A Is for Asexuality: Life as a Queer Muslim Woman in Pakistan

Come back when you are out of that closet. The words had been going round and round inside my head as I stood in front of a silver sequined jacket. Everything about that piece of clothing screamed “queer!” And upon listening closely, it echoed back my name.

I had come out to some of my friends back in university. Amidst heated discussions, sometimes slipped between cups of steaming chai, or while remembering lovers – old and new. The space had always felt welcoming, and so coming out was anticipated. Now, a year later, at my parents’ home, away from the warmth and openness of my friends’ company, I had to hide away the most obvious aspect of my identity – my sexuality.

Being Desi and Muslim, my role as a woman after graduation was predetermined. Like any other honorable woman in the country, I was fated to marry a cousin, look after his home and future kids, and to entertain the idea of having a career only to the point it complied with their values.

I was going for my evening jog after iftaar when my sister had gingerly come up to me to inform me about the announcement that was to come later at night. As a response, I had done what I knew best: I dissociated from reality. My sister had never spoken to me, I never heard what was said, and my parents had not sat me down at night to tell me that I was engaged.

My resistance was casually brushed away. Modest girls are shy about marriage, they had said. My childhood “tomboyishness” was held as the culprit for my reaction. Eventually, I had succumbed to their pressure. Unbeknownst to them, a plan was whipped up; stay silent for now and look for the right opportunity to leave.

Unfortunately, the only options for queer people in Pakistan are either giving in or running away. The latter can be dangerous. Disgracing the family’s name can only be met with one end, i.e. death. Honor killing has become a causal occurrence, and sadly, has been normalized in our daily lives.

As an ace — a term for asexual — I hold substantial privilege as compared to my other LGBTQAI+ compatriots. There are no legal implications at the moment for being an asexual in Pakistan. However, for the rest of the queer community, the law is rigged against them. As with religion too, there are no fatwas as yet that state people to be forced into sexual relationships (marital, of course). The one common enemy we do have is the society or culture that views us as anomalies.

In May 2020, my mother had dragged me to a psychiatrist’s office. To them, I was ill and needed mental evaluation. I was aware that revealing too much could cost me. So I only shared briefly. Yet, my emotions had let a little too much slip away. I came out clear, I did not want a spouse, partnership, or children. I just couldn’t see myself having any of it.

The seventy-year-old man who sat opposite me laughed back. He had mocked my mother for allowing me too much freedom, and now she was facing the consequences. With a dose of insult and a prescription for a CT scan, he had sent me off. It made me understand how illnesses and being “healthy” are defined more according to subjective cultural views rather than objective science.

With a dose of insult and a prescription for a CT scan, he had sent me off. It made me understand how illnesses and being “healthy” are defined more according to subjective cultural views rather than objective science.

A friend had asked, “Why not just do as they say? It’s much easier. But giving in was too much an ask. After years of self-hate, I had finally come to accept myself. I just couldn’t give that away. Running away was too selfish a choice. So, I decided to stay…until the day I find an answer to this conflicting predicament.

But suppression comes at a cost. “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you,” a quote by Maya Angelou written on a random page of my journal said. I would have outbursts. Emotions that had been bottled up for far too long that wanted to be heard. Rather, I was told that in Islam marriage was compulsory. A sunnah that was in fact farz upon Muslims. Moreso, an unmarried woman is frowned upon. As a 22-year-old dependent woman, compliance was my only option.

Humans have been so oversexualized that the idea of aversion to sex or even abstinence is deemed unnatural. Being gay/bi/lesbian too is considered unnatural in Pakistan, but it is not considered impossible. After all, it still involves sexual attraction. But for them, asexuality is an impossibility. Yet, history is full of several asexual people.

Approximately 1.7% of the US population identifies as asexual (unfortunately, there are no statistics for Pakistan, as such a thing is only thought of as “Western insanity.”) The number is expected to be much higher globally. Nonetheless, these stats don’t mean anything to them. It is the status quo that they must preserve.

The problem with the idea of an asexual woman is not legal or religious or even cultural. At the very core, it is about a woman having agency over her body and her life.

The problem with the idea of an asexual woman is not legal or religious or even cultural. At the very core, it is about a woman having agency over her body and her life. A very basic right, yet so radical. It challenges the society which requires a woman’s reproductive labor to operate. It threatens to break away from these patriarchal and capitalistic norms. Without the nuclear hetero family, the capital order collapses. Therefore, it must protect itself by convicting people who don’t comply, people like me.

Asexuality is an ambiguous term. Everyone has their own interpretation of it. And that to me is its beauty. You get to define yourself. For me, it means not having any sexual attraction towards any gender. In no way is that a lack. I am whole in every way.

I may never be able to come out to my family openly, and definitely won’t be able to buy that sequined jacket (now that it’s sold out). But for now, I shall keep my pride earrings safe in my drawer and my truth closer to my heart. For there shall come a day when I will be able to profess it to this world, my home.

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