A common argument to hear among Christian conservatives is that homosexuality is not an inherent trait. That is to say, you’re not “born that way”; instead, it’s a choice. It’s a conscious decision to engage in a certain “lifestyle”. Or if not, it’s only a side effect of outside forces like childhood trauma, abuse, neglect, a failed or absent male role model, or some other nebulous circumstance that occurs after clearly after birth, not before. (Distinguishing it from a person’s religion which, as we all know, is hard coded into our DNA. This explains why we have anti-discrimination laws that protect religion and not homosexuality … oh wait.)
I saw an article in BBC News about a man by the name of Hamid Zaher, an Afghan who had to flee the country because of his sexual identity. Reading about his experiences brought to mind this argument of “choice” versus .. I suppose “genetics” for the lack of a better term. Nature versus nurture could also work. The point is that when you see stories like his, you see the same themes that you see in others: a denial of identity, fear of exposure, and in his case, fear for his life as a result.
Growing up in village in the Afghan countryside in the early 1980s, he describes his childhood as a bitterly unhappy time when he was forced to hide his true feelings.
“When I was growing up I was sometimes attracted to men,” Hamid told the BBC. “But I didn’t really understand my sexual orientation until I was 15 years old.”
“I wanted to pretend that I wasn’t gay,” he says. “But it wasn’t true, I was living behind a mask.”
When his mother started pushing for him to get married at the age of 25, he knew he had to escape. I suppose if he were to keep denying his mother’s wishes, she’d eventually catch on … and if he got married, his wife would almost certainly find out even sooner. Either way, it would eventually translate to a death sentence given where he was:
“It’s not possible to be openly gay in Afghanistan,” he added. “I would have been killed by my relatives, let alone the government.”
He left in 2001 and eventually ended up on Toronto in 2008; he has been living there ever since. There, he decided to begin writing about his experiences growing up in hopes that it will reach people like him back home and assure them that they’re not alone. The book is called “It is your enemy who is dock-tailed” (i.e. “man without a son”).
In the process of writing it, he’s lost contact with his family, who first tried to persuade him to stop writing it, and then disowned him altogether. Additionally, the stigma associated with homosexuality is so strong in Afghan society that it’s virtually impossible to know how many people have read his book, which has been made available free of charge in his home country.
But such is the taboo that almost no-one wants to comment or even to acknowledge that they’ve read it.
Afghan human rights officials, contacted by the BBC, refused to comment on whether gay Afghans ever appeal to them for help.
So, no … I don’t believe for a moment the conservative Christian claim that homosexuality is some sort of lifestyle choice that can be discarded like an old hat, counseled back into the closet, or “prayed away”. If people identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual in a society that has orders from the government to execute them if they find out – and still do it because it’s who they are – then this is clearly more than a matter of conscious decision, and should be understood as such.
He is “the first voice of Afghan gays” … from a part of the world that doesn’t even want to acknowledge their existence. They have a long, tough road ahead of them.