The tale of transgender people: When hate starts ruining lives
"I have memories of my mother hiding me in her arms when my father would beat me for wearing my sister’s make-up."
Recently, some of my friends and I made a short documentary on transgenders to participate in a documentary competition held at my university.
To collect the required information, we visited their homes and were shocked at what we discovered.
Passing through the narrow alleys, I was disturbed to see open drains and human waste all around. After having spoken to Sahiba, Sapna, and a few other transgenders, I was able to form a clearer picture about this particular gender and the appalling exploitation of their rights.
Sahiba, the president of the transgender society in Bahawalpur, started the conversation;
“God created us, as He created all. We are born of a father and a mother just like everyone else, yet we are different. Our families may be ashamed of us but we know He loves us and that is why we don’t feel disgusted with ourselves. They don’t call us normal but we feel more normal than normal people because we don’t let anything bring us down. What doesn’t kill us just makes us stronger.”
We learned that in some cases, if the parents of a particular transgender person don’t leave them, they still feel like social outcasts and join the transgender community by their own will. They feel free amongst their own kind. This way, they are able to stand as a family and survive.
Sahiba further said,
“I have faded memories of my mother hiding me in her arms when my father would beat me for wearing my sister’s make-up and dressing up like her. I don’t have that warm, safe haven to hide me from this cruel world anymore. Sometimes I wish I could lie down in her loving embrace and just die.”
We see many organisations working for the underprivileged. Unfortunately, we don’t see the word ‘underprivileged’ being associated with the lives of transgenders. There are only a few organisations - made by the transgender community themselves - that are striving for their rights.
Why this discrepancy?
Is it because they don’t belong to either of the two genders, or that they fail to conform to the stereotypical norms of our society?
When questioned about dancing, Sahiba said;
“We dance for the happiness of people. We never dance at funerals. We are not involved in terrorism, neither do we kill people. We just dance and that’s not a crime.”
She went on further saying,
“There are some transgenders who have long beards, they wear male clothes and are respected by society, but when they meet us they say ‘Aur, saheli, tera kiya haal hai?’ (How are you, girl-friend?) They talk to us like they belong here.”
Sexual orientation does not necessarily align with a person’s appearance. When asked about it, one of them said,
“We feel like females inside. We are attracted to men. In our community, it is considered immoral to touch another transgender. Some men spend time with us, claim to love us, but to save face, they never introduce us to their family. One day, as expected, these men leave us on the same patent note we have heard all our lives – that we are haraam.”
Transgenders are helpless and the only source of earning a livelihood is prostitution or begging.
The truth is that we don’t leave them with a choice. If we were to give them a form of social acceptance and the entitlement to a good education and work, they could turn out to be productive members of our society, instead of being a dead weight on our economy which is already hanging by a thread.
“Some of us want to start a business, open a salon or a boutique, or work in show business. We are perfect for these jobs because we’re very hardworking.” said Sapna, “I, for one, want to study. But the fact is that most of us take our dreams to our graves with us.”
Sapna further talked about her job as a dancer. She said that dancing is no easy feat.
“A normal person loses breath after dancing for an hour; we dance barefoot on wet floors for hours.”
Transgenders in Pakistan are still deprived of basic human rights. If a girl gets raped, people unleash hell upon the culprit, but who cares when a transgender loses his dignity?
“When someone from our community dies, maulvi sahibaan refuse to offer our namaaz-e-janaza because they think its haraam!” says Sahiba.
The identity of approximately 80,000 transgenders was denied for 64 years in Pakistan. Recognition of their identity is just a small step towards the rehabilitation of this social group.
When we talked to Sahiba about the issuance of identity cards for transgenders, she said,
“The Chief Justice allotted us the right to self -identification. Before that, we were non-existent for this so called humanistic society. Most of us still don’t have IDs. It’s like red tape for us.”
The Chief Justice of Pakistan gave them the right of employment, but will this really help when they are not educated in the first place?
They face workplace discrimination. People don’t offer them jobs at home because they are considered hateful and somehwat dirty to touch. They are confused about which attire to wear in order to observe the dress code of certain workplaces. Eventually their need for the basic necessities of life forces them into begging and prostitution.
Another transgender person stated that people gave them coins in alms, but since there is more money in prostitution, they have no other better option than to resort to it.
One of the transgenders sitting next to Sahiba asked me a question that left me speechless.
“When a druggie, a thief, or a rapist is accepted as part of his family and the society, why can’t people accept us? You accept your brother if he climbs out of a filthy drain, but you never accept us. Are we that bad? We may have the wrong body but our soul comes as pure as any other of God’s beloved creations. You can’t give us love, but what about some respect?”
I am not a writer but I found it my social responsibility to highlight their issues.
I think the government should take the required steps to give these citizens of Pakistan, regardless of their sexual orientation, equal rights. Make separate schools and colleges for transgender people where they can get proper education and learn skills, other than dancing, that can be used as a source of income and dignity for them.
With that, there should be a chapter on transgenders in the syllabus of elementary schools that teaches the children of tomorrow the value of tolerance, gives them a sense of acceptability and respect for the third gender.
Only if we start right away will they have their rights afforded to them in the future. We need to work fast, all of us so that we can make sure that the blood of these people does not stain our hands forever.
PHOTOS: AMNA NASIR