What is your definition of queerness and how has it changed over the years?

Ans. My definition of queerness has evolved by being queer and reading about queerness, and meeting other queer people as well. So I think I define queerness quite broadly as being non-heteronormativity, and this includes womxn who are divorced, single womxn, anyone who is not fitting into the compulsory heterosexual matrix that our society has deemed to be the only way that womxn can imagine their lives. I think for a lot of womxn, from the time they grow up, it’s always about tum nay shaadi kar leni hai, tu doosray ghar chalay jaana hai (translation: you will get married, you will leave and go to your other home) this is the acceptable trajectory. You should focus on this. We teach these womxn how to run a house. This wasn’t the case in my house, but I have heard a lot of this happening all around me. So I don’t know if I’m generalizing, and maybe that’s not the case. This was never the focus in my house. Basically, I could do whatever I want. I always felt like I was interested in studying, working, playing in the world, having fun etc. From a lot of my friends, this pressure to be married, this pressure to see the marital home as your ‘real home’, this idea that a womxn’s worth is derived from attachment to a man; all these ideas were pervasive growing up. This might not have been the case of my house, but of course every house is impacted by socio-cultural ideas that are prevalent in society. And I felt like those were the ways in which, as women growing up in the late 80s and 90s, we perceived acceptable ‘paths’. And because that path was never my path, I was like mera path kidher hai? (Translation: where is my path?) I don’t fit into any of these ideas so where do I fit in, and where are the people like me? And in that search of finding myself and finding others like me I understood what queerness was.

So for me queerness is all of those people that don’t fit into this matrix, and have to find other ways of being. There are histories of people like me, but they are hidden. Esay log you hain hi nahi, tou chupa lo. (Translation: people like this just don’t exist, let’s just hide these histories). If they are told, they are always read as burdens or failures. Even if their lives are ordinary or happy they’re not shared because they don’t follow the approved ‘path’,

Growing up and even now, what sort of support system have you had?

Growing up, I always felt like there was one teacher who always understood me. Even if all the girls and everyone in the school would bully me. Even in that case I would always find one teacher who supported me unconditionally, and would recognize that I was different and would accept and celebrate that difference. People would call me ‘not feminine enough’ or lesbian or other names in an effort to discipline me, but i would always find one ally who would say tum jo bhi ho, tum theek ho (Translation: no matter who you are, you are perfectly alright). So I think the role of those allies is very central to my life because in moments of utter and toital despair, they have been rays of hope. There was always one person who was always important, even if that person doesn’t know how important they are to someone who they are helpling.

My own parents, my family had a large role. They didn’t know or understand why I was different, but their love was never conditional. I always felt that I could be the person I wanted to be. Maybe in the world I have experienced a lot of backlash, bullying, and exclusion, but at home I always felt a deep love. Even if it couldn’t heal the wounds that had been inflicted by the world, it gave me hope that the way I was, I was okay.

It’s important for young queer people in Pakistan to have an older generation of queer people to look up to, not just to have support but also to learn how their journeys have been and how they might be different from ours. Keeping that in mind, what is some advice you would give young queer folkx in Pakistan?

I would say the role of  building community is very important.  I have spent roughly, from the time I realised I was queer and came into activist circa 2007, From that time onwards, finding other people like me and building a community has been central not only because I wanted to find people that were like me, but also because I think there is always strength in numbers.  There is always strength in sitting and talking about our issues. Perhaps not even talking about issues, but talking about shared experiences with people who understand what it’s like living in an extremely male dominated, patriarchal, and state imposed religious parochialism that discounts other ways of being. So when the oppression and the control is very strong, the resistance and the collectivisation should be stronger.

And that can only happen if we meet each other, if we come together not just as queers but come together as labourers, as feminists, and as workers etc. in so many other formations. For me it was really important to come togteher not just with queer people, but also with feminists. With people working on labour, because being a worker is a very important identity in this society that we don’t talk about enough. Come together with peasants. In all of these contexts, i was not ver vocal about being queer but ust by my presence people knew there was something different about me and they allowed for that difference to exist.

Now, in your generation’s time, those activisms that have been worked on in the last 10-15 years have now come to a point where people can wear the queer flag at Aurat March. When queer people can actually start somewhat of more public activism. I still worry about it of course, because our society is moving towards authoritarianism and fascism. But still I think that it is crucial that people come together, meet each other, and talk about politics and ways in which we can work in different avenues. Different people need to know about queer people. Labour activists and feminists need to know about queer people. Our struggles and activism can come together and have shared goals. We will be safer if more of us are together.

