Spotlight On A Desi : Part 3

Editor’s note: In our New Year post, we promised to bring new views and stories from our brethren in the subcontinent, outside India. A new contributor, Rangeelidastan interviews Sadaf Mujeeb, a young Pakistani activist and straight ally, exclusively for Gaysi Family. Sadaf describes herself as a rights activist which “includes but is not limited to, Human Rights; LGBT rights, religious and ethnic minority rights, and women rights, and of course non-human animal rights”. Rangeelidastan says, “Despite the numerous pressures Sadaf has had to face, she is steadfast in her support for LGBT rights. Her determination to do what is right and change mindsets through facts and reasoning are inspirational for all LGBT/human rights activists everywhere.”

This is the last and final part of our three-part feature. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

Q. I remember in your blog you mentioned that for your social Psychology class you did a presentation on homosexuality in Pakistan, also visible on the blog, which caused the homophobic teacher some grief. Can you tell us a bit about that experience?

A: Oh yes. That was one of my more painful experiences. At the beginning of the semester, we were assigned a project in Social Psychology, which was to choose and present a social issue in Pakistan and advise as to how we can combat it. We had about two months to form a group of five people and prepare. All 4 people in my group were “hijaabi good girls” from conservative middle class families, who did not know what LGBT stood for, what Homosexuality meant, or what the terms Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender implied. Even after my explanation to them, they were surprisingly as committed as I was to choosing this topic for our presentation. I sought out our professor to discuss whether we could do it and talk a bit about religion without offending anyone specifically. She was incredibly supportive and allowed us to do whatever we like and said not to worry about it.

Two months later, after many sleepless nights and hard work devoted to the project and teaching everything I knew about sexual variance to my group members, the presentations began. The first group presented theirs on Media, Sex, and Violence. Interestingly enough, they quoted Homosexuality to be one of the “main negative effects” of media today, because it “projects it as positive, when it’s clearly an abnormality.”  They also talked about how the APA (American Psychological Association) still views homosexuality as a mental disorder (which in fact has not been the case since 1973), and how it was sad that the media was propagating that it was normal.

Having sat through the entire presentation, literally shaking in anger, I finally got my turn towards the end to question why they had misrepresented Psychology’s stance towards homosexuality, when both the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association removed homosexuality from DSM (Diagnostic Statistical Manual) as a disorder or illness in 1973 and 1975. Before this could be answered, our professor rudely interrupted me and asked if I could please tell her who had told me that Psychology considered homosexuality to be normal. Simply dismissing my response – “every Psychology course book authorized by this university and the American Psychological Association itself, not to mention the scientific and behavioral researches that have been conducted on the topic of sexual variance” – she continued to go on about how the only reason APA removed homosexuality from their list of “mental disorders” was due to social pressure from various human rights organizations, and how it is likely that they will declare it to be a disorder again very soon.

We had not only wanted but expected to be given an unpolluted chance to show sexual variance as normal within the sexual spectrum, talk about how homophobia affects the society as a whole, and suggest ways to combat the problem of state endorsed intolerance. This opportunity was ruined by the ignorant and prejudiced rant of an authority figure which obviously took priority over the “flawed opinions” of students.

More than anything though, I was truly disgusted by her stubborn refusal as a psychologist, to view things objectively or even consider how her premature judgment was the key ingredient in fueling irrational hatred towards an entire section of our community and in limiting people’s minds regarding our efforts to make people see sexual variance as a normal objective reality rather than an abnormal sin.

So I went home, cried and raged to my mum, rambled on and sobbed some more on the phone while talking to one of my closest friends and then changed the entire presentation to only include facts as stated by Psychology and other concrete sciences that have evidence to back up their theories and claims. I did this because I didn’t want to give anyone any chance to reject our presentation on the basis of being a personal opinion that could be disagreed with. I wanted it to be viewed as scientific fact that has to be taken seriously and cannot be contradicted without equally concrete evidence. I wanted people to take us seriously despite the damage that our bigoted teacher and her rant had caused.

