Gender theory


Shaheryar Ali

 

Understanding the issue of Gay liberation in Islamic Republic is a theoretically difficult and problematic notion for a variety of reasons!  Whilst the level of historical development as with other post-colonial states, ensures incomplete modernization, the existing union with international capital, forces a post modern sensitivity through out urban centers of Islamic Republic. It is still theoretically problematic to assert the existence of either “Gay” community or Gay liberation in the country. The pattern of “Men Having Sex with Men” and their women counterparts remains largely “pre-Modern” in the sense which Foucault elaborates as an “aberration” rather than “specie” (as is the case in industrialized societies). The pattern which exists mostly in the Islamic Republic takes form of Man/boy, Senior/junior and Macho/effeminate polarities and enjoys a level of social acceptability in almost all parts of Islamic Republic especially outside major urban centers but it could be dominant pattern even in these. The practice does not seem to induce “gay label” on the participants, which is especially true for the dominant polarity (man/senior/Macho). A common binary opposition which has been defined in these contexts is the one based on “performance” (Active vs Passive) where the “active partner” appears to enjoy a level of societal approval as this role is understood to be enshrined in the “Masculine identity” in many parts of the country. This also seems to suggest the “gay” label is only extended to receiving partner. This is the argument that one listens most from the urban gay activists but have always been a problematic notion for me to understand. Urdu has no word for “Homosexual” or “gay” nor does any of the regional language. “gando” the word commonly referred to in this context denotes some thing else. It does not strictly or exclusively denotes a passive partner. In Pre modern pattern “bacha” and Londa” are more important in this context. One can argue the extant of specificity these terms have as londa in vernacular denotes simply a “lad”but has been used in sexual context as well. Mir the foremost Master of Urdu poetry said “ Mir bare saada hein jis sabab bimar hue! Ussi Attar ke “londe” se dawa lete hein! Moreover there are no words for “Top” in in Urdu as such apart from words coined by urban chatters. Which represent more of constructed jargon than language! Language has been understood as “house of being” so I am not very convinced about this binary opposition. The trap here is too fall for what West has taught us.  The discourse on these matters is heavily laden with orientalist connotations. What is very conveniently forgotten In this regard is the fact that the same sex relations historically were more socially acceptable in East than in West. The Baghdad which is frequently alluded too by our moslem romantics was not only rich in philosophy science and Jihad but also in hedonism. Mutawakil had herm of thousands of castrated Roman lads and one Caliph had to explain to a visiting Mufti who was astonished to see his highness surrounded by cute youth that “he has never untied his trouser cord for what has been forbidden”. The European travelers to Ottoman empire were horrified to observe the openness of same sex relation in baths of Consentinople. Europe of middle ages remembered the Arabs and muslims as “sodomites”. Literature is full of such episodes. One ironic example is that of a Austrian lad who went to a handsome Turk prisoner of war and was utterly disappointed on his refusal failing to understand how a Turk not be a sodomite! Kohat observed frequent same sex wedding in Raj. Photographs exist in private collections. The “modern gay scene” is limited to only a handful of people mostly exposed to European society and westernized or semi westernized families. They are not representative of most of the “People who have sex with Same Gender” (PSSG) in the Islamic Republic. In absence of gay community the efforts to “liberate gays” might reduce the “social immunity” which a wide number of PSSG seem to have in Islamic Republic.

The so called pride event in USA embassy has in my opinion exposed these people to risk of death, social alienation and torture. The behavior which is indigenous will now become “western disease” which needs to be eradicated. Any one who is properly integrated in Pakistani society (not the isolated modern or semi modern Islands in Islamabad Lahore and Karachi) knows that homoerotic behavior is a significant part of local discourse and is not noticed or bothered much unless it crosses over from its designated sphere ie It is not worn on ones face or pumped up as a pride event.  Rather is often a matter of laugh, taunt or dislike by friends and usually does not lead to much serious consequences. (Apart from few cases in recent past which are result of more Gay visibility and emergent homophobia). The strategy of modern gay liberation in a society where modern lifestyles have not been universally accepted can be counterproductive. The orientalist approach in this regard must be discarded. The movement must be integrated with movement to secularize the country. The queer activists need to integrate themselves to the wider political struggle in the country. They need to be part of the rank and file of the resistance movement.  Winning the respect and acceptance of their colleges and comrades they need to introduce the agenda of sexual liberation in the emerging political leadership of the country. Not only this, they need to become part of this leadership.

