Story from PRI's The World. Listen to audio above for full report.
Once valued for their blessing and feared for their curse, transgender people are increasingly being sidelined in Pakistan. Many are cut off from mainstream society, currently living as beggars and sex workers.
There are no official statistics, but officials say that there are at least 50,000 openly transgender people scattered across Pakistan, according to community leaders. "We consider ourselves as women, and we want to live as women, but no one accepts us," Guru Zeni, a transgender person, told PRI's The World. "Everyone tells us that this is not right, and that we should live as men. But we cannot live as men. Because a spirit inside of us is feminine. And we didn’t' choose this. It's been this way since we were born."
This can be difficult for many living in Pakistan. Natasha, a transgender person, was once working for a restaurant, but was forced to quit when she came out as a woman. She told The World:
They told me to cut your hair, which I don't want… there are so many females working, and they have long hair and long nails and they wear female dresses, and why should I face these problems? Just because I'm a transgender? Then I talked to my HR department, and said I can't continue my job being male. If you want me to work, then you should accept it… but they told me you can't continue.
Pakistan's transgender community has formed a tight-knit society. Many belong to a kinship society with formal initiation rights, a legal system, and even a secret vocabulary. And some have begun to fight for more equal rights in society.
In fact, activists have won a few significant victories recently. The Supreme Court has ruled on transgender people's right to health and inheritance. Perhaps most surprisingly, the Supreme Court recently ruled that transgender be added as a third gender category on national identity cards.
The government has yet to fully implement the rulings, and there's still a ways to go. But these small but significant victories seem to point a way to a brighter future for Pakistan's transgender community.
PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.More about The World.