Pakistan’s Transgender Community Rises Up

Dr. Sarah Gill was just 14 when she ran away from home in Karachi. For most of her childhood, she had suffered the humiliation of feeling like a girl but being told she was a boy. She used to quarrel with her mother for making her dress like a boy and would refuse to study unless she was allowed to grow her hair long. “From my features, it was always very obvious that I wasn’t a guy,” she says. “People used to degrade me a lot because of my looks. They would come to my house and tell my parents all sorts of things about me.”

One day—Sarah remembers only that she was in the ninth grade—her parents had a male relative over for dinner. He took one look at her and sternly declared that her femininity would end up disgracing the household. “He said that with me being the way I was, no one would send marriage proposals for any of the girls in our family. I remember my father fell silent and that none of us finished our dinner that evening.”

Later that night, Sarah’s father and other relatives locked her in a room and beat her so badly that she asked them to put her out of her misery by taking her life. “With hindsight, I don’t blame anyone for what happened to me,” she says. “My father didn’t know any better. No one in our society has been taught what to do with a child that’s neither a boy nor a girl. The Urdu language is such a rich language, but it only has words for ‘son’ and ‘daughter.’ Even the language cannot tell me what I am to my parents.”

Sarah does not remember how many days passed, only that she feared she was about to be killed. Finally, she ran away from home hidden in the shroud of night. While she was walking down the street, a car stopped in front of her and the window rolled down. “I was a 14-year-old child with nowhere to go,” she says. “I had no choice but to get in that car.”

Sarah is unusually reticent about what happened next. “I won’t say that I wasn’t given food or shelter—because I was—but on what conditions and in exchange for what?” A few nights later, she was taken off the streets of central Karachi. Homeless and destitute, she had been wandering aimlessly for hours when she was approached by a group of transgender women who had been begging at a traffic light slightly further on. They took her in and arranged to have her placed with a guru—a community matriarch—who agreed to raise her and give her shelter. Community members told her that there were three possible ways that she could make a living: She could dance, beg, or become a prostitute. “I decided to dance at parties,” she says. “I think I’ve danced in every city and village in Pakistan.”

As harrowing as it was, Sarah Gill’s experience is not atypical for a transgender woman living on the Indian subcontinent. For centuries, intersex people—those who possess both male and female sexual organs—and those assigned male at birth who have subsequently identified as women have left their homes and joined third-gender communities, where they have been able to express their femininity without fear of persecution. These societies are organized around a guru-chela (master-disciple) system of kinship and have their own rules, rituals, and dispute resolution mechanisms. In Pakistan, the terms used to describe people who belong to these communities are varied and sometimes used interchangeably. Most common among them are the words hijra and khawaja sira, two historically distinct groups who are conflated in the modern day.

Source link

Tags: No tags

Leave A Comment