Transgender: Of sense and sexuality

Published: June 9, 2011

Da Vinci's Study of Man

I talk about AIDS, sex and sexuality. Don’t look at me that way. I, too, belong to a religious conservative family.

No, I am not a non-believer.

No, I do not have AIDS.

Yes, I am a woman.

Yes, I have morals.

This issue has been taboo, cursed and frowned upon. It has been buried so deep, that it is almost impossible to even think about talking of.

But I do. I conduct and facilitate workshops on  HIV/AIDS awareness.


This is the story of two people I met a couple of weeks ago. They both liked boys.

They were both shy, and could not speak at all the first day of our acquaintance.

They were very self-conscious, and worried about the people who were eyeing them.

They had a voice, but I could hardly hear them at all. I felt like reaching out to them, simply to see if they could hear me?

They were only happy at home.

Outside, nobody cared, yet everybody cared.

Here, nobody saw their name, yet everybody saw their gender (or what wasn’t their gender).

No one wanted to be friends with them, nobody sat with them.

At dinner my colleague and I dragged our chairs to their table and tried to make them feel wanted. Others joined in. The meal was lovely. They had finally made some friends.

The workshop progressed at an accelerated speed the next day.

Questions were asked, issues were discussed, groups were formed, activities were conducted – still no word from them. It was only later in the evening that I found out they did not understand the terms I had been using for reproductive health systems and the diseases in the bilingual language I had been speaking eloquently, assuming that everyone would understand.

One thing that I noticed though, was that they kept talking among themselves. One of them apparently had studied in an English medium school before going to the Transgender Academy in Okara. He knew his friend couldn’t understand me, so he was trying to explain to his friend what “Madam” meant every time she would use a foreign phrase.

I made the members stand in a line. All 25 of them. Belonging to different occupations, social status and each having a different opinion. Then, I started asking questions. The ones who would agree with me would move towards the right, the ones who would disagree with me would step towards the left side of the line.

“I would be okay with discussing my sexual problems with a friend.”

Five people moved towards the left, the rest to the right.

“I will be okay with having a friend who is gay.”

Twenty people moved towards the left, five remained where they were, the neutral zone.

“I will be alright with inviting a transgender to my house for dinner.”

Fifteen people moved towards the left, five remained where they were, and five moved towards the right.

The two transgenders had been marginalised, and now knew who would accept them, and who wouldn’t.

When we spoke about homosexuality. They went pale. On being asked whether they would accept their sibling if he/she turned out to be homosexual, they began arguing and wouldn’t say why.

Figuring it was something extremely personal, I let them be. It wasn’t my place to make them feel uncomfortable. I was their mentor, their peer educator. But I was curious because to me, they were humans first and then a part of society – a neglected part of society – they were transgenders.

I can still remember the awkward situation I was placed in when they showed me recorded videos of them dancing, all dressed up in purple shalwar kameez. They expected appreciation. Little did they know, I had been contemplating how to bring about a radical change in the rights of transgenders in our society.

“Madam, you are very nice. We would like to dedicate a dance to you”, one of them said, bringing me back to reality. The reality where they hadn’t seen the world, and probably never will.

My story ends with a happy ending. After two days of silence , thinking they were different, they both gave seven minute speeches on the issue of HIV/AIDS simply because I had told them that I did not want them to disappoint me. I wanted them to understand their potential, worth and place not only in the workshop, but in society over all. They were trying to change, to be confident, and comfortable with who they were, only at the expense of us trying to change our mindsets with them.

I am disappointed today, though. Not by them but by our own society.

had hoped that we would find a niche for transgenders and make them feel wanted – I had forgotten that we live in a society where Christians are not being accepted; where the Bible is to be banned; where journalists cannot practice independent media or write a book; where Christian maids are to eat or drink from different utensils than your own; how was I so sure we would be ready to accept transgenders in our corporate culture so soon?

Can we view them as anything but creatures who dance and sing for our joy?

Mariam Ishaq

Mariam Ishaq

A graduate student at LUMS, who is also a social worker interested in gender and a Y-PEER Trainer on HIV/AIDS (UNFPA).

