Transgender: Of sense and sexuality

Two weeks ago I met two inspiring people, who were afraid to speak; marginalised, silenced, ignored.

Mariam Ishaq June 09, 2011
I talk about AIDS, sex and sexuality. Don’t look at me that way. I, too, belong to a religious conservative family.

No, I am not a non-believer.

No, I do not have AIDS.

Yes, I am a woman.

Yes, I have morals.

This issue has been taboo, cursed and frowned upon. It has been buried so deep, that it is almost impossible to even think about talking of.

But I do. I conduct and facilitate workshops on  HIV/AIDS awareness.


This is the story of two people I met a couple of weeks ago. They both liked boys.

They were both shy, and could not speak at all the first day of our acquaintance.

They were very self-conscious, and worried about the people who were eyeing them.

They had a voice, but I could hardly hear them at all. I felt like reaching out to them, simply to see if they could hear me?

They were only happy at home.

Outside, nobody cared, yet everybody cared.

Here, nobody saw their name, yet everybody saw their gender (or what wasn't their gender).

No one wanted to be friends with them, nobody sat with them.

At dinner my colleague and I dragged our chairs to their table and tried to make them feel wanted. Others joined in. The meal was lovely. They had finally made some friends.

The workshop progressed at an accelerated speed the next day.

Questions were asked, issues were discussed, groups were formed, activities were conducted – still no word from them. It was only later in the evening that I found out they did not understand the terms I had been using for reproductive health systems and the diseases in the bilingual language I had been speaking eloquently, assuming that everyone would understand.

One thing that I noticed though, was that they kept talking among themselves. One of them apparently had studied in an English medium school before going to the Transgender Academy in Okara. He knew his friend couldn’t understand me, so he was trying to explain to his friend what “Madam” meant every time she would use a foreign phrase.

I made the members stand in a line. All 25 of them. Belonging to different occupations, social status and each having a different opinion. Then, I started asking questions. The ones who would agree with me would move towards the right, the ones who would disagree with me would step towards the left side of the line.
“I would be okay with discussing my sexual problems with a friend.”

Five people moved towards the left, the rest to the right.
“I will be okay with having a friend who is gay.”

Twenty people moved towards the left, five remained where they were, the neutral zone.
“I will be alright with inviting a transgender to my house for dinner.”

Fifteen people moved towards the left, five remained where they were, and five moved towards the right.

The two transgenders had been marginalised, and now knew who would accept them, and who wouldn’t.

When we spoke about homosexuality. They went pale. On being asked whether they would accept their sibling if he/she turned out to be homosexual, they began arguing and wouldn’t say why.

Figuring it was something extremely personal, I let them be. It wasn’t my place to make them feel uncomfortable. I was their mentor, their peer educator. But I was curious because to me, they were humans first and then a part of society - a neglected part of society - they were transgenders.

I can still remember the awkward situation I was placed in when they showed me recorded videos of them dancing, all dressed up in purple shalwar kameez. They expected appreciation. Little did they know, I had been contemplating how to bring about a radical change in the rights of transgenders in our society.

“Madam, you are very nice. We would like to dedicate a dance to you”, one of them said, bringing me back to reality. The reality where they hadn’t seen the world, and probably never will.

My story ends with a happy ending. After two days of silence , thinking they were different, they both gave seven minute speeches on the issue of HIV/AIDS simply because I had told them that I did not want them to disappoint me. I wanted them to understand their potential, worth and place not only in the workshop, but in society over all. They were trying to change, to be confident, and comfortable with who they were, only at the expense of us trying to change our mindsets with them.

I am disappointed today, though. Not by them but by our own society.

had hoped that we would find a niche for transgenders and make them feel wanted – I had forgotten that we live in a society where Christians are not being accepted; where the Bible is to be banned; where journalists cannot practice independent media or write a book; where Christian maids are to eat or drink from different utensils than your own; how was I so sure we would be ready to accept transgenders in our corporate culture so soon?

Can we view them as anything but creatures who dance and sing for our joy?
Mariam Ishaq A graduate student at LUMS, who is also a social worker interested in gender and a Y-PEER Trainer on HIV/AIDS (UNFPA).
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Khurram Mobin | 12 years ago | Reply It is better to seek out and detect the disease as early as possible. No one can be a hero these days to save the whole world but it is not possible without collective efforts in our society if do something about it. The starting point of the confusion is that we just don't know what to do? Yet so many problems to be solved. I might agree with this that such people are not being treated well as same ways that we treat other normal beings around us. All we need to find out where is the base root lies that problems like these arise. We can only babble about these issues. Life isn't seems like movies though all does not have happy endings but it is short.
Usama Khilji | 12 years ago | Reply Kudos to the writer for touching upon taboos that need to be broken, and starting a discussion! It is unfortunate that for many, this space is nothing but a place where they judge the writing style of a person trying to convey a message to society. It is important for us, like you said, to treat everyone we come across as humans, and not shun them based on their personal choices or natural traits that have no direct implications for us.
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