by Samina Naseem
Yesterday I read in the State News online here in East Lansing, Michigan that Michigan State University (MSU) is celebrating “Pride Week” to celebrate and appreciate the presence of diverse population at MSU. It is mainly about celebrating LBGTA (lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender & ally) community and their contribution to the university through their scholarly work. The underlying purpose also is to create awareness and empathy among students (I think more for international students, who might not be exposed or informed of such prevalent issues related to sexual orientation in their societies). A senior student’s email response to Pride Week was “Pride Week provides the MSU community an opportunity to see past stereotypes and understand the MSU’s LBGTA community is academic, social and proud.” I second her thoughts.
I posted the link on my facebook profile. I had a reason. I have students and colleagues from Pakistan in my friends’ list. I wanted them to read the news and think about it. Though none of them commented on the post but I know many of them have read it and must have thought that I have gone crazy or I’m westernized in my thoughts or the worst “she is Christian, they can talk about such notions. Well, my mind is still intact, my thoughts still desi and I’m still a believer. What I’m about to write is not against any religion or my belief as a Christian. What I write are my thoughts as a human being. We need to talk because if we don’t, several people especially children in our country will always be an easy target for sexual abuse.
I want to talk about it and I want to open this topic for discussion. Before I start, I applaud the initiatives taken to provide better living opportunities to transgender community. Still we are far behind in accepting and letting the transgender community to be a part of the larger community. I think as humans and citizens of Pakistan, they all have the right to same education as other children. I must say it is a matter of inclusive education. But the big question to be thought about; is our society prepared for including the transgender community in mainstream schools? I don’t think so. My point is that only accepting that the particular community has rights, does not necessarily give them the rights. There is a need to change our attitude and behaviors toward the community, which has to be a societal change. We have to stop demoralizing them, considering them as objects of mockery, subject to demeaning and start treating them as HUMANS. Let us also think that do our religions allow this kind of negative behavior toward other humans or is that we don’t consider them as humans because they’re not physically normal like us? Have we ever thought that the transgender community is sexually abused by physically normal humans?
Similarly, don’t we have gays and lesbians in Pakistan? Closing eyes to a problem or not having discussions about it, doesn’t mean that the problem doesn’t exist. There are reports by the United Nations that highlight the agony many male children go through in few areas (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/248219.stm). One of my Pakistan friends said and I quote, “USA is a secular country but Pakistan is an Islamic country and this is not allowed.” I agree with her too. I know that in our society, where declaring your sexual orientation as gay is subject to punishment by law. Therefore, people having different sexual orientation than heterosexuality will never accept it. But this does not mean that we don’t have gay community in Pakistan. For instance, the report I referred to shows how male children are sexually molested by adult males. This is a gay behavior. If not convinced, well then what such websites as this one shows; http://www.gayegypt.com/pakfregayper.html or stories about lesbians in Pakistan (see http://www.npr.org/2011/01/17/132711102/pakistans-lesbians-live-in-silence-love-in-secret). Think of the misery that this community is going through. It is not about their misery only but also the way a forceful heterosexual marriage can ruin lives of humans involved in the act. Fatima (pseudonym: Read the whole story from the above npr.org link) got married to a male, following the religious and societal norms but fell in love with another female after 6-months of marriage and got divorce. An acquaintance of mine got married and found on her wedding night that her husband was gay. She got the divorce. But she was stamped as a “divorcee” and our society unfortunately does not accept them too. Though she married again but was divorced again, this time with a child in her womb. I must say she is brave as being a single-parent to her son. Just think how many lives were affected in these two forceful marriages. Believe me; this isn’t going to stop at any given point.
There can be and will be hundreds of such stories that call for considering a reorientation of our society. It is the time that I think we should talk about it, about sexual orientation and issue related to gender and sexuality. We cannot stop our children from getting exposed to such aspects of human behaviors through internet and media. Therefore, it is the need of the hour that we talk and discuss what our children read and watch as educationists, parents and policy makers. I would end my thoughts by borrowing conclusion from my friend’s article (whom I much appreciate for being a listener to all my frustrations). He wrote “We should ask: How do we best reach kids, how do we defeat for them, before they start, oppressive and cruel socializations? Redirecting the focus in this way would also make moot the need for painful and pragmatically problematic explorations of our abilities, as adults, to reprogram our attitudes and actions away from our (decades of) socialization. Ultimately, after all, citations, talks, papers, conferences, protests, case studies, books, and any other work we put in is rather irrelevant if today’s and tomorrow’s children will pick up these adult conversations where we left off, and see that we were egocentric and inefficient enough to have left the mess to them.”
Please wake up– Don’t just watch– think and discuss about it!
The writer is a PhD Scholar at Michigan State University and a Lecturer at Fatima Jinnah Women University, Pakistan