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

  • Sabeen

    It’s a good topic but the language and incomplete phrases that the writer has used seem to have downplayed the otherwise strong point of view. Could have been better had you, dear writer, stressed in a more direct way the conference/workshop you conducted, your findings and your experience. This one sounds too vague. Recommend

  • Ms Marium

    Your way of conveying your message or point of view is too irritating .. always talk to the point ..please!Recommend

  • Fooz

    average article.. boring pieceRecommend

  • Confused

    Sad. Agreed.Recommend

  • A

    Excellent article, interesting exercise :) I appreciate your work with these people and hope that more Pakistanis stand up for their fellow citizens’ rights. Thanks MariamRecommend

  • Caitlin

    a pity more people don’t understand the complex nature of human sex and sexuality. The work you are doing is invaluable – thank youRecommend


    Welldone Maryam,I have attended tht worshop nd cud understand ur point here..we shud change our thinking towards positiveRecommend

  • Muhammad Shahzad Khan

    Thank you very much Marium for writing such amazing stuff, for some yes, it must be boring, for some yes, it must be vague, but for many believe you me, its touching, as it is about the Hippocratic behaviors of us, who do love to invite transgenders to their weddings for their own joy, who also love to have fun watching them dancing on the birth of a baby in the family but when it comes to accepting them as a human being, making them feel comfortable and respectable in the society, its hard to stand up . . . and speak for them.

    Loved the way you expressed the whole story and yes WE ARE the LITTLE STEP towards CHANGING MINDSETS!!! Recommend

  • Zoya Ishaq

    Well narrated, the overall experience. They actually are excellent human capital with great potential for our economy. Moreover, they are really dear to Allah. Its unfortunate and sad to see our society shun them and give them such a miserable life when Allah loves them so dearly.Recommend

  • Zohaib Mianjee

    it is a very strong point of view….and as a witness of your efforts, I congratulate you for expressing this here for more understanding of our society….RegardsRecommend

  • Nauman Waheed

    we are treating transgenders only as a machine, which is in our control when we ask it to dance it will start dancing. we even don’t think that they are human beings, we only like them when they are dancing on our finger tips. there should be some schools and colleges for transgenders where they can study without any issue and can play positive role in society, and we have to accept them as a part of society. we have should try to make this part of society fruitful for the society not burden on society.Recommend

  • Usama Zafar

    A good piece!! And whats wrong with the language its totally fine!!Recommend

  • n

    see, we talk about non discriminating and yet here people are giving feedback on writing style and how something so sincere and true (unfortunately), and coming straight from the field in our communities is irritating!
    I appreciate very, very much what was written here, especially intro and outro. beacuse there are many of us out there, who are not part of any marginalized population in particular, and still not part of mainstream community cos we do what we do and we observe and try to impact.
    English is not my native language, but my 3rd language, so pardon my style. and im writing from faaaar southeast Europe, very traditional and closed community. and am one of the educators and trainers for last 8 years.
    greets to all.Recommend

  • Moderate

    There is no issue with Transgenders regarding Islam. This is just some myth created by people, there are sayings of Prophet related to Transgenders and their issues are addressed by different Islamic school of thoughts.

    But Gays and Lesbians, NO NO! There is clear cut mention of what happened to Nation of Loot in Quran who were gays and lesbians and many Hadiths regarding this matter by our Holy Prophet PBUH. Recommend

  • Mohammed Abbasi

    As human beings we need to show compassion to all our brothers and sisters in the human family – this is what Islam is! Not victimizing others for whatever reason including sexuality.

    Association of British MuslimsRecommend

  • http://Karachi Anwar

    Could not understand most of the article.Recommend

  • Marooph

    Great Initiative …. Mariam….. I must appreciate your step…. here i like to add… last week I conducted a one day training session for 15 eunuch on STIs including HIV and AIDs… and they really need our attentions…………

    Keep it up…

    We…can make difference …………… Recommend

  • iffo

    I wonder why these types of article writer do’not give Quranic or Hadith reference if they are religious..
    Please ensure that all your actions must not be against Islam in any regard.

