A psychiatrist’s perspective on gay and transgender persons in Pakistan

Published: December 4, 2013
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It is time to treat transgender and transsexual people with respect as fellow human beings. PHOTO: AFP

Aab Tak, a Pakistani television station started its transmission earlier this year with a strong statement,

‘Ladies, Gentlemen and She-males’

It did not take long for the station to air a sensational TV show Khufia where the hostess, Uzma Tahir, ignored people’s right to independence and a free life as she bullied them with a television camera. Chasing people frantically on the streets of Karachi, she and her team put hands on people, manhandled them and then barged into their homes with a camera crew to ask the victims of her camera bullying,

“Are you gay or transgender?”

The saddest part of the show occurred later when the hostess arrogantly ignored someone’s suicide threat.  I couldn’t accept the fact that Uzma Tahir didn’t care about human life. Suicide is a preventable death and every suicide threat needs to be taken seriously.

The most sickening moment came when she wishfully said,

“Why don’t these people become targets of bombs?”

One victim of her television camera abuse pleaded on air that he had some mental health issues and couldn’t talk about them. She tortured the poor soul by judging him and mockingly saying,

“How can a ‘crazy’ know that he is ‘crazy’ and even know his doctor? This is enough to prove that you are lying.”

It is a known fact that people with mental illness and non-conforming sexual behaviour are often victims of violence but it is quite rare to find sexual and psychological harassment by a television program crew.

A so-called human right activist and physician, Ansar Burney, was invited to the program as an expert to discuss the issue.  To a height of absurdity, Burney became paranoid and started inviting the charge that transvestites and transgender people could be agents of foreign countries and might be working as spies for different terrorist groups. The ‘expert’ on the program referred to transvestite and transgender orientation as ‘psychological misbehaviour’. I don’t know what this means as in my almost decade-long career in psychiatry, I have never heard or read this expression even once.

In 2012, Pakistanis with gender non-conformity received an official status as ‘third-gender’ citizens. They are commonly and more loosely referred to as eunuchs (hijras, khawaja-sarra), hermaphrodites and transvestites.

Contrary to Tahir’s personal belief, there is scientific data to support that these conditions happen genetically, not by choice. Clinically, they are different from each other.  Gender Dysphoria (Gender Identity Disorder) describes the dissatisfaction some people have with their assigned gender at birth. Some, if resourceful, opt for sex change procedures. Transvestism, the practice of dressing and acting in a style or manner traditionally associated with the opposite sex, is different as is homosexuality where one is sexually aroused by members of the same sex. There are other hormonal and genetic situations in which patients can have ambiguous genitalia.

Acting like the moral police, the hostess decided that it was her job to despicably warn the public to watch out for any early signs of their children being gay.

Our media has started expanding its target audience. The Late Night Show with Begam Nawazish Ali, the Lollywood movie Bol and now the Pakistani version of ‘Glee’ are presenting evidence of non-heterosexual behaviour in our media, opening up a long secret aspect of our society. But sometimes sadly, multi-national companies find it acceptable to show a transgender victim of hazing in an all-boys college in an advertisement.

Ironically, a June 2013 Pew Research survey showed Pakistan was one of the least gay-tolerant countries in the world while the same month the magazine Mother Jones published the results of a survey that put Pakistan as the world leader in the number of Google searches for gay sex links.

I remember the case of Shumail Raj and Shahzina Tariq, a married couple who was jailed for three months for perjury after a dispute over the husband’s sex. The court ruled had that the husband was, in fact, a woman, despite sex-change surgery and that the couple had lied about his sexual status. It denied their claim of being married as their marriage was un-Islamic because it was same-sex.

People with different sexual orientations and behaviours lead a very difficult and objected life in Pakistan. A television program like Khufia can risk many other lives. It is time to treat transgender and transsexual people with respect as fellow human beings. There is a need to accept their presence in society and to help them with education and employment in regular jobs.

In the television program, I came across many of the victims requesting opportunities for honourable lives like everyone else in society. Unfortunately, their voices were ignored.