The example of 20th century has explained to us the limitations of the identity politics in general. Whilst African communists and ANC were able to end apartheid in South Africa at level of the bourgeois state, the segregation in the society has not been abolished. The overwhelming number of Africans still lives in abject poverty without any access to the social standards which a White South African enjoys. Xenophobia has emerged as a dangerous consequence of the discontent which the “liberated” Africans feel. Same could be said about USA where the historic civil rights movement apparently ended the legal segregation but failed miserably to achieve social integration. An African American has become president of USA but the socio-economic and health indicators of the most advance nation of the world demonstrate a divergence which is startling to say the least! The poverty and health indicators of parts of USA are comparable to African states. African Americans are still more likely to have no access to health care and are more likely to be in prisons than the white Americans.

Though Gay rights have been granted in Europe and USA, Homophobia in the society effectively nullifies these gains. Homosexuals still face discrimination, exclusion and violence in USA and Europe. The most problematic aspect of this is the fact that these legal reforms tend to discriminate on a class basis. Where more socially advantaged classes seem to get benefit from these reforms but those from under privileged classes suffer exclusion. From the perspective of a social activist who is interested in emancipation it presents itself as an existential dilemma , where one tends to stand at the same point where he started before the “victory”. The criticism we are offering to the “liberal” model here is frequently misunderstood and sometimes described deliberately by our liberal friends as “deference” of the Question of Rights! This essentially is not the case!  This is essentially is a criticism of the political approach which deferred the question of “Human emancipation” indefinitely in favor of certain legal protections which practically have favored a small minority of oppressed communities thus resulting in actual increase in discrimination and social segregation. This is a criticism of the fragmentation of progressive movement which plays one oppressed community against another! Jews vs Blacks Vs Hispanics in USA.  Women vs Gays etc and favors the dominant sections of society to effectively remain in control. This is the criticism of the approach which sees “reforms’ as the endpoint of the struggle rather than emancipation. Reforms are certainly desirable and should be encouraged but only in a context of a holistic political agenda which seeks to unite people in struggle for socio economic emancipation or we will keep having “victories” without effect and ‘changes” without change!

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“Invisibility” and “Silence” are the hallmark of  fascist societies. A national stereotype is built and than implemented through ideological and coercive apparatuses  of the state. Gender is an important battle ground in these “nation-building” projects. A section of Pakistan’s founding fathers was already obsessed with “Super-man”, it was recycled as “Merd-e-Momin” of Iqbal during times of General Zia-ul-Haq when Pakistan and United States were creating stunned merd-e-momins to fight the infidel Russia. Destroying a staunchly modern  republic of Afghanistan, and purging all liberal-secular thought from Pakistan [where it existed as “Reds”], were only side effects of this policy. The creation of a hyper-masculine gender stereotype of “Merd” Momin” and “Mujahid” as being the stranded criteria for being a “Pakistani” was the main ideological catastrophe of his time. It was a time of systematic gendericide which was done with approval of “liberal” western democracies like UK and USA who supported Zia-ul-Haq and his ruthless islamization. It was also the time of one of the most glorious Leftist-feminist resistance against Imperialism and Islamic fascism. Feminist-leftist poets like Fehmida Riaz and Kishwer Naheed were put on trial for high treason and had to escape from the country. The feminist discourse took a sharp radical turn but its impact of general Pakistani society cant be felt even today because of the state’s selective gender policies. With these policies , women, transgendered , homosexuals and even str8 men who didnt subscribe to “Tripple M” formula, the Merd, Mujahid and Momin slowly became invisible from society. What does it mean to be “different” in terms of gender and sexuality in Islamic Republic of Pakistan is very important to understand.  These people have a very vibrant but invisible existence in Pakistan. They are all around us, but we dont see. Invisibility has given them security to live a life otherwise impossible in the Islamic Republic, to make websites and to throw parties . The cost is to become a non-being, to wear a giant cloak of invisibility of dont-ask-dont-tell. The result on society as a whole is disastrous, its becoming more monolithic than ever. Recent Supreme Court’s decisions has declared transgendered people “disabled”. The silence and invisibility paved the roads to Auschwitz. Those who were gassed were not only Jews and commies but also gays and “disabled”

Shaheryar Ali

Nuwas Manto gives a touching personal account on what it means to be gay in a deeply religious and conservative country like Pakistan, where homosexuality is considered a sin and male effeminacy scoffed upon.The article was published in The Pink Pages , India’s fist Gay magazine. Mr Manto hails from Lahore, the self designated cultural hub of  Islamic Republic of Pakistan. He is a young student who defines himself as a “secular-humanist” and he blogs at A Pakistani-Humanist Blog.

