Land of the free – my perspective – Brief Article
I first became curious about what it means to be a gay in smalltown America after a man in Piqua, Ohio, told me, “I can’t say whether there are gays here, but definitely there’s a lot of queer bashing.” I know–I was gay-bashed in Piqua. I had fled from Pakistan to live openly without fear or shame. I had no clue that it might be wiser to remain closeted in the United States as well.
My ethnic group, the Baluch, inhabit southwest Pakistan and parts of Iran and Afghanistan. In my culture, being exclusively or passively gay makes a man a social outcast. A Baluchi saying goes, “For a man everything is all right, other than being a thief or gay,” meaning he takes the passive role in anal sex. Interestingly, being quietly bisexual–as long as a man takes the active sex role–is OK. Many Pakistani males have sex with other men. Yet Pakistan is one of the nine countries of the world where a man may be sentenced to death for gay sex.
I knew I was gay since I was a teenager and suffered in silence for 25 years. While I was a journalist in Pakistan, I did launch an Internet group called Loving Humanity: Lonely and Single People Society of Pakistan. But during my last year in my home country, the government’s dreaded intelligence agency, angered over my writings against the country’s nuclear weapons program, began blackmailing me over my sexual orientation. I thought my suffering as a gay man had ended in October 2000 when I won a fellowship from the Society of Environmental Journalists and flew to the safety of the United States, winding up in Piqua, a small town 20 minutes from Dayton. I came out of the closet and requested political asylum from the U.S. government.
“Hey, faggot,” the four young men hollered at me from their car one night last July as I was walking home from a nightclub in Piqua. I had first seen these guys earlier that night at a respectable straight bar, and again later at the nightclub, which has all sorts of patrons. We had talked; they learned I was out of the closet. When I left the bar, I saw them standing next to a car and asked them for a ride home. They made a joke about not wanting to sleep with me; I laughed and continued walking. When soon after they yelled at me from their car, I thought they were still joking, so I returned a flying kiss. Then their sports car came to an abrupt stop.
One of the guys got out of the car. I tried to joke with him again, but he did an about-face from joking to fury. “We are not that way,” he said, as he and another guy started to come toward me. “I am sorry,” I said, but too late, as two powerful blows made my spectacles fly and landed me on the ground. They would have beaten me more, but somehow I managed to bluff, “The CIA will come after you.” One of them exclaimed, “Hey, man, he has CIA links!” and they got back into their car and sped off.
When I got home, I was terrified to see my badly swollen face in the mirror, my mouth bleeding, and two of my front teeth apparently knocked out of place. I mustered my courage and walked to the police station and made my report, then rode in a squad car to the hospital. My jaw was broken in two places, and more than 16 pins were needed to wire my jaw in place. I was on a liquid diet for 50 days, until September 4. One fracture was so grievous that it cracked my wisdom tooth in two, and I needed a second operation for its removal.
My church, St Paul’s United Church of Christ, helped me a lot. They had accepted me into the congregation as an openly gay man; during my recovery, the church president and the pastor pastor were my family.
Those who attacked me have not yet been identified or arrested, though some residents of Piqua know who they are and I have told the police of that fact.
At my asylum interview, when the officer learned of this incident, she was quite shocked. “Do you still want to stay here?” she asked. I replied that back in Pakistan, where I had also experienced gay bashing–although not as severe–I could not speak about the attacks out of shame for being gay. “But here in the U.S.A., the message of support and consolation I got were awesome,” I told her. “That makes the difference.”
Mustikhan, a journalist for 15 years, can be reached via www.advocate.com.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Liberation Publications, Inc.
COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group