If I look like a boy and walk like a boy, why can’t I be a girl?

Published: May 19, 2016
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Whatever it is about me that gives me a masculine aura, it’s something I can’t help being, which makes it harder for people to decide whether I am a woman or a man.

While I found private buses very easy on my pocket, I hadn’t travelled in one for over a year, even though I would travel in it all the time while I was in university. I had started noticing something strange. We all know what goes on in buses; but this was different. I realised that people were talking about my gender; they weren’t sure if I was a woman or a man.

For instance, once when I was going back home from work and had to take a bus, the female compartment was almost empty so I availed the opportunity and hopped on the seat on the left to the driver, feeling excited to have the whole seat to myself. A guy sitting with the driver asked him,

Yeh larka yahaan kia kar raha hai?”

(What is this boy doing here?)

It was extremely uncomfortable for me considering I wasn’t expecting anything like that to happen. At that time, the only way I could deal with these things was to give back an intense stare to anyone staring at me or passing a stupid comment.

But it kept happening. And it wasn’t limited to the times I was travelling in a bus.

On the roads, people kept staring; children started making fun of me behind my back, and a few times I even got into arguments with men for passing comments. I clearly remember the time when I literally had to control myself from flinging a hot cup of tea at this one guy who passed some silly comment regarding my gender while I was walking from Tehrik-e-Niswan’s office to the shops opposite Hyperstar to get my cigarettes.

He stood there alongside his bike with his friends. When I heard him saying something about me, I turned around, walked back to him and asked with aggression,

“Koi masla hai kia?”

(Is there a problem?)

With a smirk on his face he said,

“Nahi koi masla nahi”

(No, there is no problem)

I spoke in an incredibly threatening voice,

“Koi masla hai tou bata doh takay main hal kar dun tumhare liye”

(Tell me if there is a problem so I can solve it for you).

The guy was about to respond when his friend, sensing that the situation was getting out of hand, grabbed his arm to stop him and said that there was no problem at all.

Things like these would constantly happen, and they happen now more than ever.

My hair is very short now but it was almost shoulder length when the aforementioned incidents happened. I usually wear a kurta or t-shirt with jeans or trousers, depending on the weather. No dupatta.

I am a girl, but I just don’t sit or walk the way prescribed to ‘a girl’ in our society. I’m also incredibly protective of the women around me.

There is just something different about my overall personality.

Whatever it is about me that gives me a masculine aura, it’s something I can’t help being, which makes it harder for people to decide whether I am a woman or a man.

I usually take a bus when I am travelling to another city and the last time was no exception. As I stood there, waiting for my turn to get on the bus, despite this being a recurring experience, I didn’t feel any less uncomfortable at the thought of having to explain, yet again, that I was a woman to the guard doing body checks on all the men.

Every single time.

The most interesting part of that particular experience though was when, before the bus departed from Karachi, the Daewoo hostess got off and asked the guard,

“Yeh larki hai ke larka?”

(Is this a girl or a boy?)

The guard responded in a very condescending tone saying,

Yeh na larki hai, na larka.” 

(This is neither a girl nor a boy)

Her seat was next to mine and she refused to sit with me. I watched as she created a scene out of it.  She started fighting and said,

“Maine iss k saath nahi bethna. Is ko kahin aur bithaye”

(I do not want to sit with this person. Make this person sit somewhere else)

Then the guy came up to me, asked for my ticket, checked my name and told the hostess,

“Koi masla nahi. Yeh larki hai,”

(There is no problem. She is a girl).

And no one seemed to have a problem putting me on the spot like that.

Something similar happened on my way back to Karachi. A girl who was travelling alone went up to the hostess and told her that she couldn’t sit next to me because I’m a boy.

I found this out when the hostess approached me and said,

“Aap kahi aur beth jayein,”

(You should sit somewhere else).

Even the hostess was convinced. This incredibly awkward situation dissipated when I, for the umpteenth time in my life, kept my calm and reassured the hostess that there should be no problem because I am, in fact, a girl.

