The tale of transgender people: When hate starts ruining lives

Published: February 25, 2013

"They don’t call us normal but we feel more normal than normal..What doesn’t kill us just makes us stronger.” PHOTO: FILE

Recently, some of my friends and I made a short documentary on transgenders to participate in a documentary competition held at my university.

To collect the required information, we visited their homes and were shocked at what we discovered.

Passing through the narrow alleys, I was disturbed to see open drains and human waste all around. After having spoken to Sahiba, Sapna, and a few other transgenders, I was able to form a clearer picture about this particular gender and the appalling exploitation of their rights.

Sahiba, the president of the transgender society in Bahawalpur, started the conversation;

“God created us, as He created all. We are born of a father and a mother just like everyone else, yet we are different. Our families may be ashamed of us but we know He loves us and that is why we don’t feel disgusted with ourselves. They don’t call us normal but we feel more normal than normal people because we don’t let anything bring us down. What doesn’t kill us just makes us stronger.”

We learned that in some cases, if the parents of a particular transgender person don’t leave them, they still feel like social outcasts and join the transgender community by their own will. They feel free amongst their own kind. This way, they are able to stand as a family and survive.

Sahiba further said,

“I have faded memories of my mother hiding me in her arms when my father would beat me for wearing my sister’s make-up and dressing up like her. I don’t have that warm, safe haven to hide me from this cruel world anymore. Sometimes I wish I could lie down in her loving embrace and just die.”

We see many organisations working for the underprivileged. Unfortunately, we don’t see the word ‘underprivileged’ being associated with the lives of transgenders. There are only a few organisations – made by the transgender community themselves – that are striving for their rights.

Why this discrepancy?

Is it because they don’t belong to either of the two genders, or that they fail to conform to the stereotypical norms of our society?

When questioned about dancing, Sahiba said;

“We dance for the happiness of people. We never dance at funerals. We are not involved in terrorism, neither do we kill people. We just dance and that’s not a crime.”

She went on further saying,

“There are some transgenders who have long beards, they wear male clothes and are respected by society, but when they meet us they say ‘Aur, saheli, tera kiya haal hai?’ (How are you, girl-friend?) They talk to us like they belong here.”

Sexual orientation does not necessarily align with a person’s appearance. When asked about it, one of them said,

“We feel like females inside. We are attracted to men. In our community, it is considered immoral to touch another transgender. Some men spend time with us, claim to love us, but to save face, they never introduce us to their family. One day, as expected, these men leave us on the same patent note we have heard all our lives – that we are haraam.”

Transgenders are helpless and the only source of earning a livelihood is prostitution or begging.

The truth is that we don’t leave them with a choice. If we were to give them a form of social acceptance and the entitlement to a good education and work, they could turn out to be productive members of our society, instead of being a dead weight on our economy which is already hanging by a thread.

“Some of us want to start a business, open a salon or a boutique, or work in show business. We are perfect for these jobs because we’re very hardworking.” said Sapna, “I, for one, want to study. But the fact is that most of us take our dreams to our graves with us.”

Sapna further talked about her job as a dancer. She said that dancing is no easy feat.

“A normal person loses breath after dancing for an hour; we dance barefoot on wet floors for hours.”

Transgenders in Pakistan are still deprived of basic human rights. If a girl gets raped, people unleash hell upon the culprit, but who cares when a transgender loses his dignity?

“When someone from our community dies, maulvi sahibaan refuse to offer our namaaz-e-janaza because they think its haraam!” says Sahiba.

The identity of approximately 80,000 transgenders was denied for 64 years in Pakistan. Recognition of their identity is just a small step towards the rehabilitation of this social group.

When we talked to Sahiba about the issuance of identity cards for transgenders, she said,

“The Chief Justice allotted us the right to self -identification. Before that, we were non-existent for this so called humanistic society. Most of us still don’t have IDs. It’s like red tape for us.”

The Chief Justice of Pakistan gave them the right of employment, but will this really help when they are not educated in the first place?

