'Happy and Gay' in Pakistan?

It wasn't until she was 16 years old, when she'd left her Pashtun family in Peshawar for an elite school where the teachers were nuns, that Minot realized she was gay.

"I found out when I dated my literature teacher [a nun]," she said. "I got an A."

It is virtually unheard of in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan for a lesbian to be willing to discuss her sexuality openly, especially a lesbian who is also Pashtun. The Taliban, who are overwhelmingly Pashtun and were born in Pakistan's northwest tribal areas near Peshawar, have pushed walls of bricks on top of gay Afghans.

But Minot, now 42, who asked that only her nickname be used because of societal stigma, sat recently in jeans and a T-shirt in the Pakistani city of Lahore, confidently talking about her sexuality, her girlfriends and her attempts to be with men.

"I have been with men, two men," she said. "But that was to get the confusion out of my mind. Since then," she said, pausing, "happy and gay."

Pakistan's religious laws punish homosexuality with stoning, but gay members of the elite are to be found in Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. And homosexual relationships can be found in villages across the country, although they sometimes involve force and pedophilia in rural areas.

But in a country where most of the entertaining is done in people's homes, most gay Pakistanis are terrified of practicing openly or speaking about their sexuality publicly. They are comfortable discussing it among their friends, behind closed doors. There is little public acceptance of the notion that someone can love a member of the same sex.

Minot is an exception by Pakistani standards, her confidence created by a unique support network, a well-educated, wealthy, liberal family and friends who call themselves members of Lahore's elite, more open to Western values than the vast majority of Pakistanis.

She calls herself the most open lesbian in the country.

"For me, it's really easy," she said. "By the grace of God, if you're confident in this society, and you're open about your sexuality, people will come onto you more. I would say I'm the only woman I think in Pakistan who will talk openly. ... I'm probably the only woman in Pakistan who is confident in her sexuality."

Pressure to Marry

In Pashtun society, most people marry before they turn 20. Minot was engaged to one of her cousins, a common practice.

"I told him, 'I could totally put up the fa├žade in front of people. But I'm gay and I will do what I want to do. If you can accept me like that, then it's OK. I'll marry you. But I'm not going to stop it,'" she said, recalling a conversation she and her cousin had after he had returned from school in the United States. "He goes, 'I can't marry you under these circumstances.'"

Every Pakistani is expected to marry. Most marriages are arranged and, even in more liberal circles, it is rare to find Pakistanis in their 30s who are not married. Divorce is extremely rare and looked down upon by everyone except the elite.

And so many gay women get married, sometimes to gay men.

One such couple, described by one of their friends, is in a "happy relationship." The woman "100 percent loves women," their friend said. "But she's also in love with her husband and her husband is in love with her."

She openly has sex with other women. "There are no accusations going up and down, about who has walked in with who," the friend said.

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