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September/October 2005 | Afghanistan, Through My Lens

September/October 2005 | Afghanistan, Through My Lens

A gay photojournalist reveals an ancient homosexual culture

I have been fortunate enough to travel to Afghanistan twice in the last couple of years, and each time, I was in awe at how well I was treated by the people of that troubled country, in complete contrast from what I was told to expect. I had many reasons for going, the most important being that as a New Yorker, I felt that the recent history of my own city was forever linked with that of Afghanistan. What I discovered through my travels and research is that Afghanistan has always had an amazingly homo-friendly culture: The British wrote about the amount of male-on-male love in Kabul as long as a century and a half ago, and the country’s overall queer proclivities were no secret during the hippie heydays of the 1960s and 1970s—even a source of gossip in Andrew Holleran’s 1978 gay novel Dancer From the Dance. More recently, British and American soldiers have told stories of makeup-covered Afghan farmers trailing them, trying to reward them with sexual favors. With the fundamentalist Taliban regime now out of power, the infamous “death by falling walls” for homosexuals is a thing of the tragic past. What the media didn’t tell you about was the male Mazar-I-Sharif wedding performers who dance in drag, or how the city of Kandahar was once so open about its renowned homosexuality there were even stores for pets considered gay symbols, like quails. The Taliban might have reacted viciously against homosexuality, but being located in famously queer Kandahar, they began to absorb it into their everyday lives—prompting Details magazine in 2003 to run the coverline “Just How Gay Were the Taliban?” But isn’t Afghanistan so sexually repressive and fundamentalist that men and women are nearly forbidden to talk with each other? There is the question that unlocks the answer. In a country where men can’t interact freely with women, there still must be an outlet for sexual affection. Ironically, depite the reactionary religious reputation of the country, it was often near mosques that the subject of “homo-sex,” as it was called, was mentioned to me by curious young men who approached to practice their English.

For the complete article, pick up the September/October issue of The Out Traveler. If you'd like to have a copy of the issue mailed to you, contact our subscriber services.

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