They face workplace discrimination. People don’t offer them jobs at home because they are considered hateful and somehwat dirty to touch. They are confused about which attire to wear in order to observe the dress code of certain workplaces. Eventually their need for the basic necessities of life forces them into begging and prostitution.

Another transgender person stated that people gave them coins in alms, but since there is more money in prostitution, they have no other better option than to resort to it.

One of the transgenders sitting next to Sahiba asked me a question that left me speechless.

“When a druggie, a thief, or a rapist is accepted as part of his family and the society, why can’t people accept us? You accept your brother if he climbs out of a filthy drain, but you never accept us. Are we that bad? We may have the wrong body but our soul comes as pure as any other of God’s beloved creations. You can’t give us love, but what about some respect?”

I am not a writer but I found it my social responsibility to highlight their issues.

I think the government should take the required steps to give these citizens of Pakistan, regardless of their sexual orientation, equal rights. Make separate schools and colleges for transgender people where they can get proper education and learn skills, other than dancing, that can be used as a source of income and dignity for them.

With that, there should be a chapter on transgenders in the syllabus of elementary schools that teaches the children of tomorrow the value of tolerance, gives them a sense of acceptability and respect for the third gender.

Only if we start right away will they have their rights afforded to them in the future. We need to work fast, all of us so that we can make sure that the blood of these people does not stain our hands forever.

PHOTOS: AMNA NASIR

amna.nasir

Amna Nasir

A student of business administration at The Islamia University of Bahawalpur who likes to write about anything that needs to be brought up to the surface.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Saad

    Separate schools?

    I don’t want separate schools. Not for girls, not for poor, not for transgenders. We’re all equals here. Things like that teach us to hate. Separate ‘bartans’ for the maid, separate ‘takiya’ for chowkidars charpayi (they might have some contagious disease, my mom used to say; and the disease I actually caught was my hate-mentality), and we grow up learning that they are separate from us, not amongst us.

    Your point about adding a chapter to course-books sounds like a good idea, though. Many such chapters need to be added, on many such subjects!Recommend

  • Stranger

    The article is correct but in most cases I have noticed that they themselves behave clownish. Why cant they be normal.Who asked them to wear shiny clothes. so many transgernders from good middle class families are leading ‘normal’ lives. They might not marry but they are in bank jobs ,they pay taxes. Recommend

  • Shoaib Siddiqui

    As a student of Islam, I believe that every aspect of Qur’an and Hadith, if proven authentic, are the inspired way set us by Allah, our creator. Also believing that Islam is a comprehensive way of life and believing that “intersex” not “transgender” -as author calls them- have a place in society. As from the study of the life of Rasool Allah’s (peace and blessings be upon him) we learn that his wife Mariah The Copt RadiAllah Anha’s (Mariah Qibtiah) cousin was an intersex person. Who was initially ashamed to be with Prophet Muhammad SAW because of his genetic makeup and used to visit Mariah RA in private which was a cause of some confusion and misunderstanding with Prophet Muhammad SAW and his companions who thought they saw a man visiting her.
    The question may arise that what is the legal status of intersex individuals in terms of inheritance if Islam is a comprehensive religion. At the time of disagreement between Mawiya RA and Ali RA, a case was brought to Mawiya RA in Syria regarding inheritance of a intersex person, Ali RA gave the verdict that if the genitalia resembles that of a man then the inheritance should be given of a son and if not then that of a daughter. So intersex, not just have legal status in Islam that Pakistan’s Supreme court was so late to acknowledge but also have inheritance in from families.
    Its about time that we be good Muslims and follow the Quran and Sunnah and give them acceptance in our society and same rights to pursue their aspirations.
    Also given their genetic makeup, historically marriage and family is out of the question for such individuals and they have been in positions of authority known for their loyalty towards their kings and some cases fought battles as in most cases they could not be tempted or threatened because of their families as men and women could be.
    I agree with the above article if the author acknowledges that she mistakenly called intersex individuals as transgenders.Recommend

  • Shoaib Siddiqui

    Another term for intersex individuals is Eunuch, which I forgot to mention. Also Muslim Caliph of the Uthmani Caliphate Sultan Abdul Hamid Atthani had a Eunuch at his palace. Also on the trip to Lal Qila in Lahore we were told about the area where the women from the Royal Mughals would stay. Over there in that areas only Khuwaja Sira (Eunuchs) were allowed and would be the security guards and messengers of the royal Mughal women as men were not entrusted with these jobs. Also they were well payed people.

