The YouTube algorithm, in all its sadistic wisdom, knows I’m a sucker for a good documentary title, and none has intrigued me more than RT’s short piece called He is My Son: Afghanistan’s Bacha Posh, When Girls Become Boys. Bacha Posh can be translated to ‘dressed up as a boy’, but if you think it’s a pro LGBTQ move on Afghanistan’s part, think again- the plot gets much thicker than that.
The phenomenon of the Bacha Posh is so absurd that it momentarily distracts from the evasion of rights that has brought it about. In an ancient tradition that continues today, a family with no sons may allocate the role of honorary male to one of its daughters. The girl in question wears boy’s clothes, has short hair and takes on a boy’s name to walk the streets unchaperoned and complete tasks like grocery shopping or selling trinkets for her housebound female relatives. The practice is known but relies on deception- a Bacha Posh who is too obviously feminine is more likely to encounter bullying and intolerance. As with many outdated patriarchal practices that cling to life in the modern age, the Bacha Posh culture is driven by shame. Women are shamed for their inability to provide an heir, men are shamed for having only daughters, daughters are shamed for wearing male clothes- a vicious cycle of inequality. And yet beneath it all there is a silver lining: some girls have experienced freedom, and the powerful Bacha Posh women are unwilling to give it up, with one girl even pledging to stay liberated as a boy rather than marry as a girl.
Now, in the midst of pride month when we may be evaluating our own relationship with gender and drag in the West- I can only recommend you watch this weird, enraging, yet inspiring documentary.