Pakistan issues its first gender-neutral passport – what’s that, America? You still haven’t?

Published: July 3, 2017
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Jan is an activist for the rights of gender minorities and a co-founder and president of an advocacy group, Trans Action Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

In an unprecedented move, the government of Pakistan issued a gender-neutral passport to a transgender activist, Farzana Jan. In an interview after receiving the passport that marks the gender as “X”, Jan said,

“I am so happy to be recognised by the Directorate General of Immigration and Passports that I am a human and have a gender other than male and female.”

Jan is an activist for the rights of gender minorities and a co-founder and president of an advocacy group, Trans Action Pakistan. The group works for the rights of gender non-conformists, such as eunuchs, transgenders and transvestites.

Hate crimes against gender minorities and their exploitation are common in Pakistan. Emotional, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse of transsexuals are, unfortunately, routine occurrences. In recent years, many members of the transgender community were molested, abused, abducted, tortured and even assassinated.

Crimes against the transgender community are anything but rare. Last week, on the first day of Eid, men of all ages were caught on video harassing a group of transwomen. It just goes to show the mentality of our people when it comes to accepting anyone that is inherently other – as our society breeds upon the conventional.

About last night, i.e. the second day of Eid – Here is a video of how harassment took place at Mall Road in Murree Hills.Where are we heading to, as a nation? As a reponsible citizen, is this what we should do to other human beings? No matter what religion, race or gender they belong to. Is this what our religion teaches us?Oh now I know why many of us don't even remember the full name of our country, "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" Justified enough.Video Courtesy: Faris Qureshi (@Faris.H.Qureshi)

‎Posted by Safeer Ansari on‎ יום רביעי 28 יוני 2017

In November 2016, a video of a man beating up a transgender person in Sialkot surfaced across the internet. The apparent ‘reasoning’ behind this attack, according to the perpetrator, was that the transgender, Julie, refused to pay extortion money. The transgender community in Pakistan is constantly targeted, and as the educated minds of our society, we should bind together to do something about it.

Horrific video of man beating up transgender goes viral https://goo.gl/Vf19ct

Posted by Express Tribune Video on Monday, November 14, 2016

Moreover, in another horrific incident, medical attention in a hospital was denied to a transgender person resulting in the loss of her life. Every minority life matters and Pakistan was supposedly created as a haven for the minorities – so why are our transgender people living in fringe towns? Why are they not allowed to live a normal life?

For that reason, the new passport regulations, giving this group legitimate status, comes as welcoming news. It also comes at a time when most of the western world is celebrating “Pride month” to advocate for the equal rights for lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and queer/questioning people.

Pakistan, in general, is a conservative country, but in recent years, it has shown many progressive strides towards the recognition of transgender rights. In 2009, the Supreme Court of Pakistan identified transsexuals as a separate identity and advised the National Data Base and Registration Authority to issue gender-neutral identity cards to these people. They finally got the right to vote and inherit property. Many transgender people then used their newly recognised status to contest in elections as a way of cementing their identity in society. There are no official statistics on the population of transsexual persons in Pakistan, but according to an estimate of Trans Action Pakistan, the population is as high as half a million. And in the on-going census, transsexuals were given a separate box for registration. In these ways, Pakistan is even ahead of the US, where male/female gender registration is the only available option for passports and official identity cards.

Many famous Sufi poets in the past have used gender variant expressions to make love and romance all inclusive. And the subcontinent has a history of giving cherished roles to khawajasaras (transgender people) in Mughal courts. They held the important job of communicating between male and female sections of the court and were treated with dignity and respect. In the last few decades, however, their role in society has been mostly limited to dancing, begging and prostitution.

Society has to learn to see gender beyond male and female. This is an over-simplification of gender and clinically wrong. Now we know that gender expression, gender identity and sexual orientation lie somewhere on a broad human spectrum. Last year, Kami Sid, a graceful transgender, modelled in a bold and beautiful, first-ever photo shoot for the public that not only broke the stereotype of transgender identity but gave a new image of acceptance and social freedom. In a recent video, Zulifkar Ali Bhutto Jr, a member of one of leading political families, talked about masculinity as a ‘softness and gentle trait” contrary to the tradition of thinking about masculinity as strong. We have reached a time when there is a need for new education about feminine and masculine identities.

Artist Spotlight: Zulfikar Ali Bhutto

This #Pride month, we at the Turmeric project are inspired not by the lip service of multinational corporations to the #LGBTQ community, but by #queer people of color creating their own art, healing space, and third culture. For the first installment of our Artist Spotlight Series, we present Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, an amazing multimedia artist out of the San Francisco Bay Area. We talk about his Mussalman Muscleman series, masculinity, identity, third cultures and that DIY aesthetic.Queer South Asian Americans are so real, so beautiful, so brave and creative. Like and follow us at the Turmeric Project as we explore how queer South Asian Americans live, create, heal, and make their own worlds.#Pride #queer #qpoc #southasian #masculinity #art #muslim

‎Posted by The Turmeric Project on‎ ראשון 18 יוני 2017

Gender neutral passports and identity cards are very important legal issues for the integration of transsexuals in our society. In an ideal world, there should not be any harassment and discrimination against gender minorities. We are still far from reaching that goal. We must learn to respect people regardless of their gender and to be kind to all gender non-conformists in an all inclusive society.

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.

  • abhi

    When are you going to start a religion neutral passport?Recommend

  • 19640909rk .

    Dear Hasan, REALLY? Says a guy who works in USA. India already has that option.Recommend