Chasing the Rainbow: Social Media and Cultural Boundaries

The recent US Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage had wide-ranging repercussions, and not only within the USA. Social media allows for discussion of major news on a worldwide scale in any case, and Facebook quickly responded to widespread support for the Supreme Court decision by creating a facility that superimposed rainbow colours over users’ profile pictures, allowing them to visually show their support for gay rights. For most users, this was probably just a bit of fun that passed without much thought or comment. Some may even have felt it necessary to do so. However, for users in some parts of the world, posting a rainbow profile picture could be interpreted as a divisive political statement, if not a deep cultural affront.

This article documents the experiences of two young Pakistani men who made the decision to go ahead and change their profile picture to show their support for the spirit of the Supreme Court decision. Both found that this opened them to criticism from a variety of people, many of whom had not previously been in contact for months, or even years.

Mustafa’s story reflects his laid-back approach to the issue; as the older of the two, he is seemingly more used to courting controversy and relaxed about having these sorts of discussions with those who would question his commitment to his religion and/or culture. While confident enough to brush off some of the more strident criticism, he did eventually decide to remove the picture, but expresses optimism for the future.

Mohsin seems to have been more disappointed by the experience, expecting more people to support his stance and being left struggling to square peoples’ stances with their level of education and social standing. It would be unfair to call this attitude naïve, but it does reflect that, as a younger man, he is still trying to work out where his society stands, where it is going, and how he should fit into it.

What would be interesting would be to compare their personal responses to their experiences to those of the people they argued with. It is likely that they were equally surprised and disappointed by what they saw, but for quite different reasons.

Mustafa’s Story

It is amazing how receptive people on a social network can be when they want to. Admittedly, I underestimated their determination to reach out to me, especially when provoked by something they deemed as inappropriate and at worst, obscene. But, the day I uploaded my profile photo in support of pro-gay rights after the U.S Supreme Court’s decision to legalize LGBT marriage in all 50 states, was the day everything turned topsy-turvy in that little haven I had called my Facebook profile.

Honestly, I am still surprised at the power of that one rainbow-colored image; it caused a flurry of messages from people I hadn’t talked to in a long while, people whose views had previously been unknown to me. A handful, the ones who were, as they put it ‘on the right side of the issue’, congratulated me for promoting such a noteworthy cause. Most of the responses, however, were either extremely negative or mildly condescending and they quite astutely captured the frenzy of emotions my rainbow picture had caused in these rather conservative people’s minds.

Out of the ‘haters’, as they are called in colloquial terms, several sent me long Quranic ayats (verses) from select passages in the Quran, asking me to read and fear the wrath of God. There were those among the haters who were a bit gentler, requesting me instead to ask God for forgiveness and informing me that they were praying for God to be merciful in my case. And then there were some who were upfront with their anger towards me, telling me that I should be ashamed for being such a hypocrite and turning on the Muslim community.

Throughout the week, I was an unwilling host to several of these hostile responses. While some may have found the experience mortifying, I found it rather educational as it helped me see the perspective of those who were against LGBT rights, and at times even provided me with the chance to enter into a broad discussion with them on the matter. Unfortunately, these discussions – although entertaining – did not manage to turn any heads towards acceptance of the LGBT community. In some cases, it fueled the rage of some of the more conservative participants of the discussion, who took it out by asking me to remember all the times God destroyed civilizations in when outraged by their non-conformity with his laws. In these instances, the story of Lot was frequently referred to, and the participants who pressed these stories on me ordered me to take the word of God as the sole truth alone.

All in all, it was a very interesting experience for me. Eventually I decided to change my profile picture as I was warned by people to exercise caution when expressing political views in a volatile country such as Pakistan. At first I felt like being reckless, but the overwhelmingly negative response I received was compelling enough to subdue my activist tendencies for the time being. If there is one thing I desire after going through this experience, it’s that in the near future people in Pakistan learn to tolerate every caste and creed and that activists for human rights raise their voice high enough for people to both listen and re-visit their misguided stereotypes and prejudices about people in general.

Mohsin’s Story

The recent ruling by the US Supreme court legalising same-sex marriage had a far wider impact than anyone could have predicted, especially with Facebook letting people apply a rainbow tint to their picture in support of the movement. The simple act of putting such a picture led to such varying responses that even I was perplexed. What truly surprised me were the people from whom some of these responses came to, as they all represented seemingly well educated people.

Before I delve into the responses, a little background is in order; I hail from the metropolis of Karachi in Pakistan and I would have expected the circles I move in to fully support any movement of equality. When I first posted the picture, I expected appreciation from people, but what I did not expect was rather blunt questions about why I had decided to become a homosexual! My only response was to ask, ‘How does, one decide to become gay? You’re either born that way or you’re not’. Moving from there, many friends sent messages highlighting various religious verses; some of whom were people I had not talked to in years. The funny thing about all the people who send religious verses is that none of them would be accepted as a particularly devout. Furthermore, hand picking certain verses because they are convenient is not very intelligent. Some responded with sarcasm which left one confused as to whether to feel insulted, or whether it was just meant as a slight jab over the support I was showing for the LGBT community.

At the end of the day, the general feeling was one of disappointment and a sense of betrayal, somehow as if they felt that act of putting up a rainbow picture was the cause of many of the problems plaguing the Pakistani nation and us as a people. But the most surprising argument was with a friend who I thought I knew well, having debated together with him over the years. His argument was that the rise of homosexuality is a direct result of the secular and western influences in society and by nature it should not have been the case. The argument in the end was circular as he was not willing to listen and be logical about it. But in the end I do wonder what it is about certain topics such as homosexuality that polarises people so much in my home country, and why some of the most vehement opposition comes from the seemingly well-educated class – whom one would expect to be a bit more understanding, if not accepting. Ultimately that is the small tale of a rainbow tinted picture.

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All writers' views in articles are their own and do not necessarily represent the opinion of the AsfarEurope team.

Published by AsfarEurope in London, UK - ISSN 2055-7957 (Online)