  • Fatima Salm

    an excellent piece addressing a major issue of our society. who are we to marginalize anyone simply because they were born different, or have a different sexual orientation? only God has the right to judge people, and we have no power to shun someone based on such trivial issues. for all you know, they’re more pious than you and are nearer to God than you ever will be.
    it’s time someone took a stand for the homosexuals, the bisexuals, and the transgenders in our society. they’re no better nor worse than you and I.
    thank you, mariam, for creating awareness on the matter. keep up the good work!!Recommend

  • Aamir Hashmi

    Maryam , i will simply say welldone… you did a great job.Its really such an amazing stuff. I appriciate your effort which is great.Recommend

  • Rufi Baba

    Dear Mariam
    Good work, well composed, short and sweet article,,, Recommend

  • Lady6

    Very well written article…… keep it up and best of luck.Recommend

  • Tooba Khan

    Mariam this piece is excellent. You have expressed your views on an issue that continues to be a taboo in our society when the entire world is now talking about it openly. We have to open ourselves to other people and stop negating anything diverse or different that comes our way. One of the reason I feel this society is so miserably shaken to the roots is that we have NO acceptability whatsoever (as is evident from some comments here on such aspects like language rather than focusing on the content).
    If we must change we have to be open about realistic issues. This IS an issue in so many societies. BE REALISTIC people. I heartily acknowledge the writer and the Express Tribune for allowing such a topic to come forth.Recommend

  • Mario

    The style is great! I actually enjoyed reading it. Thanks Mariam for the courage to post the article. It is definitely intense. You made me wonder what if feels like to be secluded, and how we can change this seclusion which mostly the society has brought upon since time immemorial. How I hope people can all be sensitive towards commenting on issues like this. More power to all those who are aware of protecting and fulfilling the rights of others, especially of LGBTQI :)Recommend

  • Qaisar Roonjha

    It’s one of the great I ever read,Mariam you described it in a great way.


  • Safdar ali khan

    I think what ever they are now these days this is because of our polarised and radical society. Most of us will not feel comfortable when we come to know that person sitting next to us has some kind of sexuality issues. i think its our behavior which has lead transexuals ending up at a place which is very vulnerable for such deases and they have their own sort of community or rather i would say thier comfortable zone. I read some where that majority of them are from respectable families and just as they were born thein families quited them and kind of donated their very own blood to local guru who look afters them, pay for them and after when they are grown up they try to earn back their investment by pushing them in to this field of dancing and being entertainer at local mela’s and they try to earn a living out of this life style. this is the delima of our society. no body tries to see them as humans. all we see is what they are doing and we dont bother to know why they are doing it?
    Had we treated them as normals they too would be living a normal lifes. its so bizarre and ugly truth which no one accepts. can keep them as house keeper for instant instead of trying to find some local female maid who comes with a lots of responsibilities? a question most of us will answer as straight NO*.
    here i would like to mention and share a fact they are not that bizarre of creature. only persons who are allowed to go in the Grave of Prophet S.a.w to clean up are transexuals. not even a fully developed male or a female :)Recommend

  • Shaukat Channan

    I congratulate you for expressing this here for more understanding of our society….Dear it is only boring for all those who did not under stand properly…but I appreciate you that you have taken one step ahead to raise their voice for their rights and happy life….Best of Luck…please write more about them..Recommend

  • Omair Butt

    Nicely done mary !!! one more step in the right direction !! way to go !!!Recommend

  • Najam Us Sahar

    excellent work Mariam. its u and me who makes the society and our steps will change it. I highly appreciate your effort to make this in writing. even if someone find it boring, it also gave them the message behind, a stone which create ripples in the mindset:)Recommend

  • Usama Khilji

    Kudos to the writer for touching upon taboos that need to be broken, and starting a discussion! It is unfortunate that for many, this space is nothing but a place where they judge the writing style of a person trying to convey a message to society. It is important for us, like you said, to treat everyone we come across as humans, and not shun them based on their personal choices or natural traits that have no direct implications for us.Recommend

  • Khurram Mobin

    It is better to seek out and detect the disease as early as possible. No one can be a hero these days to save the whole world but it is not possible without collective efforts in our society if do something about it. The starting point of the confusion is that we just don’t know what to do? Yet so many problems to be solved. I might agree with this that such people are not being treated well as same ways that we treat other normal beings around us. All we need to find out where is the base root lies that problems like these arise. We can only babble about these issues. Life isn’t seems like movies though all does not have happy endings but it is short.Recommend