Gay Afghan Men Face Exile or Marriage

The fear and loathing of being gay in Afghanistan where family is king is exposed by Hamid Zaher’s memoirs.

The first time he slept with a man, Hamid Zaher was a young Afghan with little experience of life outside the city of Kabul. His lover, an older, Pakistani man, happened to be just the right type – educated, mature and well-mannered.

The young gay Afghan met the older man by accident. Hamid, like most Afghans, had family in Pakistan and while visiting his sister there, one day he went for a stroll in a nearby public park. The other man just happened to be there, walking toward Hamid from the opposite direction.

In his brutally honest memoirs, Living in a Nightmare, Hamid writes about other, equally restless lone men, wandering about the park. He suspected that they, too, were looking for that forbidden love with another man.

The older man held the young Afghan’s gaze as he walked towards him, getting closer and closer. He stopped when he reached Hamid and struck up a conversation. Soon after, intuition kicked in and the two men sought privacy on a bench hidden away from public view.

The older man complimented Hamid on his beautiful eyes and asked for permission to touch and kiss them. He cautiously stroked Hamid’s face, and carefully watched the young man’s reaction. Far from being appalled, Hamid was flattered and already melting. He soon found himself holding hands with and being kissed and caressed by the older man.

One thing led to another and for Hamid, this first experience of gay love felt just right. It was, after all, the realisation of what he had dreamed about since puberty.

“I feel sorry for all those men who die without ever having realised their dream of love with another man,” Hamid writes in his memoirs.

Such men do exist in Afghanistan. More than often they are married and have children, leading a perfectly “respectable” life on the surface. But secretly, they yearn for this other love – the one that dare not speak its name.

Officially, Afghanistan is a strictly heterosexual, family-based society where sex outside the legal bounds of marriage is a crime punishable by imprisonment. But behind the clean-cut surface of respectability, there’s a foggy underworld of chaotic sexuality with no clear rules and boundaries to protect the vulnerable, including gay men.

“We fall in love easily and give our heart and soul but only to be betrayed and ridiculed,” writes one gay blogger from Kabul. He gives an example of the kind of fear and loathing existence that is part and parcel of being gay and Afghan.

The blogger’s ex-boyfriend, who turned out to be an intelligence officer, finished their relationship with an action that reeked of self-hatred bordering on sadism. Upon ending the affair, the intelligence officer gave his ex’s name and telephone number to all his male acquaintances, encouraging these random men to approach the former boyfriend for sex.

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