Hassan Majeed (MD)

Hassan Majeed MD

The author is working as a child and adolescent psychiatry fellow at Long Island Jewish Medical Center, NY. He is a marathon runner and his interests include art, culture, travel, gender, human rights, mental health, and education. He tweets @HassanMajeedMD (twitter.com/HassanMajeedMD)

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

  • Dr. Muhammad Khawar Nazir

    Well written & it is a shameful media attitude where these television shows have no respect for human rights. Recommend

  • khalid

    Excellent article, highlighted a very concerning attitude by our ever expanding media. Ethics have long been forgotten in the race of rating and this is just an example.Recommend

  • Dixy

    Does Human Rights Exist in Pakistan? Shame!Recommend

  • Moiz Omar

    Who is this TV host? Who does she think she is bullying people like this? And did Ansar Burney seriously do that? I use to have respect for him!Recommend

  • http://www.onlypulse.com/ Only Pulse

    Interestingly, the same channel Abb Takk is probably the first Pakistani channel, that hired a shemale and given her a dedicated TV program. I’m talking about Almas Bobby (President of All Pakistan Shemale Association) and the program is “Aik Aur Aik Giyara” http://abbtakk.tv/eng/aik-aur-aik-giyara/Recommend

  • http://www.umalik.com Usman

    And this woman might get a slot on Express soon just like the Maya Khan.

    But in all honesty this was one of the sickest shows I’ve seen for a very long time on Pakistani TV.Recommend

  • SS

    Glad a professional in the field and from our society has written and educated us on this. Would be good to have more input from the experts on the many mental illness issues in Pakistan.Recommend

  • Equality

    Your body is your right. It belongs to you. No one has the right to mock or denigrate gays or transgenders…anyways what the muslim anchor was doing, in the middle of the night, without burqa in the company of ghair-mahram? If she was in pure Islamic country she probably could be stoned before the “gays” would be stone. Hypocrite woman!Recommend

  • Sadaf

    thank Allah there are still decent people left in this world who have compassion for those who are not in the mainstream What happened to giving cover to others weak points in the hope that Allah will cover ours ? Very sad what some people will stoop to .Dr Hassan Majeed thank you for this great postRecommend

  • F.

    Great article, balanced and informative.Recommend

  • Gay and Proud

    I am a gay Pakistani. I am thankful that someone talked about the issue. In every days life I hear so many anti-gay slurs and homophobic comments that it makes me feel sick. I hope we become a more tolerant nation and accept the difference even in our sexual orientations.

    Unfortunately, there is no support group for us in Pakistan. It is easy to meet people, finding love and respect is an other matter. As you mentioned that there is so much gay activity online, in my opinion it will explode one day. I hope that day come sooner and later.Recommend

  • Mohammed Abbasi

    Islam is about compassion and peoples right to privacy – attacking, insulting and then exposing people for fun like this is something that needs to be addressed by Pakistanis who claim to follow IslamRecommend

  • ghostrider

    with due respect…this host looks a cross dresser actually with her demeanorRecommend

  • Necromancer

    Excellent article………..and trust me this is all happening because of our to much dependence on Mullahs and a state policy defined by IslamRecommend

  • Javeria

    I think we must report this program on PAMRA website…Recommend

  • Kit

    Wow. Another Maya Khan in the making. Thank you for your ‘insightful’ and classy comments, Uzma Tahir. It’s because of people like you and Aamir Liaqat Hussain that I have stopped watching Pakistani talk shows and these so called ‘detective’ shows.

    Why? because your attitude is truly disgraceful; you have a conservative, narrow minded mentality, which is clearly displayed when you called that poor person ‘crazy’. I really feel for these two people who’s house you barged into like a bull. You try to expose the ‘hard truth’ by investigating the lives of these transgender and gay people. What right do you have to judge them? They’re probably thinking YOU’RE crazy- and I would agree with them.

    Know what the hard truth is, Uzma? Pakistan is FULL of people like these. Know what else? the WORLD is fuuuulll of gays and transgenders. Get out a bit more, and you may even be able to make more intelligent comments next time, for your other segment. In fact, come to New York. Or Singapore even. I’ll show you a whole different world.Recommend

  • Farah Kamal

    Media is totally sick showing this kind of show, last year they made hue and cry at Maya Khan, there is a Maya Khan everywhere judging traumatizing people. and above proving how intolerant we are as nation.Recommend

  • Ali

    Excellent article – so glad people are speaking up against Uzma Tahir and her disgusting show. Its sad though that no action is or will be taken against her or the show.Recommend

  • indigo

    Well written and shame on u Ab takk ( a copy of Indian channel Aaj Takk) and Uzma TahirRecommend

  • butt

    People alike Uzma Tahir are civilized-ignorant who do no know the real meaning of freedom and always cross the limits of freedom of expression while making fun of others. Such kind of attitude should be condemnable by all mean.Recommend

  • Rida

    Just saw the clip. I am disgusted.Recommend