Apart from my father and brother, every man I have ever come across since I was a child has abused me, one way or the other.
This was stated by Pakistan’s first ever transwoman standup comedian Anaya Sheikh, who aptly used wit and humour to reflect on the very serious, and often dangerous, issues transgender persons have to deal with on a daily basis. However, a few years ago when one such performance resulted in an audience member hurling abuses at her, she decided to call it a day. Nevertheless, today, as a junior general manager in a multinational company in Lahore, she not only has a decent job but continues to raise voice for her community by being an active rights advocate.
Anaya, who holds a BBA degree from Comsats University, recalls that ever since she was in school she had realised she was ‘different’.
Because of her physical features, the family had enrolled her in a boys’ school where she would sit on the back benches to avoid public scrutiny as much as possible. Anaya explained that while in school, she would pretend it was an acting class where she had to pass off as a boy — “this used to help me pass the day before I could get home and be myself.”
“Once a teacher hit me very hard but more than the physical pain what hurt most and whose scars still remain is when he called me a ‘khusra’,” she said, referring to the common slur for transgender persons.
“My parents showered me with love but also kept me hidden inside the house because they were scared someone might take me away,” she shared further.
Narrating the street troubles of growing up, Anaya recalled several instances of the neighbourhood’s boys trying to harass her for being a transwoman, along with the cleric who would come to teach her the Quran at their house.
Having passed her childhood with difficulty, Anaya decided to take on the rest of life’s challenges head on. After her college education, she got a job, and also began doing her social work and standup/theatre performances alongside. But it wasn’t a smooth ride.
Her professional life was not much different than her school years. Having worked various jobs in all kinds of places — receptionist, sales girl, admin assistant — Anaya claims she was always discriminated against and told she did not belong, thus leaving her out of decent job options.
Anaya remembered what turned out to be her first and last dance performance with much horror. “I was disgusted [when dancing at an event] looking at the faces of all the men being amused by this kind of ‘entertainment’ but I didn’t have a choice. I had to earn something.”
Criticising the lack of options for decent work for transgender persons in the country, Anaya demanded the government to pass laws ensuring that people from her community have a chance at a decent education, as well as secure and decent jobs. “Transgender persons need to have more career options other than choosing to either dance at events, beg on the streets or sleep with people,” she asserted.
Luckily, she landed her present job at a multinational where she is welcome and respected. Anaya also plans to re-launch her standup comedy career in the next few months and has decided that she won’t let audience insults deter her this time around.
Afifa Nasarullah is a multimedia journalist at City News Network, working for 24 News HD as a special correspondent. She is also a blogger interested in human rights and social issues.