My chacha is gay

Nabiha Meher Shaikh reviews a new children’s book with a necessary message

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Despite growing up and living in a country where a third gender has been recognised for centuries, I grew up fearful of anyone who was different even though I’m from a progressive family with an LGBT family member. Despite belonging to a culture that has a third gender cemented in its collective consciousness, I, like my ancestors before me, am a product of a post colonial society. Before the British colonised us, third genders were recognised and treated with respect. Our cultural understanding of gender changed. We acknowledged it was fluid, but the Western views of gender as a binary were imposed on us and we subconsciously adopted them. We still haven’t rid ourselves of them.

Similarly, many argue homophobia also is a colonial legacy. Before the British colonised us, homosexuality was not a crime. There were societal taboos and judgment, but one could not be persecuted legally.

The Mughal emperor Babur, in his autobiography the Baburnama candidly discusses his passion for a young man. Every spring, Shah Hussain’s love for his male companion is still celebrated in Lahore at mela chiraghaan. His love for his male companion was so intense that he was known as Madhu Lal Husain.

Perhaps it was their male privilege which allowed them from meeting the fate transgressive females like Heer, Sassi and Sohni faced in folklore. What is clear is that we culturally acknowledged that true love crossed socially prescribed boundaries like caste and gender. Gender, after all, existed more in spirit than body.

This is precisely why I was overjoyed when I came across my friend Eiynah Nicemango’s children’s book “My Chacha is Gay“. Beautifully written, subversive and a celebration of love, this heartwarming book gives children a message of tolerance and understanding. Written through the eyes of a child, Ahmed, who lives with his gay chacha, it reveals the confusion a child feels at the societal scorn his uncle faces simply for loving a man.

The story is a simple one, easy for children to relate to with eye catching illustrations and the characters resemble us Pakistanis unlike most children’s books which have stereotypically white characters. Chacha’s moustache is a cultural moustache, one generally associated with masculinity.

The book starts with a simple description of the Ahmed family, which resembles many urban Pakistani families, a family many children will easily relate to. However, the author explains that there are many types of families so that her readers do not stigmatise non-traditional families.

Ahmed is acutely aware that his chacha is different from the norm and doesn’t understand why people sometimes verbally abuse him. For Ahmed, there is no difference between a gay chacha and a heterosexual one. The story delves into their loving bond, a bond any child reader will instantly recognise.

Ahmed also shares a bond with chacha’s partner, Uncle Faheem, and appreciates the love they share: “Ahmad doesn’t understand when people say that only men and women can love each other. Because everyone can see how much Chacha and Uncle Faheem love each other”.

The story ends with questioning how anyone can control love anyway. Love should be free of boundaries is the message that is being delivered to the readers. The book ends with this sentence: “Love belongs to everyone.”

We live in a culture where homophobia is abundant and false statements such as “homosexuals are diseased” are a part of casual conversation. People also seem to be under the impression that homosexuality is a psychological disorder, which, according to Dr Nusrat Rana who is the head of the Punjab Institute of Mental Health, “is not true. It is simply a moral issue for our society which is falsely labelled as a disease.”

In other words, there is no cure for love, an emotion we need to express more of in our country. Imagine living in a country where love, instead of violence, was encouraged. I yearn to see that day and as a pro LGBT feminist teacher, I agree with this message from the author on her fundraising appeal page:

“With all the terrorism, religious intolerance and extremism I believe it’s important to push back with the arts and with education. The best way to do this in my humble opinion is to start early and teach our children tolerance and diversity from a young age.

I would also like to show the rest of the world that *all* Pakistanis cannot be defined by the terrorism and intolerance you see in the media. We are a varied people, amongst us there are many kind, gentle and diversity loving souls. But sadly, those voices are drowned out or silenced by terrorists.”

Her words struck me and made me think: if we don’t reclaim Pakistan, who will?

Comments
6 Responses to “My chacha is gay”
  1. Malik says:

    Are you serious? Is there any such book printed and there would be readers who read that? I am just wonderstruck, but I believe it after reading your article. However, I am glad you mentioned Madhu Lal Hussain. However, you omitted Ayyaz, who was a close male companion of Mahmood of Ghazana. Yes, the same perso who invaded India 17 times, plundered and emptied the treasure houses. He also not only emptied all the jews from the temple of Somnath but destroyed it, and took its main door back to his homeland in Kabul. He loved passionately his male companion Aayaz. Even Allma Iqbal mentioned this in his poems. “Ein jank mein aagar aaya waqt-a-nima, eik he suff mein khurray hogay Mahmood-o-Ayyaz, nan koi bunda raha, nan koi bunda niwaz” (Note, it is possible that I may have messed up some lines here)

  2. Raza says:

    @Malik:

    Aagaya ayn ladai mey agar waqt-e-namaz,
    Qiblah ruh ho ke zameen bos hui qaum-e-hijaaz,
    Ek hi saf mey khade hogae Mahmood-o-Ayaaz,
    Na koi banda raha aur na koi banda nawaz

    The relationship alluded to in the poem above by Iqbal is that of a master and a slave, and how that has no bearing when standing for prayer next to each other before God. This poem by itself doesnt hint at any sexual relationship.

  3. Aimal Khan says:

    There are a lot of things to be tolerant about even sexually deviant behaviour but lets not glorify it.

  4. Waqas Khan says:

    Are you both insane? There are two thing regarding the issue of homosexuality that I know. First is it is totally against the nature. Allah has created all the living things in two genders, male and female. He made them the source of comfort and pleasure for each other and a way to grow their specie. It totally against the nature and laws of every religion to have sexual relation with same gender.
    The second thing is everyone deserve to love and have right but that love should be for humanity not for satisfying one’s sexual desires.
    Anyone who is publishing such things is demoralizing the children and fading the true religious and cultural values and taking them to darkness.
    Please stop this and don’t make our new generation animals as you have become. I think animals are better than you because they follow the nature.
    May Allah show us all the right path.

  5. Anam S says:

    I hope you realize that it is not against the nature to be homosexual. Every specie of every animal including humans has ~10% homosexual population. EVERY specie. If you have extensive bio background, you’ll also know that people are born this way, it’s Genetic. Speak Logic, don’t use God. and If we’re using God, well lets just say God makes no mistakes.

    Secondly, who said homosexuals are in it just for sex? they are in it because they love the person regardless of the gender.

    Teach your children tolerance, there is not a country on this planet that has succeeded breeding intolerance.

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