries. Our rapists are more modern and educated, while rapists in Pakistan are uneducated and muslim. Who cares if the rapist victims die, they were muslims, they deserved to be raped. Every muslim deserves to die, even if they've done nothing wrong. Lets forget the rape in our countries, and only focus on the muslim ones.
- such a sad nation
- Getting back to sex...I was shocked at the amount of male to male sex in Cairo. I had men introduce themselves to me as 'vessels'. They had been trained since puberty to 'bring men pleasure' and essentially be fuck toys. They understood this was done to 'keep women sacred' and they were fine with it.
I fucked one several times and he came every time without touching himself.
- R65, do the guys that introduce themselves as "vessels" wear heavy eyeliner, like Cleopatra?
- Gay liberation? Pakistan? We don't even have gay liberation in the U.S. Our govt. routinely throw gays on "takedown" lists.
- Takedown lists?
- R66 no...no eyeliner. Drag queen affectations would land them in prison.
- The naval frigate I was on back in the 80s pulled into Karachi, Pakistan. One of the sonarmen, a cute African-American guy (who I'm sure was gay) wen ashore in a t-shirt and shorts - and was subject to the catcalls and whistles of the shipyard workers. No one ever let him live that down. He did have nice legs. But I was surprised at the incident and no less surprised when the shore patrol told us about their discussions with some members of the Pakistani army who waxed poetic about sex with teen and pre-teen boys.
- Do they have Dancing Boys like in Afghanistan? Is there a website where one can order one of those?
- LOL R65. Those famous manwhores from Egypt. Even old Gustave Flaubert had some sexy time with them in the middle of 19th century.
- Those famous manwhores from Egypt can't hold a candle to manwhores from Hell's Kitchen
- I'm a massage therapist and one of my regular clients is Pakistani, who is about 26-27 years old, married with three children. He is perfect from head to toe, beautiful skin, perfect body, and always incredibly horny. Boners all the time. I don't "do" clients or married men, and it's become a joke between us about how he wants to turn our relationship into a sexual arrangement.
- R42, hotbrownguys tumblr
- R42,pakistani-munday tumblr
- R42, sexypakistaniactors tumblr
- No curry sex!
- One of my bros is a hot Pakistani dude. Very straight, and very cool.
- How are their cocks? big and brown or small and brown?
- r81, I could care less man, although I have been naked with my Pakistani friend. I don't go around looking at my friends in a creepy way.
- I meant I could NOT care less.
- Dear idiot at R81 like all populations, some are big, some are small.
- Not true...go to greece!
- R85 what is not true?
What is in Greece?
- "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."
Day to day Karachi or celebrity Hollywood?
- r39 normally they don't but they ALL do in Muslim countries. The sexual repression (all manner of sexual repression) is so strong, the repression of women is so complete in every way, the segregation of genders so total that the only sex available is the male on male kind. I bet there's lots of pedophilia and child (male) rape too. Their sexuality is completely screwed up. No way are there more gays there than in any other place but it's their only outlet that is legitimate and with no repercussions (and as long as they don't get caught, of course). The STD's are a different matter.
- Is it oral sex or anal sex too, and is there a stigma for dudes to bottom as there is just about everywhere else? Do feminine guys automatically bottom for dudes?
- r84 dear asshole...suck my big paki dick.
- Pakistan’s Gay Community Quietly Breaking Barriers
by Ron Moreau, Sami Yousafzai Oct 30, 2013 5:45 AM EDT
Actor Assad Khan is part of a generation of young men breaking barriers for gays in conservative Pakistan, where homosexuality is punished by prison or worse.
Assad Khan knew he was different from a very young age. As a child at home he preferred playing with his two sisters rather than his two brothers. At school, too, he gravitated toward playing with girls. “In school I was more secure and happy playing with girls than with boys,” says the 23-year-old, boyishly handsome Khan. As a result of his behavior, he says, his family largely ignored him. “I got a terrible complex as my family favored, and gave more attention to, my brothers,” he recalls.
As he grew up in Islamabad, reached puberty and realized he was gay, he suffered even more. “Being a gay in a society like Pakistan is not easy,” Khan says. “For a long time, I was frightened of who I was, so I hid my gay status…I acted 24 hours a day.”
