Kelly Sans Culotte


America, My Love
Uncle Sam and a gay immigrant from the land of the Islamic bomb.
By Ahmar Mustikhan

A tribesman, Baluchistan.

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MAY 20, 2003. My native region calls itself the land of the Islamic Bomb. It was there, in southwestern Pakistan, that a nuclear device was tested in May 1998. Most Americans may not have heard the name, Baluchistan, a Texas-sized territory divided among Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. The majority of its inhabitants belong to 200-plus tribes who eke out a living herding goats. Some are still nomads, wandering the region's huge expanses with their camels.

I come from the Gorgej, a Baluchi tribe that spans the Baluchistan areas of all three countries. The tribal chieftain is based in Afghanistan.

Fleeing poverty and hunger, my grandfathers — my parents were cousins — and their two brothers left their homes in an Iranian part of the tribal territory to go to Karachi, now the commercial capital of Pakistan. In search of greener pastures, they went from there to Australia and India (Assam) and finally to Burma in 1902, where lady luck smiled on them and they became rich quarry and rubber estate owners. Among the first successful Baluchi business people anywhere on earth, our family enjoyed celebrity status back home.

I was born in Burma like both of my parents. My eldest sister was best friends in school with Burmese freedom fighter Aung Sang Suu Kyi. After the 1962 military coup in Burma, my family was forced to go back to Pakistan. We were reduced almost to paupers. I was just three years old.

Family Values
Despite having lived elsewhere for years, my family continues to adhere to many tribal values. They remain committed to the Baluchi struggle for freedom, back in Baluchistan; they are also fervently anti-gay.

"Bugga" is the derisive term tribal Baluchi people use for gay men like myself who take the "passive" role. The word is actually synonymous with the English epithet, "faggot." In Baluchi culture, no male person is considered worse than a bugga. There's a saying that for a male it's all right to do anything other than to steal or take the "passive" role in sex with another man. Like neighboring Afghans and Iranians, Baluchi culture does not stigmatize the man playing the "active" role in gay sex. The cultural stigma of homosexuality is further compounded by Islam's threat of hell for gays, as almost all Baluchi are Muslims.

As a child, I heard family gossip that my dad's eldest half brother was a cross-dressing gay in Burma. Mom never forgave my uncle for that. She cast him in the role of a villain, and used his example to brainwash me against gays. This played havoc with me when I began grappling with my own homosexuality, growing up in Pakistan as a middle-class teenager.

Cardinal Sin
Pakistan was a poverty-ridden society wallowing in dictatorship, and ranking as low as 140th on the United Nations development scale. Pressure to conform to societal and family expectations was so intense, I actually married a woman. It was the cardinal sin of my life, which makes me feel like a criminal to this day. The night of the wedding, when grooms in the East are supposed to "do and show," was the most tormenting night of my existence. I had nothing to show or do. Eastern aphrodisiacs did work miracles later, and I had a son, but the stormy marriage was dissolved within three years.

I was severely depressed afterwards, empty as never before, until finally, with psychiatric counseling, I began to accept that I was gay. To my pleasant surprise, the psychiatrist himself came out to me as gay, greatly helping with the healing process, and introduced me to the highly secretive gay community in Pakistan. I couldn't believe there were so many others.

Earlier on I had enrolled in a medical school and then in psychology classes to understand what was wrong with me, but dropped out as there were no ready answers in either field of study in Pakistan. The head of my psychology department, to whom I went for clinical counseling, actually told me that being gay or straight was like some preferring "tea over Coke," and that the tastes could be changed by practice.

Feet to the Fire
In 1997, after a decade of work in Pakistan and Gulf newspapers, I became an Internet journalist writing for online publications in the U.S. and elsewhere. My worst nightmare began after Pakistan's top intelligence agency, ISI (Inter Services Intelligence), began blackmailing me so that I would censor my own articles, including those denouncing the nuclear tests in my home region.

Like most old-time secular families, mine was opposed to the 1947 separation of Pakistan from India, which was supposedly done for religious reasons, as part of post-World War II British machinations. With such renegade political beliefs defined as "anti-State" in Pakistan, plus my writings critical of the nuclear testing, the ISI's threat to reveal my sexual orientation, along with their threats of physical harm, meant that I had no freedom of expression.

Unlike the chief minister of Pakistan's southeastern state of Sindh, who was outed last month in an internal war within the dreaded ISI, I had no powerful backers in the spy agency, and I was extremely fearful and nervous: being openly gay is inconceivable in Pakistan. I decided to leave.

