The first time I saw her, she was wearing a beautiful blue shirt, seemingly lost in a deep conversation with herself on the balcony. It was one of the most intriguing moments in my life. She stood there, lean, tall and a head full of short brown curls. I couldn’t hear what she was saying to herself and I felt this urge to lean in and listen to her. Her warm, brown eyes met mine and she gathered herself. I had entered her personal space but she didn’t seem to mind. She smiled at me, awkwardly, and went back inside.
I wanted to meet her again.
It wasn’t even a question because I wasn’t allowed to ask any. I belong to a desi, typical, religious family in Pakistan. Parents who were slaves to their patriarchal mindset and bound by the stereotypical standards set by society. There was constant shame. Shame for wanting to understand myself, asking about and saying words like sex, vagina, menstruation, puberty.
Little brown bags hiding the shame of being a natural woman.
If it wasn’t for my sister, I would have never had the guidance that every girl needs.
After I hit puberty, I realized I didn’t fit. I wasn’t like the others. And there was no one I could tell. It’s the loneliest feeling in the world. Not having the courage to tell your family who you are. Tell them there is nothing wrong with me. I just love differently. Please let me. Accept me. I’m gay. And that’s okay.
It was fate. There is nothing that can convince me otherwise. A few days after I saw her on the balcony, I saw Sara* in a park. I walked past her and looked back. It was her. Fidgeting with her headphones. I walked on but I felt her gaze on me. I turned around. She was staring at my legs and when she saw me look at her, face flushed pink with embarrassment.
“Do you…want to jog together?”
My curly brown girl.
I felt suffocated and I wanted to scream.
“I am a lesbian!” I screamed, but not out loud. In one instant, every moment, I was two different people. I sat in a room with people defining the ‘normal woman’, and I felt this heavy burden. My heart, my mind desperately wanted everyone to know. My face revealed nothing. Being part of the LGBTQ community in Pakistan is a huge struggle. I do not have the courage to come out to my family because the chances of acceptance by my religiously inclined family are very thin.
Can anyone hear me?
I dreamed sometimes. I would tell my parents, my sister, sitting down in our living room, me, sitting opposite them all.
I’m gay, I’m different.
The burden would magically be lifted. I would be one person.
They would sit silently as I would die a little inside. Tears streaming down their faces. Father, stoic. Mother, silent. And a crack would emerge.
They would smile and say, it’s okay. We love you, just the way you are.
I would cry tears of joy. And then I would drift out of my head and the dream would walk away. It would come back but would never stay.
I tried to kill myself many times.
Maybe in death, the dream would stay on.
“I’m from Lahore,” Sara said.
“Why did you move to Karachi?” I asked
“I’m a journalist, so for work really,” she replied, “but I don’t have any friends…”
“You have me.”
Sara was luckier than I was. Smarter. She had never tried to end her life, had gone for therapy but she faced the same internal struggle. We formed a bond that I always craved.
She was the image that stayed on.
It’s been more than a year since I told her I loved her. We are happy. But there’s a cloud that forever hangs over my head. I know nothing good ever lasts. This society cannot digest the relationship Sara* and I dream about. But for now we are lucky to have each other.
There are so many others like us.
They want to be able to find a partner who they can bring home. Smile with, hold hands with, be with. But they can never say it. They go missing from their homes, live their lives in despair.
There is no mistake in the love I feel for Sara. But there is a sadness attached to it. My parents will never know who I love. They will never feel the love their daughter feels. They will never hold my face in their hands and know, “She is happy”. They will never accept.
As our fingers touch in secret, there are times I let myself drift. The dream changes. I am no longer sitting in that room alone, facing my parents. I sit with Sara.
“Abba, this is Sara. Ami, Sara,” I would nudge her.
She would smile, her awkward smile.
“Salaam Sara beta, it’s so very nice to meet you.”
*Names of the author and characters have been changed to protect their identities.