gay imperialism

Queer Shuttling (first published on Tanqeed)

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Read my full article here:


“I shuttle not only because I am always anxious of others appropriating my narrative, but also because I don’t really know how to process and narrate my queerness, how to come out politically through a narrative that is mine, that refuses to be globalized. Part of the reason for our collective shuttling is our lack of a queer narrative that is local, that is written in our indigenous languages such as Pashto, Balochi, Saraiki, and Balti, that moves beyond mining sufi poetry for (exclusively male) homosexual instances, whose plot line is not given to us by the global allyship of mullah-ism and neocolonialism.

The only way to find a comfortable spot on the bridge, to stop our anxious and at times traumatic shuttling, is to create a different narrative, a narrative outside of LGBT and pride parades, a narrative that fits with our local histories and cultures even as it seeks to challenge them. In a previous Tanqeed article on queerness in Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto astutely points out the need for a language that is specific to Pakistan and one which can do political work without always plummeting into western academic jargon. In addition to finding our own language, we also need to discover and create our own queer stories that defy, or at least lie outside of the, “Born this way” “I don’t have a choice” and “Love is Love” rainbow-washed narratives fed to us by mainstream LGBT America. We need to publicize those stories and write those histories that do not necessarily fit the romance and performance available to us through western cultural productions. Otherwise, we will keep shuttling as the West continues to box us into a development narrative, informing us that we are only 50 years behind, that we will eventually get to their rainbows with the benign help of IMF loans and liberal drones.

We need a narrative that includes our local smells, our local colors, that has the ability to embrace our dupattas, our qawwalis, our jaaman-colored purpled fingertips; one that our aunties can relate to, that does not let our western-educated generation use our privilege against our own communities. So even as I shuttle between dominant American and dominant Pakistani spaces, I dream of the day we won’t have to get our bodies torturously inscribed by the mainstream LGBT machine simply to justify our humanness to others. I dream of the day when we will be able to celebrate intersectional queer movements that are not western, that are not androcentric, that are not even national, but regional and local, that resist Pakistani nationalism as much as they resist western imperialism, that do not fall into the traps of NGOized feminism. Shuttling, after all, is just a painful and urgent call for the day we won’t need the colonizer’s “global” narrative to fight our own families as we justify our right to exist. The contradictions in our current narratives are a plea for a time when resistance will not encompass making violent edits to our own stories, when radical queer work will not involve selectively expunging parts of our own bodies and memories to fit our shuttling politics.”

[“Queer Shuttling” is part of TQ Salon’s series on queerness and the post colony]


Gay Marriage: I Now Pronounce You Colonizer and Colonized

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Dear White Gay Americans:

When I was young and scared and growing up into my queerness in a violently heteronormative world, I let you dictate what I could be, which box I could fit neatly into, which desires of mine could be liberated by your benevolent “LGBT rights” and which desires I had to erase because they were too unrepresented (or disliked) in your gay culture. I learned quickly—because you taught it so well—that the G from your four letter movement was the only identity worth adopting: the L was still harassed, sexualized, and visible only when masculinized; the B was considered too ambivalent, too scarily queer for your politics of “different but the same;” and the T was too murdered, too bloody, too erased, too used and raped and battered and thrown away. So you know, I became “gay” and very proudly held the banner of “LGBT rights” in front of my people you told me again and again were too homophobic.

I learned what you told me since you were the only visible representative of non-normative sexuality: that since I was different and could not fit into urban Pakistan’s desexualized heterosexual culture, I had to adopt your kind of desires, your kind of skin, your kind of language. I had to escape South Asian heteronormativity to enter your American homonormativity. I had to do gay and be gay like you. I had to love (white) and be loved (by white) like you.