Even so, he was constantly teased and harassed for his appearance and mannerisms, even ostracized. His parents and cousins made fun of him. His parents were ashamed to introduce him as part of the family. “At the mosque during Friday prayers I was teased and stared at,” he recalls. “At school and in college other students shunned me and my small circle of friends.”
Now a successful actor and fashion designer, Khan has lived and worked in the conservative and bomb-terrorized northwestern city of Peshawar for the past three years. “I felt that society was telling me I was not one of them, that I was not a proper person,” he says. “But soon I realized that it’s not my fault that God made me gay. So as a young man I came to accept who I was and to be proud of myself.”
He has flourished ever since he made that realization—succeeding against all the odds in homophobic Pakistan, where the powerful Muslim clergy preaches that homosexuality is prohibited under Islam, and where sodomy is illegal under the civil code and punishable by a long jail term (though the harsh sentence is rarely handed down). In the Taliban-controlled territory of the northwestern tribal agencies, the penalty is worse: death by firing squad or stoning. Even the man on the street seems to have no time for gays. A Pew Research Center survey of 39 countries published in early June found that only two percent of Pakistanis believed that “society should accept homosexuality,” second only to Nigeria, which registered a rock-bottom one percent acceptance rating of gays. (By way of comparison, 80 percent of Canadians said they accepted gays.)
While the Pakistani government doesn’t target LGBT citizens, neither does it have much tolerance for the gay community or its issues. Late last month and without comment, Islamabad shut down the country’s first and only gay website, queerpk.com, which was first launched last July. The website’s founder, who goes by the pseudonym Fakhir, says the ban is “unconstitutional and opposes freedom of speech.” But he does not want to pursue legal action as he doesn’t want a confrontation with the government, which could unmask those behind the website whose subtitle is “Know us, Don’t Hate Us.” Fakhir says the site is not “blasphemous or pornographic” but is aimed at educating gays on health issues such as preventing the spread of HIV, and on how to deal with social and family pressures and with depression.
Bucking discrimination, Khan, an ethnic Pashtun who goes by the nickname of Danny, studied fashion design at a college in Islamabad and quickly fell into the growing businesses of fashion, modeling and acting. His acting career got a big boost in 2009 when he was cast in a British film, called Kandahar Break: Fortress of War, which was being shot in Baluchistan, the wild-and-woolly home of his ultra-traditional Safi tribe in western Pakistan. He played a Taliban interpreter with gay tendencies who worked for a British explosive ordinance disposal team that Mullah Mohammad Omar’s regime had hired to clear mine fields in 1999.
In 2010, Khan moved to heavily Taliban-influenced Peshawar to further his acting and fashion careers, but chiefly to be closer to his partner who is stationed there as an officer in the strait-laced Pakistani army. At first he was terrified, afraid of the Taliban and the frequent terror bombings. Every day he cautiously emerged from his hotel filled with trepidation. But he was soon pleasantly surprised by what he found: gays were not as unwelcome and under the gun as he had imagined. On the contrary, he quickly received a vibe that many young men in the ostensibly macho, largely Islamist city were gay or gay-friendly. “In Peshawar I feel like almost every second guy is gay by the way they look and talk,” he says. “On the streets and in the markets I think most people look at cute boys more than at girls.” But, he adds: “Unfortunately gays feel they have to hide their feelings and their true selves,”
“I know that some Pakistani policy makers practice gay love in private, then go out and make laws against gays.”
Khan and other Pakistani gays say that being gay in Pakistan is not all that unusual despite the ostensibly strong prejudice against homosexuals. “I’ve found that male-to-male sex is more common than you’d imagine in our society,” says Shehzad, a smart, fashionable and educated 25-year-old gay man from Lahore. A June article in Mother Jones magazine confirmed Shehzad’s feeling, reporting that Pakistanis lead the world in Google searches for the terms “shemale sex,” “teen anal sex” and “man f---king man.”
Pakistani gays like Khan and Shehzad say the country is rife with hypocrisy. “I know that some Pakistani policy makers practice gay love in private, then go out and make laws against gays,” says Shehzad. Khan agrees: “I know that some Pakistani politicians of all parties, including those from religious parties, are interested in gay men,” he says. “Even some men who teased me for being gay suddenly come on to me when we are in a quiet spot.” “If you heard the names of the prominent members of Pakistani society who are gay, you wouldn’t believe your ears,” adds Chaudhry Javid, a 28-year-old gay man who works for a foreign aid agency and lives in a luxury apartment in Islamabad.
