What Happens When You Try Lesbian Tindering In A Muslim Country
The Debrief: In a nutshell: Tinder in a Muslim country is about entrapment, vetting and flirting with your eyes
I lay in the darkness, the precarious ceiling-fan groaning and swaying above me. My arm and head hung off the side of the bed in order to hold my phone in the only WiFi-friendly spot in the room — Tinder needs internet and Pakistani telecommunications infrastructure being what it is meant 3G was not an option — and I kept it there for what felt like an eternity, waiting to see if I got a reply.
At last a message popped up on my screen, rewarding my poor arm, now consumed with pins and needles.
I drew the phone in, holding it inches from my face, squinting in the darkness to read her message. ‘I have a feeling you’re going to show me a good time,’ read the hackneyed Tinder response... the kind that makes you cringe when you’re not one of the involved parties, but grin when you are.
I was feeling pleased with myself. Not only had I found another lesbian (who wasn’t frightening looking) on Tinder in Karachi, but I’d just confirmed our first date. I hadn’t had sex since six months prior, when I first moved from New York to Pakistan to be a journalist. I graduated from university with idealistic dreams of being a frontline journalist, sandy, wind-swept hair and all. In my mind, nothing said ‘glamour’ like crinkled khakis and poor access to showers.
So, when the offer of reporting in Pakistan presented itself, I did not hesitate. Being half-Pakistani, I grew up imbibing South Asian culture. A lot of it feels second nature. I even lived in Pakistan from 1990-1994, so didn’t anticipate a culture shock – but in the 20 intervening years, the country’s social and political landscape has shifted dramatically.
Also, I was returning for the first time as an independent adult, rather than the child and adolescent I was in previous trips, and as a lesbian, rather than the deeply closeted girl who just so happened to dress like a boy. All together, this made for a markedly different experience.
Tinder allowed me to hark back to my New York, liberated, autonomous self, a break I was recklessly seeking after feeling stifled by my new life in Karachi. However, as I swiftly discovered, the dating app should come with a warning sign: ‘Gay Tindering in the repressive Islamic world may be hazardous to your health.’ Because, well, these things clearly aren’t obvious on their own…
Here are five ways the whole user experience was dramatically different from all those times I swiped right in New York (where I live) and London (where I’m (mostly) from).
1. Watch out for entrapment
Unlike the UK and US, homosexuality in Pakistan is still technically illegal, which means identifying as one in any noticeable capacity is risky. Thankfully, this is slightly less risky as a woman.
Aside from the fact that most of the men there probably don’t really understand lesbianism, the excuses are also easier to dole out. ‘Oh, no, I was only touching her boob ’cos she’s my sister and I wanted to feel the fabric of her shirt to see if I should get one myself; you know how close women get: no personal boundaries in the complete absence of sexual threat.’
Or ‘I’m only holding her hand and kissing her ’cos she’s my sister; you know how close women get: no personal boundaries in the complete absence of sexual threat.’ You get the idea.
Nonetheless, the risk associated with exposure when you’re gay certainly makes shrouding it convincingly a constant source of concern. You never know what homophobic, sexually self-loathing and repressed person is looking for ways to entrap you so they can teach you a lesson, report you or use the information as blackmail.
While physical retribution from gay-hating Tinder users is less likely, this is still the kind of information one does not want to advertise over there. It’s dangerous, making the stakes of swiping even higher. What easily becomes a rote and unexciting process in NY and London, turns into a game of matchmaking minesweeper in Karachi.
2. An instant vetting process
Tinder in Pakistan ironically provides an implicit elite ‘vetting’ process like no other place does. You know other users are automatically members of society’s upper echelons as one has to be rich enough to own a smartphone. One also needs to be international enough to know about Tinder.
Subsequently, you get a lot of expats, diplomats, aid workers and types like that. So, you’re also getting a whole bunch of people who are seemingly altruistic.
To put it crudely, you’re more likely to find rich people with a hero complex on Pakistani Tinder. Or just rich people.
3. Tinder small talk isn’t as small
The initial conversation on the app and the first meeting gets really heavy, really fast. My ‘match’ alluded to some personal problems which may or may not involve extremists and then on the first date revealed her father was a recently returned hostage (as in a few days before), after being kidnapped by the Taliban for a ransom.
He was a rich industrialist and his competitior hat-tipped the Taliban as to her father’s movements and place of residence, presenting him as someone worth a lot of money. Naturally, that’s the easiest way to beat your competitior. I do it in Manhattan all the time.
My Tinder conversations elsewhere have included inquiries as to whether or not I’ve attended certain lesbian bars and if I like chocolate. First dates with my matches in the US and UK are often saturated with inane conversation about soft cheese and hipsters, both parties too cautious to bring up anything contentious or political.
But I guess the same can be said for Karachi. Nothing says ‘light conversation’ like the Taliban does.
4. It’s all in the eyes
When meeting your match for the first time, you’ve got to master some hands off flirting. When you’re really going for it in NY or London, there’s often the sitting close to each other and leaning in, the accidental brush of the thigh (was it intentional or was it not?!) or a stroke of the hand.
Not so much in Pakistan. No leaning in, no brushing of thighs, no hand holding/stroking. Basically, the only encouraging body language you can use is in the eyes. (Which can get a little intense or threatening if done incorrectly...)
Eye flirting is where it’s at, people. Get that down and you can score on any Tinder date.
5. High conversion rate
After my return, I told this story to a friend of mine at Harvard Business School who is, unsurprisingly, obsessed with numbers. He was absolutely astonished at what he called my ‘Tinder conversion rate’.
Bear in mind, there were only three options on Tinder, with the maximum radius setting, casting the net as far as possible. But, according to him, I had a 100% conversion rate of ‘matches to sex’ (yes, the date and I ‘did it’, to put it poetically, in case you were wondering how it ended.) And I had a 33% conversion rate of ‘available profiles to sex’, which, according to him, has to be one of the highest in the world.
Clearly we’re working with a large sample size here and we conducted an extensive study.
So, as you can see, with the perils of lesbian Tindering in Muslim countries come the benefits, too. I mean, I broke world records.
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