Thank you Mufti Sahab, for helping me out of the closet
From every angle, I am your typical Pakistani middle class urbanite twenty-something. There is nothing about my mannerisms, wardrobe or grooming that differentiates me from anyone in my social circle. However, even some of my best friends don’t know my deepest darkest secret, a secret that I have been suppressing for far too many years now: I am gay.
This is a story of what made me come out to my best friends: a Mufti sahab.
On Sept 6 2011, on the show Frontline, which is hosted by Kamran Shahid some panelists were discussing personal freedom in an Islamic society.
The debate touched upon a get together held at the US Embassy in Islamabad to celebrate Gay Pride on June 26, 2011. Being in the closet, I was interested in how the panelist viewed sexuality. Two of the commentators, Orya Maqbool Jan and Mufti Abdul Qawi, both of whom represent the ideological right of the country made some rather hurtful remarks about gay people. However, when the Mufti sahab referred to gays as “worse than animals” something snapped in me. In an epiphany, I realized the absurdity, the ridiculousness, the ignorance of the people who think they are the moral compass of the society. Suddenly, my self-worth was independent of their narrative. I got my 'gay pride'. The very next day, I came out to my best friend, and then to another one, and then to another one.
I had been repressing my sexuality throughout my teenage years. I remained sane and out of trouble by ignoring my urges, and compartmentalizing my life. However, I always ended up facing questions about my sexuality, time and time again. Even though I knew I was gay I could not bear the shame of admitting it – not even to myself. Not to mention, my concept of piety and my basic belief system would have been challenged as well.
I am not the only one with that predicament.
Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, and Transgendered (LGBT) individuals do exist in Pakistan. And they come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, from every background, from different classes in the society. This is not a Western phenomenon as many contend but a natural one. Given that homosexuality is found in every culture, in every part of the world, throughout history, calling it 'unnatural' is a bit naïve. Nobody chooses to be in a minority, especially in an intolerant society like of Pakistan’s.
For most Pakistani LGBT individuals, reconciling their upbringing, social background, religious beliefs, and sexuality, causes mental anguish. The question that faces Pakistani LGBT individuals is, essentially, how much to suppress their inherent instincts, and comply with the societal rules regarding sexuality. Our society is too communal, too conservative, too compliant to be conducive to accepting anyone who is a bit deviant from the heteronormative lifestyle. For the majority, defying these norms is essentially considered an invitation to be ostracized from the community. Many suppress their sexuality, get married, and continue living the lie.
Hence, the hardest thing for me was to accept I was gay.
Usually, LGBT individuals, everywhere, tend to either somehow try to reconcile their beliefs and sexuality or reject their beliefs straight away. In any case, that acknowledgement of self is the first step, very much like with any other problem.
But thanks to one Mufti sahab’s ignorant hate speech, I suddenly became emboldened enough to reject false moral values, with my own.
Mufti Abdul Qawi’s “worse than animal” comment hit a nerve.
Why would I, as a middle class urban individual, choose to be gay? I cannot live that lifestyle openly in Pakistan, so how could I choose to be in that confrontational position? The learned Mufti Sahab did not even consider qualifying his sweeping statement, like a learned man is supposed to do.
Can I live life as an openly gay man in Pakistan? No.
Do I envisage a Pakistan with a tolerant attitude towards its LGBT citizens, which guarantees them equal freedoms and rights?No.
Did I do something revolutionary? No.
Yet, he had called me “worse than an animal." He denigrated my existence on the basis of something that I have no power over.
I had to take my identity back from these bigots. They shouldn’t have any bearing on what I feel about myself. I needed to reclaim my own identity; as a Pakistani gay man I shouldn’t be ashamed of who I am. Why should my self-worth be based on what someone with no sense of perspective applies to most society who shared his beliefs? I was finally a free man.
The response I got from my friends was far more than I could have imagined. Not only did they understand where I was coming from, but they were also very supportive. Their reaction to my coming out further strengthened that sense of pride within me. For me, it was a cathartic experience, mentally. I was finally starting to go towards a relatively happy place in my mind.
Now, not only do I have support of my friends, I also have people who have my back. When they hear a homophobic rants it might not go unchallenged from now on, as they also have vested interest in this debate now. I would like to believe that this makes a small, albeit important, difference to the people around me, as well.
We are a society obsessed with conservatism, where people rarely come to a common platform especially for liberal causes. How would this society react to someone standing up and demanding rights and recognition for LGBT individuals? Not great, I’m presuming. However, these small steps help, in one’s own personal space.
Thank you, Mufti sahab, for empowering me with your ignorance.
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