Bangladesh's gay prostitutes take a step out of the closet
October 3, 2003
NABINAGAR, Bangladesh — Shunned since youth by their families, Bangladesh's male
prostitutes are finding a furtive sense of community as they fight
together against rampant discrimination.
Khokhon, 22, has sold his body for the past two years in the
parks and transport terminals of this small town near the capital
He left his impoverished village in the eastern Narsinghdi
district before his relatives could throw him out for being gay.
But he remains a dutiful son, sending back to his family some of
his earnings from the flesh trade.
"I knew I wanted to love another man and my family will never
accept it. They will say I am bad," said Khokhon, who like other
male prostitutes interviewed would only give his first name.
Khokhon, who lives with a partner, also works at a garment
"I am prostituting myself as I need the extra money to send
home," he said.
Faced with common problems, the male sex workers, with some help
from social workers, organise private meetings together to discuss
their plight and compare techniques in countering violence at the
hands of police and hooligans.
"They are slowly working to be united so that they can defend
themselves and their rights from castigation and constant
harassment," said Mohammad Nasiruddin of the Organisation of
Development Programme for the Underprivileged, a non-governmental
M. Salehin of another non-governmental organisation, CARE
Bangladesh, said the number of sex workers was not necessarily
increasing but demand for them was, in part due to more exposure to
homosexuality through the internet and Western films in the Muslim
"There are two sides to consider when we say the gay population
is growing because it could be that many led a secret life and are
now coming out discreetly to meet like-minded people," Salehin
"Or thanks to the internet, younger people were being drawn into
it thinking men having sex with men is normal because it is
practised in the West," he said.
Tomiz, a smartly dressed 18-year-old, said his clients often
felt compelled to pretend to be straight.
"I service married men who are women inside," he said. "They get
married for social reasons or to get family property."
Bangladeshi laws dating back to the British colonial area
describe homosexual intercourse as "unnatural." Prostitutes, men or
women, face light jail sentences if arrested.
But male sex workers are worried less about court action than
about physical attacks. Many of the prostitutes are quickly singled
out for being effeminate.
Milan, 20, said he left home when his family learned of his
orientation. After renting his first house on his own he was forced
to move out when the owners also discovered his lifestyle.
"My family did not accept my way of life as they noticed I was
feminine and so I started prostitution to feed myself. What else
could I do?" he asked.
Milan said he has been beaten publicly -- and that the
assailants would secretly come to him later for sex.
"They don't want to know us during the daytime," he said. "I
want my right to move freely and earn my bread." –Sapa-AFP
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