Colors Of The Rainbow

Nov 5, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Expressions, Non-Fiction

The word Queer is an umbrella term for sexual and gender minorities. Why such a word (which also means “having a questionable nature or shady” in the Oxford Dictionary) is so commonly used for particular people is self-explanatory in most cases.

While LGTB communities are increasingly being recognized and given their rights in most countries across the world, social perception regarding such societies is still highly strung in Pakistan.

Even though the government has provided them with an individual status, with a national representative and a separate gender column in the CNIC form (their gender on the NIC is mentioned as Khawaja Sara), there is still widespread fear and mistrust regarding them.

“We don’t want to be associated with such people,” said Seema, who hails from Korangi. “It is highly unnatural.”

When asked whether she had ever had an unpleasant encounter of any kind, she said, “I don’t want to! I know these people are against nature. They are bad! We keep away from them and they from us.”

Speaking with a transgender duo on Tariq Road, this correspondent learned of the difficulties faced by them on a daily basis.

“It is difficult for people like us to get jobs, because we are looked upon as vulgar,” said Heera, a beggar by day and a dancer by night.

“People have delegated us to certain roles, and we cannot move out of them. We cannot enroll in schools because the parents and administration would object, and we cannot go to work in offices – even as clerks – because there is fear of harassment and exploitation.”

“There is a (LGBT) community near the airport,” said Hadi. A resident living near the Mohammad Ali Jinnah Airport, he refused to give his surname for fear of repercussions. “They live in the rundown and kachi abbadi area. We don’t go out of (our) colony after maghrib. It is not safe for us.”

“They work during the night. That area is unsafe for locals, because there are all kinds of people who come out to visit them. We live by a sort of unspoken treaty; we do not acknowledge them and they do not acknowledge us.”

He refused to comment further when asked if he knew certain visitors of the area.

The LGBT community is slowly gaining ground, however. There are self-made help groups that allow people from different walks of life to come together and share their experiences as part of the community.

These can be shaped as discussion forums, informative websites; sometimes even physical offices that allow exchange of ideas and act as help lines for those going through a rough time at home.

One such website is Queer.pk. Launched in 2013, it aims at the LGBT community of Pakistan and provides a platform for a variety of topics of interest to the sexual minorities of the country.

One of the articles on the website cautions Pakistanis wanting to “come out”, stating that “you have to first make yourself stable enough to handle the risk. We run a great risk of being harmed. It doesn’t matter if you are a boy or a girl – the risk is the same.”

The tagline of the website states, “Don’t hate us. Know us.”

It highlights the backbone of prejudice against said community in Pakistan, inviting people to get to know the recipients of their fears before arriving at any particular conclusions about them.

It is an example of how deep and ingrained the fear of the people of the LGBT community is, that the site – which was was set up to help Pakistan’s homosexual and transgender community socialize and share experiences – was shut down by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) in September.

The site’s moderator, who asked not to be named, expressed disappointment in the government’s actions but clearly told AFP that he would not press charges in court for fear of a “negative reaction”.

Visitors who now try to access the website are redirected to another URL of the same thing.

While there is still widespread mistrust and superstition regarding them, some of the more influential among them have started to speak out.

Asma Jehangir, a prominent rights activist from Pakistan and a founding member of the Women’s Action Forum (WAF) a women’s rights organization, has been at the forefront of the fight to gain equal rights for the transgender community of Pakistan. She believes protection should also be provided to the lesbian, gay and bisexual community.

The national representative of the LGBT community in Pakistan and the President of Shemale Foundation of Pakistan Almas Bobby, who resides in Rawalpindi, has said time and again that the transgender community are subjected to injustices and treated as though they were barely human.

She further alleged that the police took money from them and threatened them with legal repercussions if they refused to pay.

Still others have found different ways of bringing their counterpart’s plight to light.

Sanam Fakhir, a member of Pakistan’s transgender society, even contested the general elections in May as an independent in the town of Sukkur in Sindh. While she accepted that it was very difficult to beat the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in their own province, she was adamant to bring about a change in her community.

“It is not our destiny to merely dance for others and hold begging bowls,” she told AFP by telephone.

The movie Immaculate Conception by Pakistani director Jamil Dehlavi, released in 1992 takes a hit at the numerous superstitious beliefs in Pakistani society regarding the transgender community. The title of the production mocks the conception of the Virgin Mariam (Mary).

The plot of the story centers around the superstition that sexual minorities – particularly transgender – are closer to God than others, and their prayers (or curses) are instantly effective. The movie brings to light the separate layers that different the different “cultures” in Pakistan, with eunuchs being a separate entity of their own – albeit one not so openly talked about.

Chief among these warriors of the ‘faith’ is Asifa Lahore, a British-Pakistani drag queen residing in the UK who shoots music videos aimed at different issues regarding the LGTB communities. Born and bred in Britain, she feels it is her duty to help Asian sexual minorities speak up.

Given the sensitive nature of the topics she chooses, it is hardly surprising to see the videos – which mostly have a comic element in them – receive the high amount of attention they do, from both the LGTB and heterosexual communities.

Responding to a query about why she feels compelled to make such bold statements in her videos she said, “Look, it’s about time we spoke out. It’s about time we said, this is the issue. This is who we are – we’re here and we exist.”

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