As narrated by Sapna to Annam Lodhi
It is Allah’s will that he has put a female soul in a male body.
A she-male transgender, of which there are very few in my community, my story is not unique but I have always been looked upon as an alien in the society. I was born and brought up in Sargodha, a small city in Punjab, Pakistan. After the completion of grade 6, I ran off to Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest metropolitan city, to stay amongst my own kind. My parents came searching for me and took me back home, where I completed grade 10.
I think it is our fate; we run away from everyone. None of us wants to live a life which has no meaning, but the society at large doesn’t want us to be a part of it. I realised this at a very tender age, not knowing where I will be running off to, but I ran away anyway.
I now live in the city of lights – Karachi, with five disciples. My guru – who was my immediate head, my mother, and my mentor – gifted the neighbourhood and this household to me. I hope to provide my followers with a brighter future.
My house is my palace. There are two rooms, one occupied with cupboards, trunks and some household items, and the other is where I sleep. I love decorating it gaudily, in hues of red and gold; the curtains cover the four walls, a large bed in the centre of the room, a broken dressing and a sofa set which is now in vestiges. I have ample guests over all the time; the furniture cannot keep up.
I have always been an avid reader, poetries and stories about my people are my favourite, and sometimes reading those fantasies – of a love life which I may never have.
I tried to research far and wide about my community – the transgender of Pakistan, failing to find any comprehensive study in the Urdu language about us. I recently tore off ‘Tesri Jins’ (third gender) by Akhtar Hussain Baloch. Because he has tried to tame things down, showing us in a different light, he has hidden facts and ignored many aspects. It only has what people want to hear.
I want to inform the society of the ground realities of Pakistan’s transgender with my book, which I have soulfully written and preserved. I would like the world to read about our life, our birth, our feelings, our parents, how society treats us, why we have to choose the most unconventional roles as jobs and why can we never leave, even when we want to.
The reason I started writing, and have finally compiled a novel, in which I have also tried to touch sensitive topics like our sexuality and physicality, is to explain that our feelings are not a disease that can be treated, we are spiritual beings.
Not all of us are the same; we have physical differences which even the doctors of the country fail to comprehend. Some know it early on that they are in the wrong body, others have no idea what is wrong with them.
Allah has made pairs for everyone in his creation; He has made us and some who are infatuated with us – which should be normal, right? But it isn’t in our society – the reason we were born alone and die alone. The world is just a passing stop for us.
My untitled book is based on the character ‘Mian Jee’ – a name given to the eldest in the trans community, who is recalling memories on their death bed. Just like at birth, the character has no choices in life. When they are younger parents treat them as boys which confuses them, kids laugh at them which pressurises them, they are assaulted which ignites complexes.
As these children grow up, they understand that no matter how hard they try they will never be able to fit in this jigsaw. Were they even made for this world?
I usually wonder – if a boy should look like a boy and a girl a girl, why can’t a trans look like a trans?
Their feelings and mindset are not something they made up rather they are born with it like all other normal human beings are born with certain traits. We are just like a child with polio, who cannot walk but has legs.
For my novel, I have also talked about the burial rituals of a trans person. The story starts with Mian Jee’s death, discussing the issue of his namaaz-e-janaza (funeral prayer), his virasat (will) and his childhood. When I die, people of the neighbourhood know what (or who) I am so they will treat my death like a female’s, as the burial rites for both the genders are different in Islam, and no one knows how to bury a trans.
But according to Shariah, I got it checked from a cleric, the namaaz-e-janaza for makhanas (emasculate) is the same as a na-baligh bachha (a child who hasn’t reached puberty). Physically, we aren’t male or female and after getting castrated, we further do not want to indulge in sexual activities.
You would ask, so why are most of the trans associated with sex work? It is because it’s the easiest source of income.
When I die, I will be taken to my parent’s house as they are the ones who actually own me. My namaaz-e-janaza will be performed there; only my face will be shown and I will be covered with a white cloth head to toe. No one can call me a hijra then. I will only be my parent’s child and only a child at that moment. Families usually accept their dead children, there are hardly any who die and are not taken to the grave from their own homes. The irony is, once we die our tombstones won’t say we were a trans in this life, but every waking moment in this world we have been reminded of that.
About rights to my property, if I have a trans NIC I will get just one share when the property is distributed among my siblings. According to Islamic law, women get one share while the men get two shares of the property. Therefore, my parents wanted me to get an equal share of the property so I still have a male ID card.
I have been writing this book for over a year now, it needs to be edited and only awaits a publisher. I dance and beg for a living. I do not have enough resources to get this book to its desired audience.
Like everyone else, I also want to earn a respectable living but the society doesn’t support this. We beg or resort to sex work because it is all that the society thinks of us. We do not have the resources to grow out of it. I have worked on and off with many NGOs and private companies. I worked with polio eradication teams, HIV consultants among others, but these jobs usually last just a few months.
Recently we were called by a multinational company who wanted to appoint us. The entire trans community of Karachi made their way to the interview; it is because we want to work that we went for the interview.
We were called for two rounds of interviews and they said we were selected. They even told us our expected salaries, I was appointed on PKR 30,000 others on PKR 40,000, and they asked us to spread the word that we were hired.
We were told we will be trained in English and given an advance of 50% for our expenditures, so most of us bought fine clothes for the job before we even got paid. We were called again, paraded before the media for pictures and later never called back.
This is just one case. There are many other cases where my community is used for foreign funding, publicity, and appreciation, but it never benefits us. Usually, we are appointed for a very short period of time, three to six months. What am I to do after that? Hence, we go back to dancing, begging and asking for rations. We have to feed ourselves, our families and also our gurus.
My guru would never understand how I strive for my disciples. Whenever I was fired I would come home crying and my guru would laugh at me for being naïve.
Gurus don’t usually allow their disciples to work; they feel that getting a daily wage is better than a monthly salary to run households. For them, the world doesn’t want the trans community and that our forward thinking will get us nowhere. Sometimes I think they are right. But I want my disciples to have a better lifestyle. Their parents have trusted me with their responsibility.
People talk about our rights, about how we are an important part of the society, but it is all meaningless. We not only want jobs but also respect in the society. My sexuality shouldn’t be a reason for me being targeted all the time.
I also know that sympathy won’t last forever, which is the reason why I am ready to voice my concerns, but due to my financial constraints, I can only do so much. The area I live in is trans-friendly, the neighbourhood is supportive, feeds us and gives in alms. My only request to the macro society is to make space for my community. I haven’t read a single job advertisement stating they want a trans person for a certain duty. People keep guards, cooks, drivers, and maids who are usually males. How can people bet on males being safer than trans? If you ask me, I can do all these jobs better than the other two genders. We have strong femininity hence we can cook, clean, even take care of kids and also masculinity so we can drive and guard your house.
I cannot fight forever for the transgender of the country but can try and save some of them. We are incapable of creating offspring, we cannot have a social life, and we are ridiculed, but there has to be a reason Allah created us and I am exploring it.