Being Gay in Pakistan

Nuwas Manto

In Pakistan the word ‘gay’ is synonymous with the word ‘eunuch’. It doesn’t really matter whether you have a penis or not. One of my friends quite sincerely, in order to identify my sexual orientation, asked me if I get erected and if I ejaculate. Upon receiving a positive response he thereby concluded there is no way that I can be gay. Of course, it doesn’t matter if one gets erected while watching gay porn or straight porn. That has nothing to do with his sexuality. Poor Kinsey. Such an easy and traditional method to identify sexuality and he spent years on research!

But this unscientific approach towards human sexuality is not limited only to my friend, but to a majority of Pakistanis, who view Islam and homosexuality as being mutually incompatible. It’s none of their business what the heck science has to say when it comes to diversity in sexual orientation. What matters is the word of Allah, the Supreme Being. I am not trying to be anti-religion, but anti-Irrationalism. Twenty years ago, it was a rare sight to see a woman driving on the roads of Lahore. Today it’s impossible not to see one, or else you are not in Pakistan. But even today if a woman gets divorced, or worse, if she demands a divorce she is considered to be a shame, in the former case, or a slut, in the latter. According to a family friend of mine, those women who can’t be good housewives can’t be good women at all. So, I guess those men who can’t be good husbands can’t be good men too. Hey wait! World, we are out of good men in Pakistan!

But of course, men are men. You see, there is no harm if straight men penetrate into the backs of these filthy gay men. After all, they are the ones penetrating, not being penetrated into. In Pakistan there is no concept of diversity in homosexuality: ‘Top’, ‘bottom’, ‘versatile’. Every gay man is a bottom. I myself, seemed to believe this till I met some who really were not. Due to lack of knowledge concerning the field of human sexuality, there is a belief that homosexuality is based upon lust, not love. That is the information that heterosexist minds are fed upon. In my country, as I explained before, there is no difference between a eunuch (hijra) and a homosexual man (not gay woman). Therefore if you get into a fight with a gay man there is always the best way to insult him. This most astonishing word that the founders of the Urdu language ever created: Khusra! I have become used to hearing it. During school, because of my effeminacy was made fun of. My family has always been, and I guess will always go on to till I don’t change myself, tell me how I should become more manly. How I should talk, walk, speak, eat, hold the glass, and the list goes on. I am told that I can’t be open about my sexual orientation because that would bring shame to my family. After coming out and writing openly on facebook about my sexual orientation and my non-religiosity, my brother sent me a furious message from the UK telling me to better mend my ways before he kills me for defaming the name of my father .Of course many homosexuals take their own life! When your family is not supportive, when some of your friends hold on to you (but still view homosexuality as a disease they must tolerate), when many people who are in a process of becoming good friends of yours stop talking to you the very next day after you told you’re gay, there seems to be no other way out but to kill yourself.

181403112_12162f0a21

Muslim Gay Pride,London

But then that sort of humiliation is not limited to your enemies only, but also extends to your family. Whenever there is a fight between me and my sisters, they have one word to shut me up. Yes! You guessed it right: Gay. Why am I telling you my story while my task was to inform my Indian friends about the gay subculture in Pakistan? Well, my story speaks for many. However I am still lucky. I know what gay rights are. I know what I must demand from this world. I know it’s okay to be gay, and although I am an Atheist now, I also know that it’s okay to be gay and Muslim at the same time. I have done research on Islam and homosexuality to some extent and so I believe that homosexuals can live peacefully in the Islamic world only if the interpretations of the story of Lot are done in a way that is devoid of bigotry and hatred.

