A children’s book that every adult should read
Pakistan, the land of the pure, is plagued by multiple myths about sexuality. The level of ignorance when it comes to even the basics can reach astounding proportions at times. Something was needed to break the mould fashioned from old wives’ tales that made little sense. Which is where Eiynah, a Pakistani-Canadian writer, comes in.
While Eiynah has been actively fighting against myths, misconceptions and misinformation relating to sexuality in Pakistan, this is the first time she’s created a book just for children. However, a closer inspection will reveal so much more than just a colourful book for children — Eiynah’s “My Chacha is Gay” has several lessons for adults, too. The rest of the world may have their own stories to tell, but Pakistan is yet to even acknowledge that homosexuality is very real and very present in the country. While the constitution trumpets human rights for all, homosexuality continues to remain illegal because of archaic laws that the country is yet to rid itself of.
The heart of this book lies in something very simple. “I think that to grow our children need to have better access to good diverse educational resources. Pakistan is overwhelmed repeatedly by intolerance and radicalisation. Anything different from the ‘norm’ has to go. It is incredibly important to start teaching the concept of acceptance and diversity. Our kids are witness to too much hate. Religious hate, gender hate, homophobia, misogyny… the list seems endless, and kids need to learn about love and acceptance instead”.
My Chacha is Gay is packed with subtle punches that are meant to help children understand homosexuality better, but they’re also meant to highlight misconceptions for adults along the way. The book depicts the relationship between a Chacha and a young boy because homosexuality is often, inaccurately and unnecessarily, conflated with pedophilia. Eiynah excitedly explains her choice of characters, “I thought about it a lot. I first considered putting in a young girl but then decided against it, because I really wanted to bring this issue to light. The link between homosexuality and pedophilia is ridiculous and only a result of our lack of awareness. Just the fact that there have been countless jokes about ‘Chacha’ serves to highlight how badly we need to educate ourselves about sexuality. Pedophiles can be heterosexuals and homosexuals or pansexuals, and that is irrelevant to their attraction towards children!”
It was this consolidation that resulted in the murder of three men from Lahore. Their serial killer confessed to ending their lives as revenge for being molested as a child. What’s absurd is that the police have repeatedly insisted that he was sexually involved with the men he killed, so his actions were the likely result of his own self-hate rather than some grand agenda to rid the world of pedophiles. The murders shook Eiynah, “I first heard about the murders when a couple of members of the Pakistani LGBT community came to me in a panic and asked if I thought there was any connection between My Chacha is Gay and the murders. I was absolutely stunned to hear more than one person make that connection. And no, I don’t think that a book about love and tolerance could prompt such hatred. That kind of hate has really had time to fester and has deep roots. If anything it just goes to show, yet again, why we so desperately need to teach diversity at a young age.”
While it can do a whole lot of good for the children that it’s meant for, the book is actually not that hard for them to wrap their minds around. In fact, this little edition is the easier thing for a child to read, understand and appreciate. The adults, on the other hand, are another story altogether. “In Toronto, it was read in some schools to honour Pink Day (a day that serves to create awareness against homophobic and trans-phobic bullying in particular). The book caused some parents to feel ‘violated’ because they felt their children were being ‘taught’ to be gay, and you can’t teach anyone to be gay, it’s how each other is programmed. A Toronto radio station did a show interviewing the angry parents, and the lack of acceptance on their part was upsetting to hear. The kids loved it though. They liked seeing a South Asian kid that they could relate back to their own culture. The fact that their parents are less willing to keep an open mind as opposed to the kids is a proof that intolerance is learned. We are not born racist or homophobic; these things are culturally embedded in us.” My Chacha is Gay in a way educates children and simultaneously addresses the indoctrination of adults.
Just how feasible and practical is a book like this for the Pakistani audience, however? The project, while small, has high hopes and ambitions, and not so without merit. After receiving voluminous feedback billowing with praise, Eiynah decided to raise funds for the book. The book was meant to raise $5,000 by June 2014 and at the time this piece was being written the counter stood at 101% complete. The money is pouring in from all over the world, and most surprisingly, large chunks of it are coming in from Pakistan. Eiynah is over the moon, “The numbers to me are the real proof that this is needed and wanted. The project has been embraced by people. I am so fortunate and I’m truly grateful to have received such support. Currently, a Pakistani bookstore has expressed interest in the book, and if things go as planned then that would be historical. Let’s see where it goes. Within Toronto an iconic LGBT bookstore is all set to add My Chacha is Gay to their shelves. I’ve received word that they will definitely carry the book.”
The future holds big things, too. Perhaps a book for adults, this time? “I’ve got another book in the works. Plus I think these books are only disguised as meant for children, they can teach adults a thing or two, too. Simplifying the message and breaking it down in this way can sometimes break away the cultural barriers that stand in the way. At least that is what I hope to accomplish”.
My Chacha is Gay is essentially trying to show the world that Pakistanis are a diverse set of people with a diverse set of voices. While extremism often drowns out these voices, they do exist and they will one day find a way to undo the mute button. Equality is an important thing, equal rights are needed in Pakistan now more than ever. Love belongs to everyone, the book preaches, but in Pakistan love is found long after a wedding occurs, or in the dark corners of a rishta aunty’s box of pictures of eligible bachelors. Homosexual unions are not officially recognised, and many queer folk end up mimicking heterosexual lives. Even so, Eiynah continues to stay hopeful, “Even if the book’s message doesn’t make it through completely, even if all we’re able to do is poke one hole in that rishta aunty’s box of photos, then we’ve already set something in motion.”
“This is only the beginning,” says a determined smile.
The book finishes things up with an extremely important question: how can you control who you love anyway?