At an age when most kids are joining kindergarten, Nemat Sadat had an epiphany — one to inspire a legacy. The how, when and where didn’t matter, nor did being homosexual. What mattered was a drive to achieve greatness. Last year, he released his first novel, The Carpet Weaver, which was a coming-of-age story about two homosexual boys in war-torn Afghanistan.
Accepting and understanding one’s sexuality can prove to be quite a daunting task, especially coming from somewhat orthodox dogmas, which are not exclusive any particular religion. The inner turmoil and the external conflict are enough to drive anyone to the edge. Sadat resorted to activism and art to cope. “Self-expressing myself as an activist and artist helped me overcome a lifetime of repression. It helped me to confront the demons and purge all the social conditioning I received that condemned and cursed homosexuals to expect nothing but hate and punishment in this life and the hereafter. LGBTQ people are at a higher risk of anxiety, depression and suicide than heterosexual people. It was liberating for me to come out of the closet and share my grief with the world and simultaneously campaign for LGBTQIA+ rights,” he says.
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In the 80s, as his motherland became a conflict zone of wars that would later go on to polarize global powers, his mother took him and his siblings to the USA. After almost three decades, he returned to Kabul in 2012 as a professor of political science. It was here that he witnessed first-hand the perils of being homosexual. He mobilized an underground movement to openly campaign for LGBTQIA+ rights. “For me, it’s always been about the legalization of LGBTQIA+ rights in Afghanistan and across the Muslim world, which happens to be the worst places in the world to be gay or transgender person,” he says. Did he ever feel there was a threat to his safety? “When you are fighting to emancipate an entire group of people, in this case, millions of people, who are criminalized and have no legal status, you have to only focus on the vision for the future,” says the author who came out in 2013. He received death threats, was banished by many Afghans and Muslims, and rejected by most of his relatives.
Cut to 2019, and he observes a shift in sensibilities, and is hopeful of the future, too. “I believe the Afghan community is finally opening up to the idea of LGBTQIA+ equality. Young people in Afghanistan are following the same global trend in greater acceptance of homosexuality. I believe it is possible to see same-sex marriage in Afghanistan and in many Muslim-majority countries within our lifetime,” he says.
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Straddling dual identities across two continents was not easy for him — he finally felt at home in India. “I as a gay, Afghan, American, ex-Muslim, non-native immigrant who doesn’t look like a typical white person will continue to be an outsider in the US. That’s a reality that I have accepted and no longer even try to belong to a society that doesn’t value all people equally. In Afghanistan, I’m persona non grata and persecuted not only for my free speech. My identities—being gay and an ex-Muslim—are considered against Islam. India is the only country that I feel safe and accepted for who I am,” he shares.
The youth, in such a scenario, is also susceptible to substance abuse. He believes it is important to speak up before giving up. “I know without a doubt that I am alive today because I didn’t resort to addiction or suffer in silence. It takes a lot of courage to share your grief with the world. But it’s the surest way to heal and recover from trauma,” he says. It is also important to confide and open up to people you can trust. “My mother has always supported me even though there was a time when she was in deep denial about my homosexuality and wished for me to marry a woman even though she knew I was gay,” says the author who is living at his mother’s house in San Digeo since the pandemic broke.
“For those who are receiving hate and violence know that there are leaders in the LGBTQIA+ community throughout India—that you can always turn for help. It’s important that members of the LGBTQIA+ community who are receiving harassment and threats that they also reach out to law enforcement and report these incidents,” he encourages.
His manuscript for The Carpet Weaver was rejected by 450 literary agents. His pan-India tour was cut short due to lockdowns, but that didn’t break his spirit. He is now using this time to write his second novel, titled Keeping Up With The Hebpburns. “It is a romantic comedy about a gay vegan vagabond set primarily in Washington D.C. during the Trump era, and partly in India,” he signs off.
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