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A homosexual man’s guide to Pakistan biggest metropolis.
[Text by Jalaluddin; picture by Aisha Linnea Akhtar is published in a slightly different form here.]
Pakistan. The country is different by its very definition. A nation based on an ideology which to this day is obscured by the mists of a lack of clarity. Vibrant to the extent of mass hysteria. Passionate to the extent of mass violence. Active to the extent of mass restlessness. A nation of professional rationalizers with wild emotions and deep apathy. People from within this cosmos that we call Pakistan can not understand what it means. Only outside eyes with the benefit of perspective can understand what we have failed to grasp.
And then there is Karachi. The most vibrant, passionate and energetic face of Pakistan. Every element of Pakistani identity is accentuated to a higher degree here. The city is much more ethnically, socially, politically and culturally mixed than the rest of the country. It is more accepting of differences and less forceful at conformity. Karachi is home to fourteen million people thronging and jostling day in and day out to play the drama of life. The very soul of Pakistan.
Homosexuality is illegal in Pakistan. Homosexuality is religiously unacceptable in Pakistan. Homosexuality is socially unacceptable in Pakistan. Homosexuality is an entrenched cultural truth in Pakistani history. And in the Pakistani life today.
As long as people are quiet about it, and pursue homosexual desires, before or after marriage, and are not caught in the act, it is OK. (Although policemen who catch people in the act often demand bribes.) Men are allowed incredible leeway in their sexual pursuits as long as they are not discovered.
Historically, pederasty, gratification of sexual pleasures between older men and pubescent boys, was so universally established and practiced that it has found ample space in Pakistan's literature, poetry and other forms of communication used by the common man.
After travelling in different cities of Pakistan I feel that Karachi is the city where homosexuality finds the most acceptance. Socially. Peshawar and Quetta are cities where acceptance of pederasty and the homosexual act are considered normal but any open avowal of this would not be acceptable to anyone. In contrast, in Karachi people might still accept you for being a homosexual.
Most homosexuals who have to live in these conditions have leant to accept some of the dictates of society to work around their lives. Marriage is the norm. A vast majority of homosexual men have an active sexual life before marriage. And a very large number of homosexual men have an active extra marital sexual life after marriage as well. Since the marriage is seen as a forced situation many homosexuals feel that cheating after marriage is not wrong and make it a part of their lives.
Gay life in Pakistan is very different from that of other parts of the world. There are no proper cruising spot. Although Frere Gardens, a large colonial garden in front of the US consulate used to be a cruising spot. Large numbers of people gathered there and homosexuals could find many of their own. But, after the restrictions placed on that location due to security issues, that place is now nearly closed down.
There are no specific cruising spots in Karachi. Yet, malls, bazaars, the beach, parks and other public places can be used to spot people and then to ogle them in a discreet manner. This is a popular convenient way of availing opportunities of homosexual contacts in a society where it is not acceptable. Since people in Karachi still live with families, meetings are arranged at restaurants or other public locations. For a more intimate setting people use their cars, secluded spots and their houses. All of these are locations where people can interact without any continuous consciousness of being on public display.
With such a large community of homosexuals it is only natural for like minded people to arrange more meetings with each other. This has caused a number of events to crop up which can be called gay only. These include dance parties in private houses which are slightly uncommon due to the possibility of being exposed. Beach parties and farm house parties are quite common because of the secluded location.
Since gay life in Pakistan is not as active as in many other countries the gay community is not divided into strong sub-groups like in the rest of the world. This leads to a stronger bond and cohesion in the group and one can flit from a bear to a muscleboi and then back again during the course of three shots of vodka and a beer.
Of course, this underground movement does lead to a lot of exposure to homosexual people. But at the same time this is restricted to a small number. A majority of homosexuals do not associate or actively pursue these gay social events. Being a homosexual is still considered a taboo, even by many homosexuals.