As little Ahmed drinks ice cream soda with his uncle, he wonders why adults treat his Chacha differently just because he’s gay. A 20-page children’s book called My Chacha is Gay, through the story of Ahmed and his gay uncle, simplifies sexuality for children and adults. Pakistan’s first anti-homophobia children’s book, it’s now creating quite a buzz. We speak to its Toronto-based Pakistani author, Eiynah, about her personal experiences, readers and hate mail.
You first put up some pages as part of your blog at first, how did it get published as a book?
I wrote and drew the book in February this year. It was always intended as a book. The response to the initial pages was overwhelmingly positive; it was well-received around the world, even in Pakistan. It was picked up (digitally) by a school board in Toronto and got over 10,000 views in the first 48 hours. I received hundreds of emails and messages telling me to start a crowdfunding campaign to publish the book.
Why did you choose this topic?
I write about sexuality in Pakistan regularly on my blog. I am an illustrator as well and my topics include diversity, considering the situation in my country. It’s sad to see it become a nation that is less and less tolerant each year.
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Who is your audience for the book?
It is mainly children but not restricted to them. I hope to reach children from around the world, because not only is it important to tell stories that are ethnically diverse, but also represent Pakistanis and Muslims in a different light from which they are portrayed in mainstream media. In multi-cultural societies like my city, Toronto, it is necessary to see diverse children’s literature. On the other hand, it’s important to address the taboo topic of homosexuality in our south Asian culture. I’m hoping it will at least get adults thinking.
Will it be available in Pakistan?
We are in talks with a bookstore chain in Pakistan, and hope that it will soon be available there. It can however be ordered online at http://www.mychachaisgay.com.
How has the reception been like — negative and positive?
The hate mail is very entertaining, from calling me an enemy of god, worthy of death to being a corruptor of children’s minds, among other things. They do a great job of demonstrating how badly we need diversity, tolerance and inclusivity in Pakistan. But, the messages of encouragement outweigh the hate mail. I received a message today from a Pakistani child psychiatrist, who said, “Thank you for being the first drop of rain” for starting the conversation. I also get emails from gay Pakistani teenagers, who say this book gives them hope for a more inclusive Pakistan in the future.
Tell us about yourself.
I am a graphic designer. I don’t reveal my exact age, because of my need to remain anonymous. I haven’t grown up in Pakistan but I’ve lived there for a few years. I grew up in Saudi Arabia and came to Canada as a teenager. I have studied sociology with a focus on sexuality and communications. Personally, I am not a traditional Pakistani woman. I am opinionated, pierced and tattooed. I am also openly an atheist. I have been marginalised and treated unfairly by fellow Pakistanis, simply because I don’t fit the mould. I hope this mindset changes, be it about orientation, religion, gender roles or appearance.