We gave our presentation, and we were the only ones she didn’t interrupt to ask questions in the middle because we obviously made no mistakes presenting facts. As soon as we finished though, she stood up and said, “Yeeaah, it was good. It’s okay, it was your opinion, it’s alright…” with an overly consolatory tone implying that we had made errors and she was absolving us of our stupidity. Before I could retort, a girl in my group stood up and objected to that by saying how there is a difference between fact and opinion, and our presentation only included facts, to which the teacher said, “so that’s your opinion”! After that we were pretty sure that the PhD sporting “doctor” who was teaching us could never rise up above the cultural and religious biases she had, and to try and convince her to reconsider her stance, while a class of 35 people watched on was probably not advisable.

Despite these nuances, I was pretty happy with the entire thing because if nothing else, just choosing, researching and presenting this topic got four other people’s (my group members) opinions to change rather drastically about different sexual orientations and taught them how to view these differences as normal, despite the deeply damaging effects of the stifling culture and society we come from. And to me, that was a HUGE WIN!

Q: I think there are many things Indian and Pakistani gay activists can learn from each other and help each other with when it comes to acceptance. But are there any stereotypes that Indians have of Pakistan and Pakistanis that you would like to dispel? Are there any stereotypes you had about Indians and India that your Indian friends have dispelled for you? Also would you like to visit India and if so, what place would you most like to visit, what souvenir would you like to take with you and what are your favourite desi Vegetarian dishes?

A: My mother has been to India a couple of times, and she always came back gushing about how beautiful it was and how nice the people were. I’ve always wanted to go to India! I want all the pretty saaris with the long pallu’s and I want to visit the Taj Mahal. The cities I want to visit the most are Mumbai, New Delhi, and Goa (after watching Dil Chahta Hai)!

I suppose that the biggest stereotype that is associated with people from Pakistan is that we all hate India and Indian people. I won’t dispute that in cricket season, but otherwise that’s really not the case. When I was in Australia, people would often come up to me and ask me if I was Indian and I would say I was. Because really, what is the difference between Pakistanis and Indians anyway? We share so much with each other, it would be silly to nit pick just to differentiate. Another stereotype that the entire world seems to share regarding Pakistani people is that all women wear Burkas and if they don’t they are killed. Not true. Yes, it is dangerous here to practice individuality, but not nearly as much as it’s portrayed to be.

I’m a fan of Daal Chawal. I love it. I’d eat it everyday if my mother would let me!

Q.  I know you have been a fan of Gaysi on Facebook, so on your trip to India would you like to attend some of the LGBT film festivals and events in India?

A.I would absolutely love to attend the lgbt film festival in India! That’s another thing I love about your country. You have a phenomenal film industry and you never fail to blow our minds with movies like Earth 1947, Water, Rang De Basanti and Om Kara! They’re just Splendid!

Q: Finally, do you have any words of advice for other LGBT and human rights activists out there?

A: The only word of advice I have for any activist is that one should do everything they can to know their opposition. I’m an atheist but when I talk about animal rights and Eid Sacrifice with other Muslims, I make sure not to talk about or even mention how wrong Islam or religion is for propagating it, for the simple reason that when people perceive someone to be threatening their belief system, they get defensive and let go of logic and reason. My aim and that of most other activists is to make people reconsider their thoughts and opinions about certain well reinforced stereotypes and prejudices that we’ve all grown up with. We can never succeed in achieving that goal, if we use harsh language, abuse incessantly or degrade the opposition’s views and opinions, no matter how much we might disagree with them. Our success can only be measured by the change we are able to bring about around us, and that depends on how many people we can convince to reconsider their stance or educate themselves on certain issues they might not have known much about previously. We may not be able to control what other people decide to be right or wrong, but we can most certainly ensure that they have all the facts, and consider them before making such a decision. Also when it comes to defending minorities or marginalized sects of a society, every voice represents that entire group of people. So when I am put into a predominantly male working environment, my work, my attire, the way I talk, the way I walk, and the way I handle other people does not only reflect on me but on all women. This is the case with all minorities/marginalized sections of a society, and we should take care to remember this when we are talking about burning a holy book or killing homophobes. It’s about minimizing the number of opportunities we give to the opposition to fault us. We are responsible for our words reflecting on people other than ourselves and if we can defend human rights keeping that in mind, we’d be GOLD!

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An unapologetic romantic Rangeelidastan often spends her time dreaming and writing stories which could potentially become Bollywood movies. Living abroad in Australia she dreams of one day visiting Mumbai. She also likes to investigate and interview gaysis from the world over and learn new perspectives.

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