    I believe that there should be separate schools for boys and girls, but as I mentioned in the previous comment regarding the inheritance issue, that based on how close they are to a gender they should go to that schools. Eunuchs with masculine genitalia in boys school and with female genitalia in girls school. Recommend

  • aj

    very nice description. . Introduction of chapter regarding LGBT is an extraordrinary idea!Recommend

  • Amna Nasir

    @Saad: I totally respect your opinion but it will take us some time to accept them, lets split the situation into two halves, now that they don’t have separate schools they are mocked by their classmates and in some cases even teachers, for a school going kid its too much to handle so they eventually run off. The idea of separate schools is to provide them education in a more comfortable environment where they are not surrounded by the fear of being targeted. Education changes alot of things. Recommend

  • Amna Nasir

    @Stranger: The lives they are leading might be normal for you but its pretty abnormal for them. Maybe thats the reason they wear make up and act feminine when the sun goes down. Recommend

  • https://www.twitter.com/jwdlatif Jawad Latif

    Issue well highlighted, great post!Recommend

  • http://hope2go.com.nu Ayesha

    Very well elaborated Amna. It actually is sad that being a Muslim we don’t treat them equally. They do deserve the respect of the society and there should not be any indifference towards them on a big level & also there should be the separate schools for them. Well done , and agreed!Recommend

  • http://hope2go.com.nu Ayesha

    @Shoaib Siddiqui: could you kindly pass me the link or some authentic reference for confirming that “Mariah The Copt RadiAllah Anha’s (Mariah Qibtiah) cousin was an intersex person”. ?Recommend

  • Pure Hearted Girl

    Thank you for this article.

    It is true, what Sahiba said. We are more normal than normal people. Because we had to learn how to survive in this cruel world.

    In my country, they are talking about teaching elementary school children about transgender people, but many people are opposed because of their religious beliefs.

    Send my love to my Pakistani sisters! Recommend

  • Aaliya

    Thank you for highlighting an issue that we all turn a blind eye to. You have done a wonderful job and your sincereity is evident. Bravo!!Recommend

  • Huma

    Amna you did a great job. The issue is really very sensitive. I feel that this is the biggest tragedy of this world to have no gender.I think we shouldn’t open separate schools for them,actually ;we are a poor nation.Our economy cant afford it till next ten years. We have loads of issue more important than this issue. I doesn’t mean that i am neglecting the importance of this issue. I just want to say we should learn the mannerism, courtesy, values, and ethics from schools from parents in right way.We should respect them as a human being, they must be admitted in same school. why the class mates make fun of them. The teacher should describe their rights in class. I think they should be given extra care and attention from teachers in same school.Recommend

  • Johnny Luckett

    As far as the transgender issue goes… I feel it’s really a non-issue! In the beginning, according to fossil remains, the Homo Sapiens (humans) have been productively copulating for a minimum of 150,000 years or so. It is my belief that we must first know who we we’re, in order to realize who we are. Due to a mixture of primate and meat-eating combinations, we (as a species) have evolved into an extremely unique pair-bonding sexual being. Although originating from mostly small tribe situations, our heightened sexual responses needed to suddenly change and assimilate into a larger overwhelming metropolis. This was the beginning of the many sexual (and social) disasters that are present even to this day, including the covering of breasts, genitals, and (in some society’s) the mutation of the female vagina and libia. When you are walking threw a large crowd, have you noticed that if (accidentally) you touch or bump into another, or they (accidentally) touch you, it’s usually followed by a swift, and oftentimes shy apology? As sexual beings we think we need to practice a bodily contact avoidance of which we now have (unfortunately) perfected. It is my belief that the art of touch must be reinstated into our social atmosphere, in order to restore “original“ healthy sexual attitudes. Even the de-scenting and over bathing is merely an attempt to hide our sexual formones. This is a very unhealthy obsession, hiding our sexual identity, rather than embracing it. Who are we sexually? We are very sexually enhanced bare skinned, warm-blooded mammals that are (by far) the sexiest creatures on earth, and all of us are created equal, but yet… different! Recommend