But many homosexuals don’t know that. They are happy to be gay and perform namaz five times a day as long as there is no mention of homosexuality and the name of Islam together, whether in a homophobic tone, or in that of advocacy. If that happens they are torn between sexuality and religion, both of which are equally important in a man’s life. You must not be surprised when I tell you that when I talked about re-interpretation of the Quran in order to reconcile homosexuality and Islam, there is no way they can digest such an idea. How can all the Ulema be wrong? And more importantly, there seems to be such a crystal clear mention of homosexuality as a sin in the Quran. Guess what, there is no word for homosexuality in the book! The words used to describe it are anything but ‘homosexuality’. The closest that it comes to is the incident where Lot asks the people whether they would give up the woman that God had given them, for men (his guests, who were Angels in reality subsequently came to inform him of his near destruction). Now there can be various interpretations of that. But even when you ask you anti-gay or confused homosexual friends to quote where in the Quran there is a direct reference to homosexuality, and when they are unable to do so, they find it hard to absorb the information. Okay, I understand. Twenty years of radical anti-gay brainwashing isn’t going away in a day or two. But what really piques me is the fact that in order to defend their religion orientated homophobia, my people would even go on to defy scientific evidence.

But not all is bad. More and more people now believe that gays should have rights to a proper life too, although not in a large numbers. Again, as long as homosexuality and religion are not brought face to face, people won’t be ready to tolerate homosexuality. Now when homosexuality is discussed in relation to Islam, there is an obvious defensive behaviour. What is really funny is that these same people forget their Allah’s divine anti-gay verses when they are offered a blowjob! I have tested at least two guys who went to lengths to explain to me why Allah hates homosexuals. But when I offered to have sex with them , they didn’t lose a second to accept it. (Of course I didn’t have sex with them. I have some self-respect you know!)

The female homosexual scene is almost non-existent. Lesbians seem to not exist at all. Therefore they can be saved from the general wrath of society when they dress like boys and act like one. There is no concept of tomboyish girls being lesbians, although there is a strong notion that all effeminate men are gays and all gays are effeminate (something that I must admit even I used to believe at one point of time). But returning to the discussion of Pakistani gay woman, I seldom hear about a lesbian, and have never heard about an out and proud one. But my poor sisters suffer from two kinds of discrimination: based upon both gender and sexual orientation.

My Indian friends must have noted that Pakistani Gay sub-culture is not much different from that of the Indian one, nor are our fears, hopes and everyday toils. Therefore, we must erase the international borderlines with love and respect towards one another, and work towards helping our brothers and sisters live a life of bliss regardless of their nationality, sexuality, religion, or ethnicity.

KJ

Shaheryar Ali

Danny Boyle’s movie “Slumdog Millionaire” has taken the world by storm. Based on a novel by the Indian diplomat and author Vikas Swarup the movie tells the story of a poor slum dweller of Mumbai who is contestant on the Indian version of “Who wants to be Millionaire”. The movie was a huge success and was able to bag 8 Academy Awards.

Poster

Poster

The mood in India is nothing less than ecstasy, merging with the new obsession of Indian ruling and middle classes about “Shining India”.

For more than a decade now India is in the grip of free market economy and its lustrous attempt of building an “Indian dream”, India the great democracy, the greatest country in the world, where poorest of the poor are also happy singing and dancing on the streets. Most of it is a cruel illusion, the recent capitalization of India is very patchy and un even. Only parts of India have seen this free market boom. Most of the India has remained un touched. The Indian peasants are worse affected and the suicide rate has hit new heights Emergence of fascism has become a real threat in India, the slow degeneration of Congress party has resulted in popularization of Hindu nationalists who are out right communalist. Worse are the “New Liberals” who pro claim to be secular but subscribe to a virulent Hindutva ideology. They are rabidly anti-left consider them “pseudo secularist” but fail to see themselves who are just “Jeans clad” version of RSS.

The attitude in general Indian intelligentsia has been to hide these contradictions under carpet and glorify them. Without addressing the material base of these contradictions , a metaphysical blanket is put on the un desirable side, thus the slum become some thing of an “ideal” living place, the poor happy in their life and communalism just work of an evil anti social gunda.