Still, Javid keeps his sexual orientation in the closet, hiding it from his family and friends, and claiming it is too early for him to reveal himself. “If we come out, our families will cut us out like a cancer,” he says. He adds that he’s ashamed that he can’t tell his parents that his best friend is also his sexual partner whom he loves. “I suffer when I lie to my parents describing him as just a good friend,” he says. Shehzad, too, says it’s too early for him to come out. “Society doesn’t accept us,” he says. “I don’t dare to go public.” Faisal Khan, a 28-year-old government bureaucrat in Peshawar, says he would get fired or worse if he came out. (He is not related to Assad Khan.) “I cannot expose myself,” he says. “People in the office would use it against me and I’d lose my job.” Faisal Khan says he doesn’t dare visit his family’s home village just south of Peshawar for fear the Taliban would find out about his gayness and capture him, causing a scandal for his family. Nor would he dare to confess his sexual persuasion to the mullah at his mosque. “He would probably send me to the Taliban who would make a kebab of me,” he says.
Even so, Faisal Khan and other Pakistani gay men see hope in the future as they sense that public attitudes are slowly changing. For starters, people are beginning to tolerate unmarried young men and women congregating together in public. If the public is beginning to accept men and women dating, they reason, then eventually gay relationships will also be tolerated. Wearing a suit and red tie and sporting long black hair, Faisal Khan points to the numerous heterosexual couples sitting together in a modern University Town café in Peshawar, talking and laughing as they eat western food and listen to rock music. “Look, these boys and girls are here in public without any hesitation or fear of society or the Taliban,” he says. Javid says that a decade ago you would never see young men and women holding hands in public. Now it is almost common in the cities. Ironically, it’s not uncommon, and not viewed as homosexual behavior, for young men to hold hands in public as they walk—it’s a customary sign of friendship.
But there are still strict limits. In rural, traditional Pakistan there is a clear separation of the sexes as boys and girls are forbidden to meet in public. Yet in the tradition-bound confines of the countryside, it is easier for gay Pakistani couples to congregate in public than for mixed-sex couples. “It’s normal for a group of men to hang out together so no one can bother us,” says Javid. “But in some traditional areas, boys and girls going out together is still a sin against society and our religion.” Javid adds that viewing homosexuality as a sin, as most Pakistanis do, is absurd since there is no victim. “Aren’t the rampant corruption in our society and the killing of innocents by the Taliban greater sins?” Javid asks.
For most gays in Pakistan, society’s views are not changing fast enough. So for now, they are forced to live largely an underground existence. They point to the many and lavish subterranean gay parties as the highlight of their social lives. “These weekly underground parties keep us happy,” says Shehzad. “Here we have a place to enjoy ourselves hidden from the Taliban, the government and the police.” Organizing these extravagant, gay parties in Islamabad and Peshawar has become a good business for Assad Khan. He says that many of the parties he organizes cost $5,000 or more to cover the expense of renting a large, posh house or reception hall, providing private security, live bands, food and drinks and paying off the cops. Partyers pay an admission charge, allowing Khan to make a profit. “Islamabad is a city famous for the biggest number of gay parties,” Assad Khan says. “The number of these parties, and the number of gays attending, is increasing, even in Peshawar.” He also helped organize a summer music festival in the mountain resort of Swat this past summer in the face of Taliban threats, and he plans to bring fashion shows to conservative Peshawar soon.
Although it may be premature, Khan is trying to organize a gay rights movement capable of standing up to the Taliban, the politicians and aggressive Pakistani cops. As a result of his efforts, he has received anonymous, threatening phone calls and has escaped an attempt to kidnap him at a wedding reception not long ago. But he remains unshaken. “We have to defeat the concept of fear and terror,” he says. “Everyone should have the right to live as they please. No one has the right to dictate to us.” He adds: “I want to be a leading voice for gay rights and protection.”
But he quickly emphasizes that his push for gay rights stops short of campaigning for the legalization of gay marriage. “We don’t want to push for gay marriage, only for our human rights,” he says. Most other gays steer clear of any gay rights movement, fearing retaliation. “The Taliban and other extremists will target any gay rights movement,” says Shehzad. “It’s too dangerous to get involved.”