Your car stops at a red light, you look out of the window and a friendly face greets you with a prayer. You give her some change, and she smiles wide, donning a bright lipstick, as you drive away.
But have you ever taken a moment to imagine what lies beneath the layers of foundation, kohl and blush-on?
Our knowledge of transgenders is limited — especially in Pakistan — to what we see on the streets. However, Karachi-based photographer Henna Qaisar took it upon herself to dig deeper and through the stories she tells, it is obvious that there is more sorrow than joy behind that bright smile.
Bullying, taunts and abuse are unfortunately a way of life for them; who want nothing more than to receive an education, and work for a living.
Their livelihood depends on the act they put on while on the streets says Henna Qaisar, who decided to visit a group of transgenders in their home to learn more about their lives.
“What I loved the most about them is their sense of humour. They pick on each other a lot. They’re all pretty regular, not the way you see them on the roads. It’s all an act,” Henna told The Express Tribune.
“I was taking pictures of this one woman while she posed for me. When this couple walked past her, she went into character and started clapping,” she added.
During their meeting, Henna was welcomed into their home, as they discussed the struggles of living as a transgender.
“This is Allah’s decision. We can’t change. We were born this way,” said one.
“When we get beaten up, we go into depression. When we go to learn how to work, they say ‘larki, larki, larki,'” she added while mimicking the claps of strangers.
“If people didn’t make fun of us and create obstacles, we’d be able to stand tall. We would’ve learnt skills for work; we would have been educated,” she continued.
When asked if they would quit begging if the government helped and provided them with jobs, one responded, “We’d quit begging. We’re living in a rented house. Our landlord doesn’t wait a day for the rent. We have to eat and clothe ourselves. Our parents are old, we have to take care of them as well.”
“I loved sewing, I wanted to learn how to sew, wanted to take a bag and go to school, but people don’t let you live. They said ‘larki, larki, larki, larki. We feel ashamed. We wonder what we are, and why they’re saying these things to us. We wouldn’t go out due to the shame, we would just hide indoors,” she said.
“Living together as a family, these transgenders look out for one another’s needs and help each other in whichever way possible,” Henna tells us.
They even helped pay for one transgender’s law school tuition.
“A perfect example of their familial bond is when they all contributed some money to pay for the tuition and text books of a member of the group, who is currently studying in law school,” revealed Henna.
“She was beaten up by her brothers and father on a regular basis, while her mother and sisters tried their best to protect her. When her sisters finally got married and moved out, her brothers kicked her out.”
Her determination however, is commendable.
“She then went to school, but was taunted so much that she quit, and pursued her studies privately. Now she’s studying law, and her newfound family is helping her,” said Henna.
Here are some more photos, providing insight into their lives: