Afghanistan Is Coming Out of the Closet

My coming out launched a hurricane upon my landlocked country of origin, where homosexuality can be penalized with the death penalty. The tidal wave surged last August when I broadcasted this message on Facebook:

“I’m so happy to have finished the process of ‘coming out’ to the entire world. Burden lifted forever. For the last few people in the planet who don’t know, let me tell you now: Yes, I am proud to be gay, Afghan, American and Muslim. So get over it! Now, I can live life without all the aunties & uncles harassing and pressuring with questions like why I haven’t married a woman. If they do, I will simply shake my head, snap my finger, toss my hair and tell them I am marrying a distinguished gentleman and in Pashto we call it خاوند “khaawand” (owner, proprietor husband) and if you want to offer your son or nephew for my hand then tell him I want a platinum ring on my finger, a Central Park wedding ceremony and a Manhattan skyscraper rooftop reception afterwards. I have it allout. The bespoke lifestyle awaits. Oh yeah!”

I didn’t plan on coming out when I returned after three decades to my native homeland in August 2012 to be a Professor at the American University of Afghanistan. But living in a repressive society finally got to me. So I started talking about taboo topics on social media as an outlet to my frustration.

A year later in July 2013, I was fired from my job after the Afghan government alleged that my public outreach was subverting Islam and pressured the university to terminate me. A month later from my bedroom in New York City, I took a leap of faith to announce my sexuality with the wish of acceptance by my family and nation for my true nature.Instead, I was disowned by my father and received thousands of threats from Afghans who were flabbergasted about my insistence that I’m both a proud gay and a Muslim.

Despite the backlash of a mostly homophobic nation, there is a silver lining to my story. Since my coming out, I’ve received hundreds of messages from closeted Afghans who regard me as their hero for giving them hope and raising global awareness about gay rights in Afghanistan – a subject that was not a topic of national discussion until now.

Two months later in October, a second revival to my coming out occurred after several Afghan social media sites published a sensational story about me. Within hours, the news about the “gay Afghan man admits his homosexuality” went viral again, this time igniting a tsunami throughout the Afghan world – both inside the country and in the Diaspora.

Within days, dozens of Facebook pages popped up with images of me cross-dressed as a transgender from a play I performed in. After an online news site published a sensational article that I had had sex with 200 men in one year, news percolated the Afghan rumor mills at wind speed about my alleged promiscuity. A local newspaper in Kabul published an article that I was to release the names of closeted politicians in the Afghan government. On the airwaves, an Afghan TV station claimed that Gul Agha Sherzai, the flamboyant politician who is running for President of Afghanistan this year, had written an open love letter requesting for my hand in marriage. I became the butt of jokes and ceremonialized in a way that was unprecedented in Afghan history.

Meanwhile, the very same people who continued the calls for my beheading had made so much noise on the Internet and on the Afghan street that soon the international media started reaching out to me for interviews. In Afghanistan, the common sentiment is that I’m a coward for confessing my desire for a man while my friends in the west laud me for my courage and regard me as a great liberator.

Six months since my coming out, Afghanistan is no longer the same. All over the country, Afghans are candidly talking about homosexuality in a way that would have been unimaginable before I released the valve. In an interview last October with Voice of America Dari, which was their most-read story in 2013, I differentiated between violent bachabazi (pederasty) and same-sex love among adults. A few days after my talk, Afghanistan’s human rights commission launched an investigation into pedophilia. It’s too soon to tell what the lasting ripple effects will be from the gay storm that has rocked Afghanistan. One thing is for sure: no one would have guessed that from my laptop, thousands of miles away from Afghanistan, I could spark a revolution that has engaged millions in a national discussion about a topic that was previously forbidden. Even I never anticipated that. But if social media prompted the downfall of dictatorships in the Arab World, then why can’t it launch an LGBTIQ movement in Afghanistan?

Some call me the Oscar Wilde of Afghanistan. I just hope I’m alive to see the day when the first lesbian couple legally marry on Afghan soil.