Imagine my happiness on October 20, 2000 when I first arrived in the land of the free and the home of the brave, which ranked as high as 11th on the international freedom scale until 9/11. I can't describe the awesome feeling when I saw the Stars and Stripes and the Statue of Liberty. Outside New York's JFK airport, dressed in my native shalwar-kamiz, the baggy shirt and trousers, I turned around to see if someone was watching, lest they think of me as crazy, and I kissed the U.S. soil. I was like a bird out of the cage, migrating into heaven. Here, I could proudly say that I was an open "bugga", the first from an entire ethnic group of over twenty million people, including the diaspora community.

American Beauty
To see couples kissing in public in big U.S. cities, and gay couples in underwear kissing in bars, all of it was like a dream for me. I felt like the tribal woman who, seeing a light bulb glow for the first time in her master's home, back in Baluchistan, asked, "Master, what is this magic? May I take it home for my children?" From the cradle to the grave, millions in my ancestral Baluchistan never see an electric light bulb glow. I'd never seen gay men so visible.

Even before the ISI blackmail strengthened my resolve, part of me had always wanted to be honest and open about myself. Once in the U.S., when I went to stay with relatives in Ohio, I came out to them. Overnight, I was no longer welcome in their home. I found shelter in a halfway home called Buckeye House, in the small town of Troy, Ohio. They took me in and even treated me rather regally. The other guys were in a large common room, but they gave me a private room. Imagine someone from the Third World being treated better than white Americans.

Later, St. Paul's United Church of Christ in the nearby town of Piqua accepted me into their congregation even though I told them I was gay. They made me feel I was a child of God and deserved to be respected and wanted. Most people at the church — all of them white — were very kind, warm and welcoming. I began to wonder what made Americans so nice, the white color of their skin, their Christian faith, or the colder weather. For me and America, it was love at first sight.

Reality Check
My first indication that not everything was "bold and beautiful" in the U.S.A. was a group home in Piqua for U.S. veterans where I volunteered after staying 50 days at the town's halfway house. It gave me a horrific glimpse of the ravages of war. Homeless soldiers from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the first Gulf War, were picked up off the streets so they could have a roof over their heads and three meals a day. The derelict porch and the unkempt garden adjacent to it were strewn with innumerable cigarette butts. One veteran jokingly compared them to soldiers discarded by the Pentagon after its occasional wars.

Still, my confidence in my beloved new country remained unshaken. I never hid from anyone in Piqua that I was gay, not knowing the extent of homophobia in small towns, and in America, in general. "Curse of the generations" is how one very well meaning missionary described my condition when I told him frankly that I didn't want to hide my sexual orientation here in the U.S., since it was in my genes. I was stunned when a second pious Christian told me God would not answer my prayers because I was gay. Another pastor gave me a booklet that said AIDS was a divine punishment for gays.

Finally, I was severely gay-bashed one Saturday night after I cruised a group of four white men I had seen in supposedly gay-friendly bars. When I walked back home, they followed me in their car and attacked me. My jaw was broken and wired shut for two months, but the St. Paul's UCC stood beside me like a family. The episode emboldened me and two weeks later, when an evangelist made an anti-gay speech at a public rally, I returned with a pink placard that read, "God loves all--Gays, Lesbians, Bisexuals, Transgendered and Blacks." Right in front of the entire town.

My immigrant infatuation with the United States took a real downturn after the terrible tragedy that befell the country on 9/11. I was still in Piqua when it happened. I liked the people there, even if many would be dismissed as "rednecks." They remind me of my Baluchi people: shy, reserved, proud and straightforward. But to my utter dismay, I began facing nasty remarks and suspicious looks. Editors of the U.S.-based Environment News Service, for whom I had been working, helped me relocate to Las Vegas, where I am finally working again as a freelance journalist.

American Taliban
Since 9/11, American neoconservatives calling the shots have made the U.S. environment so hostile towards Muslims, and free speech in general, that many, including my estranged American relatives, have become afraid of discussing anything important in public places. I'm back in contact with some of my relatives. They are very concerned with Islam-bashing, and the brutal policies against the Muslim world, including the deteriorating conditions in occupied Iraq.

The hate-mongering, censoring U.S. neoconservatives increasingly remind me of the Taliban I left back home. Pundits on the Fox network indulge in eerily similar rhetoric excusing the murderous rampage in other people's homelands as America's holy duty of liberation. The policy Rumsfeld advocates of shooting Iraqi looters on sight, exceeds even the zeal of the Taliban for executing common criminals. More and more, the United States joins forces with Islamic states and the Vatican to undercut international AIDS programs, erode women's health programs, and deny human rights to lesbians, gay men, and the transgendered.

As a sympathizer of a gay humanist and universalist agenda, I had detested the warlike posture of turbaned people like bin Laden. To my utter dismay, the suit-wearing and clean-shaven leadership in the U.S., are proving no better. Something has gone awfully wrong with the "B" name: bin Laden, Blair, Bush.

From the Web

Baloch Voice: a Nationalist site with news and a news archive

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