Fishbowl Syndrome

A while ago, an American documentary person came to town and started asking my gay male friends for interviews. At first, one of my closest friends decided to meet up with him, thinking it might be a good hookup. The contact he’d got the name from had suggested some such. When he called this American man, he found out that in fact he wanted to learn about gays in Pakistan, the oppression, the heartbreak, the Islamic culture and how, HOW are you coping?

My friend got really pissed off. I mean really pissed off. Now, he’s easy to confuse and discourse analysis may sound like an exotic sexual position to him. But he knows his shit. And he knows when someone is trying to exploit him. So, while I never met the American myself or spoke to him, I trust my friend’s general assessment, albeit with the tiniest pinch of salt.

Apparently this man arrived and derided not just this gay friend I’m talking about, but another man as well, for not being activist enough. They aren’t in the liberation struggle, they just get laid or sit around, and why aren’t they doing more for the queer cause and by the way, can you answer on camera?

What’s the point? Why do people go off to some other country and find out what the natives are like? I’m all for anthropology, but why do assholes get involved in it? My friend’s major complaint was that this man was going to make some documentary out of all this and sell it to the west as a picture of Pakistani oppression and Pakistani perversion, rolled into one. And I can’t blame him. I mean, why would I want to broadcast to the world that we live in a dictatorial country which is extremely Westophobic and Westophilic at the same time, and so has a terrible relationship with sex and sexuality, and therefore is a bit of a freak show?

It’s not that that isn’t true. It’s sort of true. But what a ridiculous approach to it. “Look, they’re such religious freaks, but check out all the ass fucks and girl-on-girl action that goes on in those tish tosh private homes!” Fuck you.

I want to tell a story, too. But if it’s “our” story and we’ve defined “us” with some consideration for reality and the option of leaving the “us” whenever, then “we” set the fucking terms.

6 thoughts on “Fishbowl Syndrome

  1. Why do people go off to some other country and find out what the natives are like?

    … orientalism, exoticism, whiteness…

    I think it’s a big problem. I am also a white german social scientist (kind of) and have been studying social and cultural anthropology lately. it still seems to be quite common that anthroplogists go out into “the field” – a social territory unknown to themselves – in order to “understand” and “describe” “the other”. I always try to redirect the focus from the imagined “other” to the unmarked hegemonial norm by asking the exact same question you asked: why do go to some place to “study” the “natives” if you might as well study your own perspective, your assumptions and your exotizing theories and methods?

    I’d rather make a bunch of interviews with white gays in germany to find out about their stereotypes of gay life in pakistan and analyze that instead…

    (sorry for bad english!)

  2. First off, you’re so right. I’d probably kick that interviewer in the head. Not being able to run ACT-UP in Pakistan for a variety of reasons that are blithely ignored is a load of horse-shit, and I suspect that I’d wind up explaining Lacan’s concept of the mirror image to him by shoving his head through any number of reflective surfaces.

    On the other hand, the next time I’m in Lahore, I think you and I should go out for dinner or something.

  3. Sin: the reflective surfaces sound like a great idea. As does dinner or something. I’d say the same about next time I’m in Karachi, but that might be in 2020, so it would all go a bit stale by then.

    katunia: yeah, it’s strange that most anthropologists don’t observe their own context. I wonder if it’s about objectivity. They think they can’t be objective about themselves but the “other” is removed from them, and so they can treat it like a lab science. Self-analysis has always been one of my favourite things to do when I’m bored. ;)

  4. Wow.

    You go, you. Your anger is nothing if not justified. Having some outsider come and say, “You’re not political enough, by the way I don’t know shit about the local conditions” is enough to set anyone off.

  5. Hi Summer,

    I looks like this blog is no longer active, so I don’t know if you will get this but… this post has really got me thinking. I’m of Pakistani origin but spent my whole life in the UK. I came to Pakistan just now with the intention of shooting a documentary, but since I’ve got here, the whole project has been hit with a bit of an identity-crisis (maybe thats just a roundabout way of saying I’ve been hit with an identity crisis lol). My doc wasn’t really focussed with LGBT Pakistan as such, but its a subject I have interest in on a personal level… and I was planning on perhaps having a short segment touching on the issue in my documentary.. now that I’m not even sure what its about anymore, I’m confused.

    I think it would help to talk to you, to discuss my ideas, my motivations.
    Separately, and personally, I’m also interested in hearing more about the LGBT scene in Pakistan.

    If you do get this, please do drop me an email.



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