Funny stories, huh?

I’ve learned to laugh at these small incidents because I know how much more difficult it would be for me to deal with if I don’t. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right?

I told my friend everything once I reached Lahore. She was furious with me when I told her that I contained my temper and fought off the urge of reacting impulsively with the hostess and the guards and all those other people who kept staring and discussing my gender with one other.

To be honest, I don’t blame them, and neither the kids who make fun of me. I don’t have a reason to blame them; they have lived with the idea of binary gender all their lives. And the media keeps reinforcing these gender norms and roles and regulates its influences on the masses. So how can I blame them?!

I don’t expect them to understand that I can be a woman and be masculine at the same time. I cannot scold the kid, who lives in my building, every time he sees me and asks,

“Aap larki hai yah larka?” 

(Are you a girl or a guy?),

Or,

“Agar aap larki hai tou larko walay kapray kiu pehenti hain?”

(If you are a girl, then why do you wear boy’s clothes?)

The idea of binary gender is very much embedded in our consciousness and we are used to seeing people that way. An ethnic group in Indonesia, called Bugis, has five different genders. They are used to seeing gender that way. I understand that it’s difficult for people to accept the way I look and it’s okay because I know it’s going to take time for people to be open to those who identify themselves in ways they are not used to. It’s even difficult for my mother sometimes to accept it because for her this not how I am ‘supposed’ to look.

What continues to disturb me, however, is the self-righteousness of people and the prejudice towards the ‘other’ and the ‘different’. This outright rejection of the minorities who are different in any way from the majority doesn’t leave any space for a healthy discussion at all, which makes the ‘different’, the unacceptable.

I can’t explain to all those people that I grew up in a family with no men and the women of my family have always been very scared of men. And this situation prevails in many households. There are places where women shouldn’t go, things women shouldn’t do, attitudes not suitable for women. But I grew up subconsciously emulating men – I like to dress in a manner that resembles a man, walk like a man, behave like a man so I can protect myself from the world. Because, according to this world, you can only be strong, independent and fearless if you are a man. I feel ashamed to admit it but there was a time at which it infuriated and embarrassed me if someone called me a girl.

It took me years to become comfortable with myself. Now I am a woman who is masculine. The need to define myself in certain terms doesn’t seem necessary anymore. I am a woman, a man, a transgender, an androgynous person, and any other gender people like to identify themselves with.

One thing I learnt during my travels is that when people finally break the ice and get to know one another, they realise that we are all the same in so many ways that, in the bigger scheme of things, our differences don’t matter that much. The hostess, who didn’t want to sit next to me, started talking to me herself and told me what she has to go through in her job. Once she saw that I am a person, an ordinary person, just like her, it didn’t matter how I looked. And that is when true humanity shines.

Annie Saqi

Annie Saqi

The author likes to identify herself just as a person. She doesn't work anywhere as she finds institutional structures very hard to fit into.

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

  • Adi

    hi there Annie Saqi
    i can totally relate to you and what you are going through, as i have kinda same but opposite side stories…in short i am very feminine type of man or should i say in man body there is a female body stuck.anyhow cant question the creator as He knows the best and he creates the best…. you are right in our society there has been only teaching of either male or female there isnt any concept of anyother gender or LGBTQ community…. yeh i brought up LGBTQ community as one its growing fast in our country and ppl are ignoring them secondly being gay muslim feminine man i think we should at least try our best to educate ppl ,so that they have knowledge about other genders and then may be one day all genders will get equal acceptance and rights inshallah….Recommend

  • Anonymous

    I am still confused!!! Are you a man or woman?Recommend

  • Read Below

    I believe the term they use is “androgynous.”

    Pakistani society is not very tolerant towards anything that does not comply with the tribal Arabic traditions i.e., Shariah.