  • Hamza

    A Rationally written blog …..
    I want to help them but just don’t know how can i do so being a student ???Recommend

  • Liberal Voice

    there should be a chapter on transgenders in the syllabus of elementary schools that teaches the children of tomorrow the value of tolerance, gives them a sense of acceptability and respect for the third gender.
    Great idea. nice article. Recommend

  • Asghar Laghari

    I appreciate the work of Amna Nasir. She did a great job. Amna, you took a real issue of the society- Yes, education is a solution of each and every curse in this society. Real education is not only necessary for trans-gender but it is also necessary for every gender- What i mean real education is which teach us mannerism, behaviorism.Recommend

  • https://transabuse.crowdmap.com/ Heather Scott

    Many of the people you describe are just like me. We are not like most people because our brains are female even though our bodies are male. This is not a mistake, it is the way God made us.

    Because we face Discrimination, Harassment, Abuse, Assault and Murder at the hands of others, we often hide and you never hear the difficulties we face. If people are to understand our plight, we must be heard. I have created a place where we can tell the world about what has happened to us, and report abuse and discrimination when it happens to us.

    You can make a report from any device on the internet. Please go to: https://transabuse.crowdmap.com
    and submit a report.Recommend

  • http://gmail.com Iftekhar Khokhar

    The transgenders (neuters) are in utter dismay in this society. Nobody accepts them even their parents hate them. “”Transgenderism”" is not a crime; unfortunately, it is taken as an offence in our society. The transgenders need love & affection. They should be equally respected as members of this society. Discrimination on the basis of gender is highly deplorable. This is a major social issure therefore should be addressed by all concerned.”Recommend

  • http://gmail.com Iftekhar Khokhar

    Kudos to Amna Nasir. She deserves all the credit for such a marvellous piece of research on the the problems faced by transgenders in this society. I would give full credit to her team as well. Keep it up Amna Nasir, my daughter. May Allah bless you & your team. AmenRecommend

  • Amna Nasir

    @Iftekhar Khokhar: Thank you Mr Khokhar for your kind comments.Recommend

  • Danish

    Excellent and sensible work Amna,

    But for how long are we going to leave such issues for the Government? is that really going to help? Why can’t we come up with solutions to provide them rights and facilities available to other citizens of Pakistan. There are many NGOs working for the rights for women, children, journalists etc but can we name a few working for transgenders? If we can why can’t we start empowering them through the forums that are operational and effective rather than leaving everything to the Government? Why can’t we start educating them at our own? There are many evening schools in Karachi that are managed by university students and professionals but all for the poor and less privileged! Why all of us have been ignoring the education needs of the transgenders at that level ourselves?

    I understand that there’s a lot that needs to be done, but why not start from the basics? TCF, EDHI, SEF, AMAN, Others?? Why wait?

    Not just a blog but a mirror, Continue writing!Recommend

  • Farah Samuel

    An issue long needed to be brought in the lime light. A job well done. I agree to all that the author suggested in her article. I personally think that these people are a part of our society and by no will they have chosen this life for themselves therefore right from the very young age they should share rights equals to ours and they do not need separate institutions. They must be enrolled in the same schools, colleges and universities where we study because only then are the so called normal people going to accept them as a part of the society and the transgenders will also be able to grow in a normal environment right from the beginning…Recommend

  • Seralyn Campbell

    I’m happy to see some attention being called to this problem which is finally starting to get some much-needed media attention. The problem is as old as civilization is, but it’s taken until recently for it to be recognized and begin to be destigmatized. Thank you for writing this article.

