Pakistan's Provocative Talkshow: Transvestite Breaks Every Taboo

Pakistani talk show host Ali Salim regularly dishes about sex when he goes on the air -- despite the fact that such open talk is banned in his country. The best part: Salim presents his popular TV show wearing make-up and women's clothing.

When he was a child, he prayed to Allah to make him a woman: Pakistani talkshow host Ali Salim.

When he was a child, he prayed to Allah to make him a woman: Pakistani talkshow host Ali Salim.

His eyebrows are covered in a thick layer of mascara, and his red lips are shining with lip gloss. His glamorous sari and glistening jewelry aren't enough to distract from the talk show host's perfectly made-up face. Ali Salim interviews celebrity guests on his " Late Night Show with Nawazish Ali" every week. The 28-year-old is bisexual, and the coquettish widow Begum Nawazish has been his alter ego for a year and a half.

While he breaks every taboo in conservative Pakistan with his provocative show, Salim has never been attacked by Muslim fundamentalists, the New York Times reports -- despite the fact that traditional Islam condemns homosexuality. Gay and lesbian Pakistanis have few possibilities for expressing their sexual orientation.

The TV star isn't bothered by the fact that his show is frequently criticized for its juicy content. He chats with celebrities from Pakistan and India, including top politicians. "Sitting senators have sent requests to be on the show," he told the New York Times. When the guests are male, Begum Nawazish Ali flirts away with them. When they're female, "she" competes with them over who looks better. But no matter whether the topic is politics, democracy or the latest gossip -- her questions are tough and probing. She openly criticizes the role played by the military that rules Pakistan, for example.

A real woman could never allow herself to do what Salim does. Nor would he be able to go on the air as a married woman -- their virtue is decisive for family honor. But things seem to be different in the case of a man dressed up as a widow. Salim's theory as to why he is so popular is that Pakistan is a more open society than people think. In fact Western standards are increasingly being accepted in urban Pakistan -- even though nude people would never be shown on television. Although he has not yet appeared on Salim's show, President Pervez Musharraf is more tolerant when it comes to the media than his predecessors.

Salim says he's proud to have brought critical topics to the public's attention. Pakistan has no more national heroes, he says: "We don't let individuals live nor institutions flourish. We are a repressed, sick society and there is negativity everywhere. I stand for everything that is positive and not bad," he told the Pakistani weekly Newsline a year ago. The talkshow allowed him to make an old dream come true. "From childhood, I have been a feminist and believe that women are actually superior to men," he says, adding that "Begum Nawazish Ali is me, something I have dreamed of since childhood. The Begum is an expression of me as a woman. She is a socialite, very sweet yet bitchy." Salim says he loved wearing his mother's clothes as a child. "I used to try and copy her and she was my role model."

Salim's parents are relaxed about their son's unconventional job. "Because I am a son," he told Newsline, "my parents are cool with it and at the end of the day they know that whatever I do, I will get away with it because of my gender."

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