I thought I’d never tell my Muslim parents that I’m gay. Then a terrifying encounter gave me no choice.
By Shariq Mahbub
As a gay, Muslim teenager growing up in a posh area of Karachi, Pakistan, I struggled to hide from my family the fact that I was attracted to other men.
I immersed myself in literature, and as a precocious ninth grader I produced and acted in George Bernard Shaw’s farce “Passion, Poison and Petrifaction,” a play whose title unconsciously expressed my nervous view of the Pakistani world outside my cocoon. Looking for an exit, I was a superachiever in a hurry. At 18, I earned a scholarship to Stanford University. I should have made a clean break then. But all through college I dated women, willing myself to be “normal.” Not surprisingly, my attraction to men didn’t wane.
In grad school, I was ready for adventure and decided to spend a summer back home researching rural-development projects. I worked with a local social worker, a handsome, bearded man who liked to flirt. We’d sit together under the sun discussing politics, while I observed his body under his diaphanous kurta shalwar. Knowing he was married, I didn’t dare make a move.
One evening I drove to a park known for being Karachi’s unofficial cruising spot for gay men. Within a few minutes I noticed a burly man with a heavy mustache in his late 30s gesturing toward me. My heart was pounding as he approached. “I have a place we can go,” he said, and we started walking toward the park’s exit, visions of a forbidden tryst flashing in my mind.
In my air-conditioned car he gave me driving directions. Looking around, he suddenly sneered, “This is a very nice, expensive car.” I started getting nervous. He didn’t touch me. He gave no signals.
We arrived at the entrance to a dingy house and entered the driveway. He locked the gate behind us, told me to wait in the car and disappeared into the house. I was sweating profusely now and wondered, “Can I still get out of this situation?” Five minutes later he came out, visibly angry now, sat in the car and pointed a gun at me. He said he was an undercover cop and that inside the house were several men waiting to rape me to teach me a lesson. “What is wrong with people like you?” he yelled maniacally. “You should like girls, or you will be treated like one.”
My lust had transformed into immobilizing fear. He told me to drive again, and as we drove around for what seemed like hours, I had a vague sense that I needed to play his game and find a way to survive this ordeal. He demanded that I admit homosexuality was a sin, and I eventually complied. I also promised to meet him at a hotel the following day, where he would tell me how much money he wanted. He warned me that he had my car’s license-plate number, and that he’d track me down if I didn’t show.
When I got home, I made excuses to my parents about why I was late, then went right to bed. After an anguished night of tossing and turning, I emerged from the wreckage of my mind determined to come out to my father, who has a calmer temperament than my mother, and ask for his help.
I met my father in his office to keep the confession private. Shaking, I blurted out what had happened, asking him not to tell my mother. I saw immediate worry wash across his face. If he was upset about my sexuality, he hid it and focused on dealing with my predicament. He wisely counseled me that the man was probably not a cop, but a gangster looking to blackmail or kidnap me, and that I was lucky to have escaped. We determined that I would not meet him at the hotel. We didn’t talk about the incident again. But my father told my mother, believing that she had a right to know, and scenes of crying and recrimination ensued. They told me that I was going through a phase, that I just hadn’t met the right girl yet. They expected me to change. I quickly left Karachi to head back abroad. I needed to get away. On the way to the airport I imagined I spotted the thug on the street, but I never heard from him again.
The following year I found a job in New York and knew I would never return to live in Pakistan. As my financial independence grew, my parents adopted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. In 1996 I met my Buddhist partner. He gave me a gold and platinum ring inscribed with his initials, and I wear it with devotion to this day. Over time, my parents have come to accept my life. When they visit now, all four of us go out for Pakistani food, and it almost feels like home.
Courtesy: Newsweek, March 30, 2009