Inside the Lives of Pakistan’s LGBT: An Interview with the Filmmaker

"Poshida - Hidden LGBT Pakistan" (2015) is a first-of-its-kind independent documentary that delves into the secret world of LGBT Pakistanis battling against the Sharia law, media sensationalism, stigmatism and violence. With unprecedented access, this documentary uncovers the effects of growing conservatism in the Islamic State of Pakistan on the LGBT community.

An Outright Action International intern interviewed the filmmaker about this brave undertaking, and the encounters that culminated into this documentary.

Outright Action International​ Intern: Filming a documentary about a taboo topic in an Islamic country would hold many unprecedented struggles, especially that of gaining trust of the local community members. How were you able to circumvent some of the obstacles you faced during your research?

Filmmaker: Some of the contributors - locally based lesbians and gay men in particular - were concerned about their personal safety which is why I’ve been careful about changing some names and blurring faces. But because there is a small level of acceptance of a section of the transgender community in Pakistan, it was less dangerous to be open about them. I’d built up many contacts as a journalist in Pakistan over several years, I met a lot of LGBT people and became friends with many LGBT people, and I think it’s just the case with any sensitive issue that the longer you are known the more trust is built up. I’ve written articles and made films on aspects of the LGBT population in Pakistan previously for international media so I was known a little bit by LGBT individuals and communities.

Outright Action International​ Intern: Where did the idea to shape the film around the LGBT community of Pakistan come from and what does the term ‘Poshida’ mean in the given context?

Filmmaker: Pakistan has innumerable social issues that are kept hidden. I wanted to highlight what happens to those members of the society who are forced into hiding.

‘Poshida’ means ‘hidden’ or ‘veiled’ and it refers to a central aspect of Pakistani culture which places value on the concept of respect and personal reputation. There is a strong distinction between the private life and the life that one lives in public. So while there are many LGBT people in Pakistan, there is very little, if any, acknowledgement of their existence, let alone the guarantee of any protection or respect.

Outright Action International​ Intern: How do you decide which story to stay with or which story to walk away from in your shooting and editing process?

Filmmaker: It was important to me that the film showed the broad spectrum of LGBT Pakistanis since there appears to be little understanding of the distinctions - in media particularly. For example: gay and transgender are often confused with each other but obviously sexuality is one thing and gender is something else. Why this matters is because in Pakistan, transgender women do enjoy some legal rights, whereas gay men can face up to ten years in jail and a 100 lashes. That’s not to say that transgender people are doing well; they are often the poorest and most down trodden in the Pakistani society. The consent and cooperation of my contributors really determined what made the cut. There were many other people I know and spoke to who had wonderful stories but would not appear on camera.

Outright Action International​ IGLHRC Intern: I wanted to ask about one of the imperative components of the LGBT spectrum not visible in your documentary - the Bisexuals. Where do the Pakistani bisexuals stand in the legal and social paradigm of the state?

Filmmaker: Actually one of the contributors, alternately identifies as gay and also bisexual but didn’t speak of it in their interview. Fluid sexuality was a common theme I found while researching my film. I met many outwardly heterosexual married couples, where one or both partners were either gay or bisexual. The marriage would be a ‘front’ that allowed them to function in conservative Pakistani society. Legally, I don’t believe there’s any distinction between a gay or bisexual man. If you’re a woman, the situation is different. The sodomy laws were inherited from British colonial rule which famously didn’t accept female same sex attraction. There might be some ruling in Sharia law (Pakistan has a dual civil/religious legal system) but I’m not aware of it.

Outright Action International​ Intern: What scope do you see your film have in the social, religious and legal spheres within Pakistan and outside?

Filmmaker: The film is unprecedented and there hasn’t been a film like it on Pakistan’s LGBT people as of yet, so it’s hard to say what the impact will be socially, legally or religiously. We can only look to other Muslim or South Asian countries to make an educated guess. That said, Pakistan has consistently ruled against LGBT rights at the United Nations Human Rights Council and there seems to be no end to the increasing conservatism in Pakistani society as the backlash to Facebook’s rainbow filter demonstrated recently.

The trailer will be posted to Facebook