    @Shoaib Siddiqui
    I just have to say…of course everyone is entitled to their opinion, and I certainly respect yours, even though I don’t agree with it(separate schools for boys and girls, etc). I do have to say, though, you should understand that she didn’t write this article talking about intersex people. Intersex people are people who are born with ambiguous genitalia, or a mixture of both male and female genitalia, with chromosonal abnormalities. The people mentioned in this article are correctly identified as transgender, because although they are born with the genitalia and naturally produce the hormones of one sex, they mentally and emotionally identify as the other sex. I believe that in the case of this article, it is mostly referring to transgender women.(Women who were born as males, but have transitioned to living as females). Intersex individuals certainly exist, and in far greater numbers than most people realize, but that is a different topic altogether. And eunuchs are males which have been castrated, not intersex or transgendered. They are all three very different things.Recommend

  • Amna Nasir

    @Farah Samuel: Thank you Farah but practically speaking in schools and colleges people target them alot, so for their comfort I gave the idea of separate schools. Just like girls feel more comfortable among girls, I assume they would feel more comfortable among their own breed. Once they are educated and they earn a respectable place for them in the society they can study anywhere they want to. By law they are allowed to study in any institute but most of them run away from schools…wanna know why? its only because they feel beatnik. The idea of making them study in the same schools as ours doesn’t really work for them.Recommend

  • Someone

    @Stranger: Being normal is boring.

    Seriously, it’s a double standard! If you don’t conform to norms, you’re accused of being strange. If you do, you’re accused of reiterating patriarchal beauty standards! Better to just be yourself and let other people with too much time on their hands talk about what they want.Recommend

  • sundas saleem

    Great work ! really the effort is appreciable. This issue has been talked less so most of the people are generally unaware. Idea of a chapter in textbooks is good. Not only the new generation should gain awareness but the old generation too, because most of the thoughts are transferred to us by our elders. one positive thing that i heard about the 3rd gender is their pure hearts and souls and it’s true to much extent.Recommend

  • zeba lodhi

    Its a brilliant effort!! You should post an urdu version too. I always thought why in forms there is only option for male and female. Transgenders are as respectful as any other gender. In western countries they are not neglected and ridiculed as in the under-developed ones. Thumbs up for your work. But when she said “dance is not a crime”, I thought she needs a few corrections.Recommend

  • mahwish

    awesome !! your words depict your efforts ! thumbs up for enlightening the issue !Recommend

  • Stranger

    @someone – transgenders have been in existence since centuries. Not every transgender over the past 1000 years has been subject to ridicule . Many have led quite lives like the next person. I have seen many people of the gay community draw attention to themselves by wear garish clothes , heavy make up etc., Women dont assert their feminity , we are just women , we too have short hair , we too wear men’s clothes, we dont wear lacey clothes to scream WE ARE WOMEN. So why do the transgenders do such things.Recommend

  • Azfar Wasim

    This is something that has crossed everyone’s mind at some point or the other, but we fear that if we talk about this issue, we might be labelled as outcasts as well. Well i think, that needs to stop. We cant just blindfold ourselves, and make ourselves that this issue doesnt exist. We have lost a sense of humanity, and we need to understand, that they are people too, and have needs like the rest of us. First step, has to be acceptance. We need to accept them into our society and not feel weirded out by them. Each and everyone has to change their perception, and then and only then can we expect to see a difference. I’m glad Amna spoke out, and i hope this can spark an interest for others to speak out as well. Inspire the change Amna, I and im sure many others are behind you a 100% :)Recommend

  • Zara Mushtaq

    U did a splendid job Amna.i really appreciate your thoughts and efforts.
    I agree with your points.transgenders share same rights and they are equally respectable.Keep up the good workRecommend

  • Zenia

    I appreciate teh writer’s efforts a lot…a very well written and well researched piece !Recommend

