Re-thinking stereotypes: Capturing the third gender through a lens

Participants of photography workshop at Punjab Lok Rahs capture khwaja siras living in the Walled City.

Hashim Bin Rashid August 15, 2012


Capturing transgenders with a camera was a challenge for me as much as the participants, Danial Shah, a freelance photographer and travel writer, told The Express Tribune.

A photography workshop dedicated to photographing transgenders concluded at the Punjab Lok Rahs on Wednesday.

There were around 20 participants. Danial Shah, conducted the workshop that started on August 12.

“We are told that transgenders, or Khwaja Siras, are not from amongst us and that they are not good people. The workshop allowed me to change my own mindset,” he said.

“I first interacted with Lok Rahs when I attended the first photography workshop in Multan in 2010,” he said. “It was there that I began to think that taking a photograph was not enough. The photographs have to have a meaning.”

“I started exploring how to challenge Pakthun stereotypes of Punjabis, Sindhi stereotypes of Mohajirs and so on,” he said.

“I hope the people who attended this workshop have found a way to change mindsets,” Shah said, “It is not just about depicting transgendered people. If they have learnt to depict the truth as they see, we have been successful.”

Sobia Zaidi, an actor and director with Lok Rahs, said, “We began photography workshops in 2010 to complement our theatre work.”

Theatre requires a lot of time and commitment. There are always lots of young people around taking pictures. It would be nice if they could produce meaningful photographs,” she said.

“Our first workshop was titled Celebrating Multiculturalism in Pakistan,” she said.

“We began working with transgender activist Dr Sarah Gill last year. This year, we decided to link learning about transgenders and photography.”

Gill, running an NGO by the name of Gender Interactive Alliance, also led a discussion with the participants on Monday before they visited khwaja siras living inside Taxali Gate on Tuesday.

Maryam Azhar, a student at FC college, said she had joined the workshop to interact with other photographers.

“It was interesting to see how people explore the same subject from various perspectives,” she said.

Atif Saeed, a student at Superior University, said he had returned from Kuwait eight years ago. He said he “never saw a third gender there.”

“In Pakistan, people told me one must guard against their curse. They also said they are not in the society’s mainstream and that their role is limited to song and dance,” he said. He said the workshop had allowed him to interact with them.

“I met their guru and he told me that a transgendered person was someone with ‘the soul of a woman trapped in a man’s body’,” he said.

Sobia Zaidi said: “I had believed they have no choice in what they do. Actually, many of them are proud to be who they are.”

She said many of them had chosen to dance. “It is a choice that must be respected,” she said.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2012. 

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