Discrimination, repulsion, inequality are some of the ‘cultural norms’ that Eraj Aftab and other transgender people face on a daily basis.
A member of the Gender Interactive Alliance, Aftab makes her living by working as a junior clerk at the commissioner’s office. She was appointed by Karachi Commissioner Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui as part of a campaign to provide equal rights to transgenders and to enable them to earn an honest and respectable living. “If women are now being given the same social standing as men, then why should transgenders be discriminated against?” she asked.
Aftab is currently enrolled in the Bachelor’s programme in Psychology at the University of Karachi, and already has a diploma in hotel management to her name. However, despite all that she has achieved, the 23-year-old still has to fight discrimination with every step that she takes towards her goals.
She sits inside a cool air-conditioned room, a noisy printer and a number of files littered across her desk. It has been almost five months since she was appointed as the junior clerk in the price control data and complaint centre office in April.
She lives on her own in an apartment in Clifton; shunned by her own family. “We are not welcomed by our families as we are a source of embarrassment for them,” said Aftab. “My own mother treats me as if I am taboo, I can’t even meet her when I want.”
Aftab has two sisters and a brother but despite her large family, she still feels isolated. However, she bears no grudge towards her siblings or her mother for keeping their distance. “My mother always supported me in terms of my education but society forces her to keep away from me as much as possible,” she said. “It is not her fault.”
Aftab was very young when she realised that she was not like the other kids. “Even at the age of three, I used to dress up and wear my mother’s bangles and sandals,” she said, absent-mindedly fiddling with the red stone ring on her finger as she reminisced of better times. “I used to love applying henna on Eid and dressing up like my sisters. My parents used to try and make me behave like other boys of my age but I did not want to.”
The money she earns allows her to live a respectable life by herself but she yearns to gain the respect of others. “I earn Rs10,000 in a month but I would gladly trade that to be respected the same way that others are,” she said.
Aftab understands the transgenders that opt to leave the country, saying that they are treated as equals in developed countries. “In European countries, transgenders are working as doctors and engineers. In Pakistan, we are seen as nothing more than a mere piece of meat.”
Most of the transgenders are overwhelmed by being treated as outcasts and resultantly spend their life in isolated bubbles but Aftab has opted to break the trend and fight for the rights of transgenders. “People like to read about us in the news but they would never let their children be friends with us,” she said, revealing that her former best friend was instructed by her parents to stop talking to her.
Aftab realises that not all transgenders are capable of working as clerks or at other white-collar jobs, but still believes that they can perform roles that will allow them to earn a respectable living and also be productive members of society. “Every transgender cannot be an officer or a clerk, but they can still be tailors, makeup artists, carpenters or cooks,” she said.
Formerly a teacher for mentally challenged students at the Dewa academy, Aftab is happy with her new job but feels that it will take a lot of time to change the general perception of society regarding her community; she seems up for the challenge.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 24th, 2014.