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It takes a drag queen.

Ali Saleem is a man who regularly appears, dressed as a woman, on a nationally televised talk show in Pakistan, where the subject often turns to sex--or so we learned from a front-page article in The New York Times (1/3/07). It's hard to decide which is weirder, the fact that a man in high drag has a talk show in Pakistan or the fact that he's able to get away with talking about sex--in the persona of a woman, in a country where women are strictly forbidden to mention sex. The Times offered no explanation for the anomaly other than to suggest that Pakistan may be a more open society than we thought, at least in big cities--which doesn't square too well with the article's main thesis that Saleem is truly out on a limb, breaking every taboo in a society that doesn't even allow straight men to discuss these matters on television. A better explanation is that Saleem is so altogether unexpected that the mullahs (who are doubtless having nightmares) just don't know what to make of him. Here's where a fundamentalist moral code can trip a society up: there's always the possibility that someone will find a loophole in the literalist code, some contingency that hasn't been tried before. Perhaps the mullahs regret not shutting Saleem down earlier on some charge or other, but now that he's got an audience, he's acquired the kind of power that only celebrity can bring, even in conservative Pakistan. It took a man in street drag to do it, but clearly Saleem has tapped into a range of topics that Pakistanis are hungry to discuss, however impossible it is for almost everyone else to talk about them.
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Publication:The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
Article Type:Brief article
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Mar 1, 2007
Words:287
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