Kate Clinton

Dressed up like a boy

Filed By Kate Clinton | September 23, 2010 4:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Afghanistan, dress like a boy, gender bending, oppression of women

A recent New York Times article "When Boys Are Prized, Girls Live the Part" written by Jenny Nordberg, described the Afghani tradition of 'bacha posh' which translates as 'dressed up as a boy.' afghanistan_map.gifSince boys are so valued over girls, families with girls often dress one of their girls in boy's clothes from an early age until puberty or well after.

They do it for many reasons. Since the family name and treasure pass down through sons, boys are highly valued. A boyless family is pitied by the community. It is believed that the mother can determine the sex of her unborn, so she is blamed if she has daughters. In the strictly sex-segregated society a boy can go places a girl can never go - to market for errands, to school unattended, to a job to earn extra money for the family.

The article highlighted two stories of girls dressed up as boys. One mother, who had herself dressed up as a boy, said that the experience had taught her the ways of men and power which had helped her win a job in the Assembly. Because she only had daughters, she and her husband decided to dress their youngest up as a boy, so that her community would think she was fit to be elected.

Another young girl made the decision on her own. She attended school as a girl, then changed into a black suit with boxy shoulders and wide-legged pants. She plays football, cricket and rides a bike. She does not want to wear women's clothes or ever be a woman when she reaches puberty, because she has seen how people call women names and abuse them.

Nordberg did a yeoman's job of uncovering an enduring tradition of masquerade that has been going on for several generations in Afghanistan. In a bloodless reportorial style, she never opined on the fetishization of maleness or the oppression of Afghani women her story represents. It was riveting. I'm sure somewhere someone is already pitching it as a movie of the week.

I have just been sad. For all those dear Afghani girls trapped in their homes and tradition. And certainly, despite the official line that there are no gays in Afghanistan, in some province there is a young lesbian dressed up as a boy enjoying freedom of movement and access. I can only imagine that inevitable sad day when all that changes and she must dress up as a woman.


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I have to somewhat disagree with you Kate.

She does not want to wear women's clothes or ever be a woman when she reaches puberty, because she has seen how people call women names and abuse them.
I don't see this Girl as Lesbian or Trans but instead a victim of circumstance.
I have just been sad. For all those dear Afghani girls trapped in their homes and tradition. And certainly, despite the official line that there are no gays in Afghanistan, in some province there is a young lesbian dressed up as a boy enjoying freedom of movement and access. I can only imagine that inevitable sad day when all that changes and she must dress up as a woman.
I think it is a sad that you associate her sexuality with cross dressing or at least imply it. I don't believe that serves any of us well Lesbian Gay or Trans.I think it is especially damaging to Transfolk as it implies that we choose to be this way and are really just gay.
Hopefully one day all of us LGBT and Straight can live in a way that allows us to be comfortable with who we are without the baggage attached to it.

That's a fascinating article, Kate. I can't believe I missed it. Thanks for pointing it out to me.

I'd like to point out a common error often made when talking about the Afghan people.

The people of Afghanistan are Afghans; as in "the Afghan girl."

The money of Afghanistan is the Afghani; so one would not say the Afghani girl (that would be the same as saying the dollar girl...which, I suppose, could be correct depending on the context but that's a whole different post).

And this is the country where they dress boys up as girls, teach them to dance and make them sex slaves to the wealthy and powerful.

If you want to understand the situation - see Human Terrain Team AF-6's report on Pushtun Sexuality in Afghanistan.

http://docs.google.com/View?id=dc2kxcrt_49crft3wc7

It's not Gay Sex that's forbidden - that's allowed, as long as it's the rape of children. It's Gay Love that is anathema.

I have to agree that being dressed up as a boy, a decision made by parents for financial and societal reasons, does not make a lesbian.

although the Afghans seem to confuse sex (biology) sexual identification (biology), and gender (societal norms)

we dont need to.

the saddest part of this article to me, is that
the young girl, dressed as a boy, feels she is at liberty to slap her sister, and the mother's only remark is how much of a "boy" she is in behavior.

It's not just raping young boys that's accepted (although it certainly is...same with goats).

When I was there, the institution known as "man-love Thursday" was visible. We weren't allowed outside the base after dusk but early on Friday mornings as I drove to my office, located on the Afghan National Army base, you would see pairs of men still asleep together under blankets.

From our understanding, it was known and accepted that men would have sex with other men on Thursday nights. Why Thursdays? I have no idea. I'm sure it happened on other nights but it was certainly more out in the open on Thursdays.