Being part of the surviving generation of one of the most longstanding and influential political family puts a lot on one’s shoulders, expected to uphold a legacy and be just as good with words, promises and continuously winning public support as those before you.
Mainstream politicians must show unwavering strength and excellent tact, create speeches powerful enough to penetrate the public’s mind and heart and display consistent honesty with their promises regarding the law and their policies.
In today’s world, the latter is quite hard to come by with numerous taints of corruption, deception, and manipulation.
However, one person from the third generation of the Bhutto family is going about an entirely unusual route in his contribution to raising political awareness in a way that challenges numerous gender stereotypes and the patriarchal notions embedded deep within Pakistani politics. This is Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Jr., named after his grandfather, who was one of the most well known and politically active Prime Ministers of Pakistan. But very much unlike him, Bhutto Jr. is a poet, a visual and performance artist.
The cherry on top is that his performances include those of him as a drag queen with LGBTQ+ rights and Muslim queers being subjects of his work; quite unheard of in Muslim politics indeed.
In an interview with The Turmeric Project (that focuses on raising awareness on South Asian queer folk) the young political heir described how being both Muslim and queer makes one subject to extreme hardships when others don’t listen and don’t care about the community’s plight. He actively takes part in anti-Trump protests in the US, where he currently resides. Bhutto also had something to say about masculinity and femininity in politics; he believes that “masculinity is soft and effeminate”, unlike the stereotypical traits (such as strength and aggression) associated with the masculine concept.
A performance art series of his is titled “Musalmaan Musclemen” to resonate that belief.
When I saw the interview and the video, I admit I was a tad surprised by the path this Bhutto took, but otherwise reacted no differently as I would to any other rights activist. It’s 2017 and we all have our own unique ways of fighting for a cause. But my relatives were more outwardly expressive of their shock, an excessive mixture of “aye hayes” and “taubas” in the reactive speech patterns.
Any indication of being part of the LGBTQ community in Pakistan is considered a taboo, and even a grievous sin that can have one punished if religious lawmakers deem so; the government ordained punishment being prison sentences (2 years to life), but the kinds of punishment carried out at the hands of people angry enough to disregard law are much more terrifying, when even an inkling of a rumour could very well be a death sentence.
Being an out and proud member of the LGBTQ community is an extreme rarity in Pakistan, and usually, these people (mostly youths with more understanding of sexuality) confide only to their close friends, but there is no denying that the community exists even if we wish to ignore it or refuse to acknowledge it.
It is a series of bold and brave moves by a Muslim political figure representing a country that still, to an extent, runs on the traditional cogs of yore. A country where the levels of one’s masculinity are determined by the physical and mental strength displayed over those who thought of as weak or inferior.
This battle for dominance is an underlying factor ingrained into Pakistani politics, and this young man is probably risking his family’s and his own reputations to challenge it and actively fight for what he believes; a topic of grave importance to the world of politics in general.
In a world that has become more accepting, and strong enough to break numerous chains, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Jr.’s contribution went relatively unnoticed but might just be a game-changer for not just state but gender politics in the Muslim world.
Keeping my own political views and affiliations aside, stressing the importance of gender identities and the awareness of the queer community in our society is a step that no political personality in the country has ever taken before, and I commend him for that
He, among others like the late Qandeel Baloch and Kami Sid (the first transgender model in all predominantly Muslim countries), are proving that one’s gender and sexuality can never be a hindrance to contribute to changing the world. Being expressive of your sexuality does not make one a dishonorable sleaze with loose moral character; it does not mean one is worse than any other person, it just means you choose not to hide another part of yourself and instead use it to move on ahead.
Here’s to hoping his words, performances, and his certain political influence have more of an impact than others’ false promises and use of violence and corruption did not.