It has been a much-requested feature from our readership, that we introduce more personal perspectives on the current plights of LGBT communities worldwide. With that in might we sought to have a conversation with Mr Abdur Rahman and his friend Mr Zobair Hossain. Both gentleman are Bangladeshi citizens and both are gay. We have a brief but intimate conversation on the some of the challenges posed towards same-sex relationships or bisexuality, particularly in Bangladesh. I was met with plenty of smiles and a sometimes humour throughout the whole interview.
Question: Alright then gentleman, how are you, feeling nervous, excited?
Zobair: Not as nervous as you perhaps. [Laugh] But yes excited to be able to tell my story, our story (says Zobair after a playful glare from Abdur).
Question: Oh do I look nervous, it’s probably just morning blues. But perhaps you should have opened Abdur. (I said that after noticing the exchange, between the two)
Abdur Rahman: That’s alright, he does fine always, it is just sometimes I have to intervene [said Abdur with a twinkle] when he goes wrong.
Question: Ah good, good. Let’s begin shall we? Today is all about you. Perhaps you both can begin by introducing yourselves?
Zobair: Hello readers, my name is Zobair Hossain and I am an openly gay man. I currently reside in the United Kingdom. I am also an atheist by belief and so is my friend Abdur.
Abdur: Ah thank you for going ahead and saying that for me. So readers my friend has already told you about me a bit. My full name is Abdur Rahman. I am an openly gay man and yes I am not open to the idea of God. If anything my life experiences have taught me there is no tangible evidence to believe otherwise.
Question: You say you are atheists, both of you. Are you aware of the consequences of adopting such values, particularly in Bangladesh?
Zobair: Yes, we are and that does not bother us to be honest. We have long been maltreated for our sexuality anyway. If we adopt atheism, people will just see that as “sinners” adding on top of their sins. It makes no difference. We have our reasons and they are concrete. People will continue to shun us despite that.
Abdur: It is an age old discussion really. Fortunately I can tell you briefly why we have adopted atheism without delving too deep. If you ever read the Quran you will see that it is littered with empty words of equality and fair distribution of rights. And yet it has explicit instructions to marginalise a certain section of the population, the LGBT community that is. Why should I have my faith in anyone who has written or “bestowed” something as self-contradictory as that?
Question: That is a fair point I assume, without diving in too deep as you say. Perhaps that is a topic for another day as to why atheism is suddenly on the up in borderline fundamentalist society such as Bangladesh.
Zobair: Amen (said Zobair with a laugh, in response to me referring to the Bangladeshi society as being borderline fundamentalist).
Question: So gentleman, given we have briefly established your identities, can you tell me about your experiences collectively as a gay so far, and then add any personal circumstances?
Zobair: To be honest again, as I have stated previously, we tend not to pay too much heed on what people think about us. I am sure Abdur would agree, when we were younger and actually had people who gave a damn about us, we were scared. We were afraid of exposure, afraid what people would think about us. Because, you must understand we hail from a grossly conservative, and now increasingly intolerant society as you mentioned earlier. Anyone else would have been pushed to the brink of despair. Thankfully now I have this wonderful friend sitting next to me. [Laugh]
Abdur: We could not risk throwing everything away at that point. That in turn made for an unhealthy upbringing in Bangladesh. The amount of teasing and bullying I had to endure during my college days, just because I was homosexual, is nothing a short of a nightmare. It culminated of course with my parents finding out and my father actually disowning me. They do not speak to me anymore.
In one point I thought marriage will give me a solution and I will be fine. In fact this society compelled me to think that my sexual orientation is a sickness. I then got married. Seriously. [Laughing]. In one point I understood that my wife was going to find out, because I just could not bring myself to love her the way other men would have, and that I was actually attracted towards other men as well. I was thus dumped by her like garbage and my parents, sad as it is, gave up on me like a bad job.
Question: It is wonderful to see strength that you give each other has helped mitigate such difficult circumstances. Let me tweak my original question a bit then. Have you noticed any changes after declaring yourself as a Gay man in a society as liberal as the one here in UK?
Zobair: The answer would be yes and no. Sure we do not have to suffer from prejudice every few hours or so, or deal with the immense metal pressures associated with living in a society which is decidedly hostile towards members of the LGBT community. But a reminder that even the UK itself legalised same-sex marriage as recently as March 2014. So while the society here is more accepting, the diverse range of values here still contributes in some prejudice shown towards the LGBT community. In fairness though, the UK society is much more welcoming and tolerant than the ones we come from. At the very least we can while away our lives in peace without fear of being beheaded in our sleeps.
Question: You mention beheading. I that reference to the current plague of extremism gripping Bangladesh at the moment?
Abdur: You are most correct sir [said Abdur with a playful salute]. If you are a gay or bisexual man in Bangladesh how can you possibly expect to get away with just the society and your family members harassing you all your life? No there is the added bonus of murderous psychopaths who are ready to behead you in the name of the Lord. Apparently the Lord will not be satisfied unless we are beheaded for some reason. I guess in some twisted way the idea is to make it quick and painless. But I suppose you would have to conduct interviews with IS or AL-Qaeda members next (Abdur says with a wry smile) and ask them how something as barbaric as that could possibly appease “the Lord”?
Question: Ah you never know. May be I will, if I become popular enough. But gentleman enough of that doom and gloom tell me how you two ended up as friend with each other.
Zobair: Ah that. I don’t suppose you can call us kindred spirits [laugh], given there are so many things I don’t like about Abdur (Abdur laughs at this point), but that I suppose is what a relationship is about. We cover for each other’s shortcomings and try and improve each other as a person.
Abdur: That is a great pick up line. We are both sloppy, disorganized, but have immense respect and warmth for each other.
Question: It is wonderful to see friendship like yours bloom even under such bleak circumstances. But I must ask you. Do you think that there will ever be a change in the way people see or perceive members of the LGBT community?
Abdur Rahman: I don’t think so, not in the next hundred years anyway unless something revolutionary happens. There is a specific law in place against homosexuality in Bangladesh. According to Penal Code 377, just our sexual orientations are enough to make us end up in jail, and face lifetime imprisonment. Which means that if I truly love someone from the bottom of my heart, I will have to rot in jail because of that. And in a country where homo sexuality is considered to be a sin, it is hard to imagine whether their mind sets will change easily. It is not uncommon for someone within this toxic society to seek legal actions over another person, based on his/her sexual orientation. If such practices continue to exist, how you can possibly hope that there will be any changes in perception towards the LGBT community down the line?
Zobair: I am absolutely in agreement with you. We are but ordinary men in an extraordinary society. As long as religious practices exist in Bangladesh, the brunt of which is just done for show, people will never be able to adopt progressive thoughts. It is my belief that when religion is cited as a reference every time homosexuality is brought up, it induces a bit fear and apprehension into everyone. Because of religious morals if you will, people have become mistrustful and hostile towards homosexuals in Bangladesh, which subsequently teaches them to harbour pure hatred against them.
Question: Do you think Bangladesh is safe for you, or whether or not you will be able to lead healthy lives there considering its current situation?
Abdur: That would be a resounding no. Both Zobair and I believe, we have thankfully managed to escape from there with our lives intact. There is no place for us there. Members of our community there are oppressed, subjugated and marginalised. People like us cannot hope to enjoy fundamental human rights there, when there are laws that exists which bear explicit instructions to keep us in cages us like animals.
Question: Is it right to assume that the recent murders of homosexual pair Xulhaz Mannan and Tonoy Mahbub in Bangladesh have contributed towards your current stance?
Abdur Rahman: Yes of course. That is a prime reason why I stated earlier that both Zobair and I are grateful to have at least kept our lives, when others like brother Xulhaz and Tonoy were less fortunate. I have already stated that this country will not change its skin unless something dramatic happens to its climate. People of different opinions, including pioneers behind establishing LGBT rights are continue to be exterminated one after the other, and yet the police has still failed to capture the perpetrators. Has this particular tragedy or any other incident prompted any radical changes within the Bangladeshi society? Has it stirred up the government? The answer is no. In truth the government also wants such killings to continue. They also want all atheists like us to leave Bangladesh, homosexuals like us to just drop dead and wither away silently.
Question: Thank you for taking the time out and participating in this interview gentleman. It is sad that we have to leave on such a bleak note. Let’s change that and ask you if you have anything that you wish to say to our readers?
Zobair: The only thing I want to say is that love is the most righteous path. The only thing worth living for. We want people to love each other, and come to each other’s aid during difficult times. I hope that all your regular subscriber have wonderful and successful lives.
Abdur Rahman: My love to all the readers. I will always pray for the success and longevity of this publication. I salute you for taking the brave initiative and giving stories like ours the exposure and endorsement it deserves. I will always pray for the health and happiness of everyone.