Roy's poster

Roy's poster

While every one is busy partying on success of Slumdog Millionaire, we are providing an alternative view. This blog has always made sure that it gives voice to the suppressed opinion. .Arundhati Roy , the famous writer, anti globalization and anti-imperialist political activist has emerged as a conscience of India. A fierce critic of Indian ruling classes and established opinion, she spoke about the objectionable side of the movie

“People are selling India’s poverty big time both in literature and films. As they say, there is lots of money in poverty today. I am not against showing slums, but depicting them in a depoliticised manner, as has been done in the film, is quite unfortunate. Films do not show the real poor. Even if they are depicted, it’s not the true picture. The real poor are not shown in films because they are not attractive. Poverty sells but the poor do not. The film gives false hope to the poor that they too could become millionaires one day” The whole reaction can be seen here

Miss Roy wrote a wonderful critique of the movie for Dawn, the largest English newspaper of Pakistan. It was called India not shining”. She writes:

“The debate around the film has been framed – and this helps the film in its multi-million-dollar promotion drive – in absurd terms. On the one hand we have the old ‘patriots’ parroting the line that “it doesn’t show India in a Proper Light’ (by now, even they’ve been won over thanks to the Viagra of success). On the other hand, there are those who say that Slumdog is a brave film that is not scared to plum the depths of India ‘not-shining’.

Slumdog Millionaire does not puncture the myth of ‘India shining’— far from it. It just turns India ‘not-shining’ into another glitzy item in the supermarket. As a film, it has none of the panache, the politics, the texture, the humour, and the confidence that both the director and the writer bring to their other work. It really doesn’t deserve the passion and attention we are lavishing on it. It’s a silly screenplay and the dialogue was embarrassing, which surprised me because I loved The Full Monty (written by the same script writer). The stockpiling of standard, clichéd, horrors in Slumdog are, I think, meant to be a sort of version of Alice in Wonderland – ‘Jamal in Horrorland’. It doesn’t work except to trivialize what really goes on here. The villains who kidnap and maim children and sell them into brothels reminded me of Glenn Close in 101 Dalmatians”

On the political side of the movie she comments:

arundhati_roy“Politically, the film de-contextualises poverty – by making poverty an epic prop, it disassociates poverty from the poor. It makes India’s poverty a landscape, like a desert or a mountain range, an exotic beach, god-given, not man-made. So while the camera swoops around in it lovingly, the filmmakers are more picky about the creatures that
inhabit this landscape.

To have cast a poor man and a poor girl, who looked remotely as though they had grown up in the slums, battered, malnutritioned, marked by what they’d been through, wouldn’t have been attractive enough. So they cast an Indian model and a British boy. The torture scene in the cop station was insulting. The cultural confidence emanating from the obviously British ’slumdog’ completely cowed the obviously Indian cop, even though the cop was supposedly torturing the slumdog. The brown skin that two share is too thin to hide a lot of other things that push through it. It wasn’t a case of bad acting – it was a case of the PH balance being wrong. It was like watching black kids in a Chicago slum speaking in Yale accents”

The whole article can be reached here

A fellow blogger from Pakistan, Freethinker has subjected Slumdog Millionaire to very good “gender critique”. He deconstructs the “Hero Narrativity” and examines Slumdog Millionaire against these dominant discourses of Hero and Masculinity. He writes:

It’s important to identify the mythical structure in the plots of both the movies which serves to build the hero narrative. Once the hero and the struggle have been identified, both movies establish the hero as the winner through leaps of logic that are more characteristic of myth than fiction.—————- But watching Sd M critically, asking how the protagonist has efficient reading skills without tutoring, or how all the questions asked on the game are linked to the most dramatic experiences of the protagonist’s life, brings home the mythical structure that serves to complete the hero narrative”

And:

The narratives are also concerned with the hero’s masculinity. The happy endings themselves establish a definition of the masculine as the winner who ‘takes it all’. This is why in Sd M, it is not enough that the protagonist just resolves the central conflict of the plot, that is, his separation from his beloved. In the end, through strokes of luck that sacrifice the story’s plausibility, he not only has love but also wins fame and money.—- The hero’s masculinity is established in other ways as well.———- A different but more traditional approach to this same end is seen in Sl M, in which the hero of the narrative saves the archetypal ‘damsel in distress’. The hero here represents more the anguished warrior who, as he comes of age, gets to reclaim his manhood by getting back his childhood sweetheart and becoming the winner”

This is a very advance critique rooted in firm theoretical foundation, especially his formulation of concept of “emasculation of the collective”. The whole article can be reached here.