    Good for her, if she is managing to live in PK without being continuously put down for her looks. If she is, then the best course is to just leave for a more accepting country.Recommend

  • Syed Anab

    These discriminating hypocritical people, I am sorry you had to put up with this.Recommend

  • Hassan

    An Indian will always remain an Indian, what do u know about Pakistani society??? guessing is what u do, and seriously when Amir khan wanted to move to a more tolerant society u were about to eat him alive with his wife, so please keep this recommendations reserve for ur own country where growing intolerance is a BIG time issue.Recommend

  • Dashte Tanhai

    Why do we always go for the appearance, why can’t we see and judge people with their talent, abilities and competence. Male, female, trans-gender, androgynous, LGBTQ or whatever…at the end we all are human…or may be not????Recommend

  • table

    woah that was strong. Keep it up. I fell in love with you for being such a strong woman. Good luck.Recommend

  • Owais Khan

    Love u … the article was quiet interesting… u will find urself missfit untill the society becomes liberal…Recommend

  • Mariam Gul

    I can understand what you go through, because I’ve had some similar experiences. I really appreciate you for writing this article and sharing your thoughts. It takes one baby step at a time for change to come in a rigid society such as Pakistan, and voicing one’s opinion is definitely the beginning of any change to come.

    When I was in 8th grade, I had my hair cut very short, primarily because it was difficult to take care of them. Being a simple person, I wasn’t into ‘feminine’ beauty regimes or the latest fashion trends, so it didn’t bother me at all if I had short hair. However, it did bother my classmates. I went through a lot of bullying and was dubbed as an ‘international joke’ in my batch. I had to put up with taunts and insults on an everyday basis. Every aspect of my being was made into a joke. A girl even put glue in my hair. All because I had dared to cut my hair in a highly patriarchal school, where girls were supposed to have long,straight hair, and most of them were obsessed with flat-ironing their hair.

    Here’s the kicker: this school is supposed to be one of the most prestigious,
    co-educational, ‘UK-curricula’ schools of Islamabad, which has been ‘‘educating generations since 1975’’ and in spite of its so-called liberal environment, I had to suffer in silence. I don’t know how it is now because I graduated in 2008 but at that time, even my mother went to the Headmistress to discuss what I was going through, and she simply bluffed us with her lip-service and did nothing to control the matter. As a result, I have now become someone who is very scared to stand out.

    My point in sharing this is, that gender binaries are so deeply and strongly embedded in Pakistan, that even in the most liberal/elite/westernized stratas of Pakistani society, individuals who transgress even in the slightest in terms of gender identities will be persecuted, hence there’s no saying what kind of persecution will follow in the more public areas of Pakistan, such as the public transport environment that you mentioned in your article. Such kinds of rigid mind-sets can only be reformed through an ethical education that aims to promote tolerance towards ‘others’, that is towards social minorities. Unfortunately, in the personal instance that I narrated above, it must be quite evident that even in the most high class private schools, such an education is amiss and thus, an education of tolerance is virtually non-existent in government/public schools. The Pakistani system has shaped a nation which is highly intolerant of anyone who doesn’t go with the flow.Recommend

  • marik

    Look, in a gender segregated religious society why do you think people are going to give special treatment to someone to is trying to straddle the divide on purpose. Zero sympathy to the author. Grow up and stop being a tomboy.Recommend

  • Faiz Mahmood

    AOA Annie . First of all very well written . secondly, I am really sorry that you had to go through all this. It doesn’t matter what others think about you, they don’t know what you have been through. Its everywhere but sadly its more in Pakistan, that we judge people without knowing their story , we consider it our duty to judge them.
    Remember “you are gorgeous just the way you are ” Live your life they way it feels right to youRecommend

  • Jayman

    Just ignore people who cannot accept people the way they are. They are not worth your time anyway. We only become unhappy if we allow ourselves to be affected by what others say. Power to you girl !!Recommend

  • M S Haider

    Don’t worry in India soon only Hindus will be accepted. Read what Chomsky said. This Indian miracle is all but a facade. Recommend

  • Jehanzeb Mahar

    People think you are a boy simply because you look like a boy. What’s so strange in it?Recommend

  • Muhammad Rehan Shaikh

    nice article…Recommend