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Asian Experiences / Sex Work

Pakistan’s Patriarchal Violence Led Me to Sex Work

"My childhood friend Noor was killed by her ex-partner. And you think I’m going to give a fuck about what people say about me?"

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Written by Zahra Haider.
Art by Nasrah Omar.

TW: murder, bl*od, sexual violence, domestic violence, CSA, substance abuse

I’m a queer, Pakistani, Muslim, non-binary femme. Two of these identity markers do not coincide with the other two. I can’t be queer and Muslim. I can’t be Pakistani and non-binary. And I definitely can’t be a sex worker.

In July of last year, my childhood friend was murdered by her cishet male ex-partner (also a childhood friend of mine) in my hometown of Islamabad, in Pakistan. But she wasn’t just murdered, she was beheaded.

He literally intended to kill and slaughter her in the most barbaric way possible. He then tried to escape, but thankfully he was caught with blood literally on his hands. He’s now in prison, and for months after I engaged in as much organizing as I could, even though I was in Canada.

In July of last year, my childhood friend was murdered by her cishet male ex-partner (also a childhood friend of mine) in my hometown of Islamabad, in Pakistan. But she wasn’t just murdered, she was beheaded.

It took its toll. My health declined rapidly. I also began drinking daily and doing cocaine more than I ever had before (I rarely did hard drugs before last summer.) I needed whatever I could find to cope and keep me alive. Then, my body broke down in the form of chronic bleeding. And I kept going, until defamation notices and death threats came pouring in because of my activism. My femme wound has been very deep, as has my female rage—but this was a rage unbeknownst to me. I had never felt that before.

It was then, I knew, I had to stop. I knew my rage would have consumed me and potentially killed me otherwise. I sobered up. I knew I had to save myself.

Then came the financial burden. I had tried to raise some funds for my healing, but the amount of backlash I received for it (being called a “privileged” beggar) wasn’t worth it. I had done some online sex work earlier that year, in complete secrecy, out of the fear of being found out.

Ill, broken, and desperate—I turned to my parents for help (who have made it pretty clear that I shouldn’t ask). I was unsuccessful in receiving adequate aid from them, not enough to cover my rent. I genuinely believe they do not care if I am houseless—albeit they are privileged. So I turned to OnlyFans, where I knew other Muslim femmes of colour had also turned to during the pandemic.

Except this time, I needed to publicize it. I needed to make rent money as quickly as possible. And because I had done it briefly before, I knew that minus the occasional emotional labor and dysphoria—it was a quick way to make a decent amount of cash. So I posted it on my social media accounts that were associated with my writing, organizing, and general “respectable” activities.

I was accused of being a pornstar who used my “childhood friend’s” murder so I could gain a following to promote my OnlyFans. What the fuck? My rage returns as I type this.

I pushed through the pain, the lack of respect, the disdain. People I grew up with didn’t look at me the same, or they stopped talking to me. Of course my queer friends, and a few select friends/followers from Pakistan understood. They stood with me in solidarity. They yelled at trolls online on my behalf. And it is because of them I managed to pull through that time.

My childhood friend Noor—the kindest, most God-loving and fearing femme I knew—was killed by her ex-partner. And you think I’m going to give a fuck about what people say about me?

A few weeks after being open about my OF, women from back home in Pakistan began circulating my nudes (at least they paid $50 to do so?). I know this because it got back to my dad, and that’s the one thing I didn’t want occurring. I’ve since stopped being active on OF, but for about three months, it paid my rent and bills. So many Pakistani women are embedded within the patriarchy, and I feel for them. But the privileged, elite-class ones get none of my limited empathy.

Laanat tujh par, as we say in Urdu. Curse you, essentially, but I like to think I’m saying “fuck you” instead.

I like to believe all the Pakistani cishet men who subscribed to my OnlyFans were served by me. As far as I know, there is no other Pakistani femme who has openly done this, and maybe that’s the problem. I’m not some chaste, respectable, “good woman”. It’s a body, not a symbol of honor. I can please other Muslim men from a screen. In a society like Pakistan where men are literally treated like scum, I’m doing God’s work—just like all the other sex workers who do the same.


About the Author

Zahra Haider is a writer and community organizer, born and raised between Pakistan and the UAE, and is currently based in Canada. Her work focuses on the intersections of class, gender, queerness, migration and trauma that affect brown femmes within the diaspora and back home. She has written for and appeared on Vice News, BBC World, CNN and others.

Follow on IG: @zarahaider |


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