I learned well: I knew I had to work hard in school so I could go to college in America by being a scholarship girl; probably a very liberal college where you expressed a very touching kind of interest in my coming-of-age story when I talked about how I could not come out to my family, but looked away to another brown “more oppressed” person when my story didn’t fit your mold, when it didn’t give you enough reason to pat yourself on the back for giving me your gracious scholarship. But I told myself you were well-intentioned, and that you were the only one like me, so I kept learning. I even learned to thank you profusely. To shake your hand on fancy dinner parties and wear my newly discovered preppy gay fashions and smile so very graciously. I did wonder then why marriage equality was on your top priority when kids like us were being thrown out on the streets, when adults like us were being fired for their lifestyles; but you told me quickly and politely that I was not meant to question your movement. That I had no right to critique and challenge you, when I myself was a mere refugee into your movement. That the only feeling I was allowed to feel was gratitude. I was used to being policed by heteronormative patriarchy all my life, so some extra policing by you didn’t seem too strange. So I went ahead and obediently smiled for the “international human rights” pamphlet you had me pose for.

But I never did become part of you, no matter how hard I tried. And it wasn’t simply because your modernity failed to be in sync with mine. It wasn’t even because I failed to properly distinguish my sexuality from my other more salient identities (like Urdu, like brown family, like brown history, like spirituality) the way you asked me to. It was because you never listened to my story. You listened to the parts that suited the narrative you had already constructed of me and discarded the rest, calling me harmful and ungrateful and uncivilized. You told me I was being unfair to my own people whenever I voiced any anti-capitalist and anti-colonial critique of your movement, whenever I even implied that your movement was only harming queer folks like myself.

So you shut your doors, and refused to include a brown woman who was even slightly disobedient to the prescriptive freedoms of America. How dare I not accept the liberty of the lovely field of banks and tanks that was America? How dare I, as an obviously oppressed girl from Pakistan, refuse the benevolence of facebook’s rainbow filter, and the vanilla cakes of gay marriage? How dare I not celebrate July 4th when America just announced itself as the liberator of all gay people? And most of all, how dare I raise my voice to speak up against the drone-induced trauma on Pakistani children when my voice could be well used for GayPride songs about the triumph of love? How dare I point out that life (even the “worthless” life of a brown child in northwest Pakistan) may be more important than your consumerist version of love?

I couldn’t become a part of you was because you refused to include me in your movement the day I didn’t have enough money, the day my third-world feminism and anti-imperialism made me critical of your gay (but very straightish) marriage, the day I washed off the bleach from my skin and stood naked in front of you as the brown queer woman I am. Put your white clothes back on, you shouted at me, reminding me of the religo-fundamentalist men back home. Shut up, learn to feel grateful and stop ruining our fun, you and your allies screamed. Long ago, you allowed capitalists and racists to steal your movement, and then you became the capitalist and the racist. And soon you became the liberal rainbow-loving glittery colonizer who kissed his cis white husband in pride parades and simultaneously bombed all indigenous and third world queer movements that didn’t look like your parade, that weren’t gay enough, that weren’t Americo-capitalist enough. This year on June 26th (and a week later on July 4th), you held a red, blue, and white banner of LGBT rights and Marriage Equality as you policed the world (literally, the world) on how to behave sexually, on how to live “freely.” And you taught your privileged allies to act just like you: to silence any critique of gay marriage, and to contort queer bodies into your homonationalist stairway to global capital and violent military interventions. So my dear white gay fellows, this is how you became my trigger for the terrorism you always pretended to save me from.

Gay Pride 2015

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My kolapuri is not tough enough to walk this

Mile-long march of rainbows and glitter and flamboyant-oriental dances

It gets stuck now and then, in the rubble of the Nepali dust where

Brown women’s feet and breasts are crushed into one mouth-shaped organ that screams

Through the slabs of sharp concrete and earth-smelling darkness

To their children as the rainbow hoisting men adopt brown babies

Oh so very nicely

(and his still-burning cigarette slips through the cracks of concrete into the open mouth of a rubble-mother)

Go on, save my brown baby and leave my feet camouflaged in the debris

Make scarves and saris out of your rainbow flags, make rainbow fags out of my bruised tongue

—go on, steal the colors

Of this kolapuri.

My baby is covered in a white blanket to blend into the

arms of a macho gay man and you all sing

You sing praises for him while I moan elegies for my baby, lived and saved.

My kolapuri has all the glitter and shine and dance that you

Profit from oh so very nicely

But you– you do not see these intricate sequins sewed on Sindhi cloth,

The multiple hues of vegetable dyes painted on the

worn out soles that bear the weight of baby and mother,

These are the wrong kind of colors for your pride.