On the fringes: Hail to the new queen

Transgender persons hold ceremony to crown their new leader.

Celebrating the night in style. PHOTO: MYRA IQBAL/EXPRESS


It was a big night for the transgender community; Soniya was going to be crowned guru.

A flickering bulb hanging from a wire was the only source of light at the venue. The generator was out of order and the DJ was running late for the show. Soniya, whose real name is Safdar, skimmed through the call log on her mobile with a flustered expression. “DJ Nadeem where are you? You know what this night means to me. The arrangements are not what I expected.”

The transgender community is divided in groups headed by a guru. Soniya’s guru expired some time ago. The celebration to crown the next guru is referred to as salgirah or shadi. She tried to sit patiently in the corner of the murky courtyard of Shemale Association for Fundamental Rights (SAFAR), a vocational centre for the transgender community nestled in Bari Imam.

The sense of conservatism is palpable while walking through congested, rocky pathways leading to the gate with a dummy lock. It led to Soniya’s residence, a transgender person.

One of the three bedrooms was transformed into a salon for the night. A makeup artist had come to assist Fauzia in dressing up Soniya, who is in his mid-50s. “Isn’t she beautiful?” asked Fauzia.

Draped in saris and lehngas, they walked to the venue. Safdar with a cigarette in hand was filtering unwanted guests in the courtyard. “We don’t come to your events, you are not allowed to come to ours,” he said screaming at a group of men.

The music encouraged the transgender persons to step up and show off their dancing skills. With all the glitches and gatecrashers trying to ruin the party, they knew that the show must go on.

Although they managed to fix the lights and celebrate the night, the struggle for their rights remains a concern.

Life as a third gender

Young boys combating an identity crisis, confronted by social taboos from an early age, are often abandoned by their families. Losing their way through narrow streets, destiny escorts them to seek refuge with a guru, where they are accepted as one of their own.

“All we want is recognition as a third gender,” shared Transgender Foundation Pakistan President Almas Bobby.

Doctors are not allowed to perform a sex change operation by law. Trainee doctors conduct operations on men at undisclosed locations for Rs60,000 to 70,000. There is no post-operative care. Some of them believe those who undergo surgery will go to hell. “It’s the work of the devil, who puts such ideas in their heads,” said Bijlee, a transgender. Some also ostracise transsexual men. Within their own community, sex change operations are controversial.

They live dual lives. Most of them are crossdressers and beg in the cities for a living. They revert to being men when they go back to their families. Transgender fauzia, ne shahid has a wife and two daughters in high school in a village in Punjab.

According to advocate Muhammad Majid Bashir, in 2011 the Supreme Court ordered a third sex category for the transgender community on national identity cards. “They were also allowed a share in their inheritance, a two per cent quota for jobs in all sectors along with the right to vote,” he said.

National Council for Social Welfare (NCSW) has been working on a draft for the “Protection and Welfare of Khwaja Sira Bill” since the past year. Stakeholders have been invited to give feedback. The first copy of the draft includes access to education, employment, health and human rights.

NCSW Director Farhat Sultana said the community needs laws in place to address their issues. “The draft has been bouncing from one ministry to the other.”

She shared a quote of a law ministry official, who said amendments in 28 laws were needed to fulfil the transgender community’s demands. “The government is negotiating with stakeholders to devise ways to disseminate information regarding psychological problems faced by sexual minorities and develop public awareness programmes.”

NCSW has submitted a request to the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority to disseminate messages in favour of accepting them as a part of the society She added that. “We are waiting for a response from them.”

Published in The Express Tribune, June 15th, 2014.


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