When i was coming out, i was going to older queer womxn who i knew about via the grape vine. But when i went up to them and said i’m a young person trying to find myself and think about this, the older people would say we can’t talk about this because we’ve already faced so much backlash. So we talked to people our own age. When we started organising, people said don’t organise. Why are you rocking the boat? We just said what boat are you talking about? Were rocking something that doesn’t exist.

How was that a different struggle in terms of not having access to those journeys of older queer people? Had they been able to talk about this, would things ahve been different for you and other queer folks?

I think we would have really benefited from coming together and talking to the older generation about this. You know straight people have an idea of what their lives could look like everyday. Most of them live in nuclear or joint families and their life is revolving around marriage and other heteronormative goals. Their version of life, they can see everyday around them in friends and families in the acceptance of what straight life looks like. So straight children have access to this life in these stories and lived experiences. They don’t have to use their imagination.

And that is the hard part but it’s also the feeling part. There is freedom in knowing that you can design your life in a completely different way. You don’t have to be monogamous, you don’t have to lie about desire, you can explore desire, and you can explore polyamory. It’s unchartered territory. You can give more importance to your friendships and you can re-define family. You can create a chosen family as opposed to the family you are born into. Families of choice and love and struggle can be created.  There are all kinds of ways that you can be creative so there’s a lot of freedom.

On the other hand, there is a lot of hardship. When you are making things up, things can go wrong but you know that’s great because maybe if two things go wrong you can try something else and something will work and some might not. But I still think that having role models who have lived somewhat similar lives to the kind of life that you’re planning to live, it helps and opens up things for you. Even though we didn’t have that, we built something. Queerness allows for different possibilities and different kinds of freedom and I enjoyed that part.

Are there existing queer spaces for queer folk in Pakistan? And if not, how can we create them?

Ans. I think this is a very important question. Since about around 2007-2008 we used to have a queer group called “Lahore Collective”. We used to meet almost every other week, we would do all sorts of activities, such as sports and watching movies together. However, a couple of years ago we stopped meeting, hanging out, possibly because we got what we wanted from the group. We got friends, we got activism, and we also happened to have a political organization called “O Collective”. We used to do some political work, such as report writing etc. I’m sure if you search the web you might come across our report that we published on “Violence against Lesbians, Bisexuals and Trans people”. However, this was a bit older. After a bit when I started teaching in universities again, I started a Watsapp group with young students, sort of like a younger queer collective. And eventually, those students started meeting. They would meet in various parks, though I suppose they haven’t met recently. However, if someone is interested in joining that group, they can. But, someone has to vouch for you since there’s always a threat of people being outed etc. So there is that. But I really think people should come together and create queer spaces. For example, how we started was, that I met a couple of people at a party, got their numbers and started a group and that’s just how the organization started. We just got all the queer people we knew in the group and we started meeting. We would just sit, chat, and have chai.  And we realized then, that all of us people wanted to keep meeting. I really think people should start groups like this, it’s really important. I think online paces are not enough, no matter how much we think they are. We need to meet in person. Understandably, not right now given the coronavirus, but once this is over, people need to meet. Go meet in parks, arrange seminars. We used to have seminars on various topics like ”being queer and Muslim” and “being queer and mental health issues” , “being queer and feminism” many many more. All kinds of stuff. Just programs, where people could just come, sit and attend. And people come in, talk and another space is then created. I just think, people should go for it. Create such spaces, go attend aurat march meetings, organizing meetings. Those are also spaces you can gather and meet more people like yourself, meet other people.

Q2. How can I be more active in playing a physical role in development if the queer community in Pakistan?

Ans. So I think, the way to play a more active, physical role in development of the queer community is, number one, could be by connecting to the older groups. However, of us from the older generation are a bit more worked out and tired, so they may not be as invigorating. So I think for young people, they have to create newer spaces and invite older people to come join your space. I say this, because you guys have more stamina, more hope, and more excitement! And I think, we could use that excitement. We used up our excitement over the years and are becoming more mellow now. And that’s fine, everybody goes through stages. So that’s a stage that many of the people who started with me are at. And I’m really excited about the younger people, coming together and inviting us and asking us to join them. I would love to join and I’m sure that a lot of the people who were activists with us, would love to join. And many a times, when you reach the ages of late 30s and early 40s many issues start coming up, such as stability. A lot of people of haven’t found partners yet might feel like that being queer, has condemned them to a life of loneliness. And that too is something we need to think about. Like, how can we create community and togetherness? Maybe not all of us will be a part of it. I think that’s really something we need to think about. Especially in a country like Pakistan, because in such a place, queerness is a commitment. It’s committing yourself to a difference that society has said does not exist. Or exists more easily maybe, still for men, who can have marriages and have this sort of sexual access in the world. But what about a man, who only wants to be gay, does not want to get married? What about him? And what about women who are lesbians? Or even bisexual women who only want to be with women? Or bisexual men who just want to be with men? Many of them will not find partners. I think about many of my own friends, like that. Because when we started, we had this enthusiasm, pride. But there was a lot that went wrong. Many people got married, and they felt like that was a betrayal to the cause. These are things we really need to think about. And with you young people, you guys still have that excitement and enthusiasm. So maybe, if you guys think about these things now, it could be better.

Part 2. Questions sent in by readers.

Are there existing queer spaces for queer folk in Pakistan? And if not, how can we create them?

Ans. I think this is a very important question. Since about around 2007-2008 we used to have a queer group called “Lahore Collective”. We used to meet almost every other week, we would do all sorts of activities, such as sports and watching movies together. However, a couple of years ago we stopped meeting, hanging out, possibly because we got what we wanted from the group. We got friends, we got activism, and we also happened to have a political organization called “O Collective”. We used to do some political work, such as report writing etc. I’m sure if you search the web you might come across our report that we published on “Violence against Lesbians, Bisexuals and Trans people”. However, this was a bit older. After a bit when I started teaching in universities again, I started a Watsapp group with young students, sort of like a younger queer collective. And eventually, those students started meeting. They would meet in various parks, though I suppose they haven’t met recently. However, if someone is interested in joining that group, they can. But, someone has to vouch for you since there’s always a threat of people being outed etc. So there is that. But I really think people should come together and create queer spaces. For example, how we started was, that I met a couple of people at a party, got their numbers and started a group and that’s just how the organization started. We just got all the queer people we knew in the group and we started meeting. We would just sit, chat, and have chai.  And we realized then, that all of us people wanted to keep meeting. I really think people should start groups like this, it’s really important. I think online paces are not enough, no matter how much we think they are. We need to meet in person. Understandably, not right now given the coronavirus, but once this is over, people need to meet. Go meet in parks, arrange seminars. We used to have seminars on various topics like ”being queer and Muslim” and “being queer and mental health issues” , “being queer and feminism” many many more. All kinds of stuff. Just programs, where people could just come, sit and attend. And people come in, talk and another space is then created. I just think, people should go for it. Create such spaces, go attend aurat march meetings, organizing meetings. Those are also spaces you can gather and meet more people like yourself, meet other people.

Q2. How can I be more active in playing a physical role in development if the queer community in Pakistan?

Ans. So I think, the way to play a more active, physical role in development of the queer community is, number one, could be by connecting to the older groups. However, of us from the older generation are a bit more worked out and tired, so they may not be as invigorating. So I think for young people, they have to create newer spaces and invite older people to come join your space. I say this, because you guys have more stamina, more hope, and more excitement! And I think, we could use that excitement. We used up our excitement over the years and are becoming more mellow now. And that’s fine, everybody goes through stages. So that’s a stage that many of the people who started with me are at. And I’m really excited about the younger people, coming together and inviting us and asking us to join them. I would love to join and I’m sure that a lot of the people who were activists with us, would love to join. And many a times, when you reach the ages of late 30s and early 40s many issues start coming up, such as stability. A lot of people of haven’t found partners yet might feel like that being queer, has condemned them to a life of loneliness. And that too is something we need to think about. Like, how can we create community and togetherness? Maybe not all of us will be a part of it. I think that’s really something we need to think about. Especially in a country like Pakistan, because in such a place, queerness is a commitment. It’s committing yourself to a difference that society has said does not exist. Or exists more easily maybe, still for men, who can have marriages and have this sort of sexual access in the world. But what about a man, who only wants to be gay, does not want to get married? What about him? And what about women who are lesbians? Or even bisexual women who only want to be with women? Or bisexual men who just want to be with men? Many of them will not find partners. I think about many of my own friends, like that. Because when we started, we had this enthusiasm, pride. But there was a lot that went wrong. Many people got married, and they felt like that was a betrayal to the cause. These are things we really need to think about. And with you young people, you guys still have that excitement and enthusiasm. So maybe, if you guys think about these things now, it could be better.

 

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