  • sarwat zahra

    Excellent research work!Recommend

  • Areeba

    The writer seems to have an insight on the whole issue. remarkable work. Should be applauded for her taking up such a topic and increasing awareness abt itRecommend

  • Historian 1

    The religious scriptures only talk about males and females. Than who creates this “third sex”?Recommend

  • mishal

    @Saad: while everything you said is right but I’d like to point out the fact that most people aren’t as lucky to share the same opinion as you do. Its quite unfortunate but this is our society and it will take a long time for our society to accept transgenders as equals. Until people realize they’re also God’s creations and have feelings just like we do, get hurt whenever someone looks down upon them or insults them, we need separate schools and colleges for them so that in the future they can work among other genders and be recognized as individuals worthy of respect. Maybe then people would be more accepting towards them and separate schools would not be required. :)Recommend

  • Nishant

    a nation struggling with basic human rights
    where ahmadi community is regarded as “deserving to kill”
    where shias are taken off from buses and killed
    where hindus are converted on TV and nobody raises a question
    where school text books teach hatred against other religions
    things like LGBT rights are a far fetched luxury
    India officially received the first court statement for it in 2009 Recommend

  • aj

    @Shoaib Siddiqui:
    Please come out of religious bigotry. . Entire LGBTQ(lesbians,gays,bisexuals,transgenders,queers) community deserve their rights and same sex marriages should also be allowed in pakistan (i know this is very difficult but this is fundamental human right) and if u are against it. . Don’t do it simple! But you should not enforce others to live (what you call) a ‘normal’ life!Recommend

  • ioer

    @Saad:
    trans people are already so few in number. Imagine if a trans person goes to an all boys/girls school; the children there would eat her alive. As for now, we have not progressed enough to have trans people and the rest study in one place. Recommend

  • Sameen

    Great work amna !
    such an alarming situation for the whole human society. I like your idea of including a chapter on transgenders in our curriculum. I think this will help alot in understanding their rights instead of feeling disgust for them. But one thing is, that “Rizk” is in the hands of Allah so being helpless is not a good enough reason to get into such immoral activities. Dignity is in the hands of a man itself because choosing a path between right and wrong is upto him.
    I really appreciate your work and this topic plus your way of expression, it need to be applauded i must say..Recommend

  • https://twitter.com/alihbabri Ali Haroon

    @aj:
    This article actually has nothing to do with LGBT. No one is judging though ;)Recommend

  • Shoaib Siddiqui

    @aj:
    Bigotry is a strong word my friend. Also, I am not enforcing anything. The blog originated from Islamic Republic of Pakistan and I furthered the issue of intersex individuals and pointed out what is discussed academically by our scholars, some of them who have their PhD in Islamic Sciences. I chose to discuss an academic issue and I fail to understand how it was bigotry knowing that Pakistan, according to some estimates is over 90% Muslim.

    You also accused me of being a hater. I believe we haven’t met before and such accusation do say a lot about you. I am actually offended. I remember from my school days in Karachi, Pakistan that I was coming back from school in a packed public bus. There was a transgender –maybe an intersex individual — was sitting on a seat. Transgender persons are considered unclean and disgusting, so as in this case people keeping away from this person. I could see that he was upset about it, so just to prove a point I sat next to this person whom everyone thought was unclean and disgusting. I have literally hugged Hindus from lower caste on multiple occasions, who are considered untouchables and work as janitors. I do not hate anyone, but my views are, at least in my opinion, based on unbiased critical thinking.

    Also no offence, you statements are very confusing. For example, you suggested “don’t do it simple” and you were talking about same sex marriages. I assure you I am not into people from my own gender. Either you misunderstood or you need to proof read for grammatical errors such as punctuation and run on sentences.

    Also I believe that what happens in Pakistan is something Pakistanis should be discussing and Mr, Aj, I don’t feel that as an Indian like you has a say in it, as to what should and shouldn’t happen in Pakistan. If we make a bad decision, we will live by it and not come crawling to you or to your country. PeaceRecommend