“I think that’s important—that transgender individuals are just like everyone else. We have our interests, our hobbies, our things we like to do.”—Jazz Jennings (b. October 6, 2000, is a transgender male to female activist)
For centuries transgender human beings have been the target of contempt, mockery, hatred, disrespect, and treated in a most inhuman manner that at times surpasses all norms of behavior. What is most horrifying in this matter is that these people are not at fault. According to Chaz Bono (transgender—female to male), American writer, musician and actor: “There’s a gender in your brain and a gender in your body. For 99 percent of people, those things are in alignment. For transgender people, they’re mismatched. That’s all it is. It’s not complicated, it’s not a neurosis. It’s a mix-up. It’s a birth defect, like a cleft palate.”
Before one can pass judgements it would be interesting to walk a few steps in the shoes of a transgender and place oneself on the cross-roads of conflicting thoughts in a confused mind in the midst of a society which has little tolerance for anything other than ‘normal.’
Time and again we have witnessed innocent persons being punished for crimes committed by others but this can be on account of human infallibility. What if it is nature that is playing the tricks? Who is to blame in this situation? Anyone with some knowledge of biology would know of the concept of mutation that can occur in all living beings. This happens when a DNA gene is damaged or is changed in a way that the genetic message it is supposed to carry is distorted, creating an abnormal situation. Of course, this is a popular topic for geneticists who are deeply engaged in their study of genes, heredity and variation of organisms and in search of remedies for congenital malformations, genetic malfunctions and for improving overall health.
When there exists a general awareness about misdirected genes causing males to behave like females and vice versa then why is acceptance so difficult? Then why make a joke out of human beings who could be trained to work just like other normal people? To some extent, the West has overcome the awkwardness on account of transgender but we in Pakistan have remained unable to grapple this issue properly. In most of the cases female-male transgender is acceptable and easily accommodated in the society compared to male-female who is usually referred to as hijra or khawajasera. Abid Ghafoor Chaudhry et al in their paper ‘On the Begging Hijras of Islamabad: In the Age of Urbanization: An Anthropological Perspective’, write:
“Contemporary transgender now live on the margins of the society as entertainers, beggars and sex workers. Hijras are vulnerable in Pakistan because of widespread un-acceptance by the society. In most cases, these people remain extremely vulnerable and secluded from the society and are often repulsed by their own family members. They are consequently faced to join their contemporaries in closely-knit communities of hijras as disciples (chaila) under gurus (as experienced elders in their community are usually called)”.
A transgender born in the lower class families is usually handed over to the community of these eunuchs and who is raised to become an entertainer, beggar or sex worker. This is a very pathetic state of affairs considering that other than their undefined gender, they are reasonably healthy people. Anyone with a strong physique can be educated as well as trained in skills to work in different fields. Rather than wasting away their lives engaged in undesirable activities, these transgender can be made highly useful members of society especially as domestic workers in homes as was done in the royal harem during the Mughal era. It can be said with confidence that the Mughal emperors had the sensibility to utilize their services but with their downfall the royal patronage was no longer available to this community that was left to fend for itself. Due to lack of education its members, who were already looked upon with contempt, ended up living in slums in close-knit abodes and forced to make a living notoriously.
Nowadays, on the roads at every traffic signal, one can see gaudily dressed transgender knocking on commuters’ car window panes, desperately seeking alms. Neither the scorching heat of summers nor the freezing cold of winters can prevent them from lowering their dignity by begging. How shameful to see good and strong human beings, capable of performing innumerable tasks run around vehicles, making odd gestures, sometimes being given a few rupees and most of the time abused or shunned disgracefully. This does not only reflect apathy of the society but is also a wake-up call for those who matter in the land to fulfill their obligations to the transgender who are equal citizens of this country.
When the world has acknowledged the transgender dilemma, has consciously recognized their true talents and is making all-out efforts to rehabilitate them as respectful members of the society, then why are we hesitant in giving them their fair share? Although a handful have managed to make their presence felt by raising their standard of living, even contesting general elections, the condition of the large majority is still very pathetic. With no education, no acquired skill and no reasonable source of income one wonders whatever goes on in the minds of these human beings. How aimless is their life! There is no comfort and security of a family. They are deprived of love and devoid of self-respect, the reasons why they happily bear taunts and humiliation of people. Out of Pakistan’s total population of 211 million, transgender comprise a little over 1.5 million which may be a very small proportion but is undoubtedly a formidable number. By turning away our eyes this problem cannot be averted. It is our human duty to take care of transgender and help them to serve society not as beggars but as its honourable and useful members.
The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS)