The pretty Boys of Afghanistan
Afghani Wedding Singers are the sweetest Plum, a Story from the VICE Magazine
Kandahar just may be the world capital of buggery. There’s a popular joke here that goes, “Why do birds fly in circles over Kandahar? Because they’re covering their ass with one wing.” The rest of Afghanistan is always riffing about Kandahar. “Down there, girls are for procreation, boys are for recreation.” Stuff like that. Pre-Taliban, mujahideen strongmen in Kandahar — including the police chief — were not averse to taking boys as brides. In fact, according to a 1996 New York Times article, a homosexually driven feud led to the rise of Bin Laden’s future hosts, the Taliban. Two mujahideen battled for possession of a prized boy. They rolled out the tanks and shot up the bazaar, killing scores of innocents. By 1994, many of the “holy warriors” who had beat back the Soviets were terrorizing their own people —providing Mullah Omar and a small band of Islamic scholar-avengers with popular support when they defeated the sodomites.
Omar put nooses around the necks of the two mujahideen, and the Taliban snowballed. After taking control of most of the country, the new hardliners jailed some homosexuals, but Kandahar love continued to flourish, reaching far beyond its mecca. I reckon an Afghani, an anthropologist, or an Afghani anthropologist could contest my surmising, but the surface evidence is strong. Much in Afghanistan is homosexual, repressed and otherwise. All over cautiously and relatively progressive Kabul, women covered in burkas walk beneath billboards featuring muscle-ripped, Speedo-clad European bohunks, advertisements for bodybuilding gyms. Check out all the dandies holding hands, flirting, shod like pointy-toed elves. They kiss their pals on the cheek, a traditional greeting they make louder and wetter than need be. At gender-segregated wedding parties, they dance together frenziedly, thrusting pelvises at their buddies.
And then there was the guard at a Kabul guesthouse who buggered a middle-aged American guy I know in the generator shed for $50. It was during a party, and the American, an uninvited guest, solicited several locals employed by the guesthouse before finding his man. Not to say homosexuality is socially acceptable here. The Koran is clear in its condemnation, and most Afghanis profess to hate it. So such behavior is surprising in a society so rife with taboos—or maybe to be expected, like shepherds with their sheep. Kandahar love gets just as predatory too, famously so for some of the warlords. While Afghanistan has gained little toward rule of law, a multitude of old-school mujahideen are refashioning themselves as the most profitable sort for Karzai’s Afghanistan—pro-democracy politicians. Their crimes and improprieties, if not fewer, have become less blatant. But some old warriors can’t help themselves. A 2004 report on human trafficking by the International Organization for Migration notes a trend of gunmen sexually abusing boys. Although Afghani law prohibits homosexuality and pedophilia, neither crime qualifies for the far more unacceptable charges of adultery or pre-marital sex. For the incorrigible pederasts, there are wedding singers—fairylike boys, some pre-pubescent, who cover nationalist anthems and local pop songs over tablas and synthesizers. Demand for them at weddings is huge. But wedding singers are scorned on the street and minded closely by their families or managers. Numbering in the hundreds in Kabul alone, they are considered the catamite class.
I entered the life of a popular wedding singer for a couple of days recently, visiting him at home and accompanying him to a gig. Read the full story at the VICE Magazine