Transgender inclusivity: What are we missing?

  • Current reforms should be updated

By Abdul Wahid Qureshi

The current transgender reforms initiative could be termed as one the most successful of its type in this country’s history. It has not only claimed fundamental rights for the transgender community but has made allies in the realm of politics, religious spheres and in civil society circles. Importantly, trans-advocacy forums have emphasized the “enabling” of the marginalized community, which has resulted in ownership and enthusiastic participation of transgenders in the initiative. They have secured segregated beds in a few public hospitals. A special school for transgenders has been established. Their inheritance rights have been recognized by the Council of Islamic Ideology. Ex-Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr Justice Saqib Nisar, in his directions stressed on state institutions to provide due rights to the much oppressed community. In the domain of power politics, although transgender activists failed to ensure their entry to Parliament, they have shown vivacious and outstanding political attitudes in last general elections (as 17 transgenders contested as candidates in the general elections of May 2018). In a panel discussion conducted by Blue Veins (an NGO) a few months ago, Nayab Ali a trans activist, expressed her satisfaction over the success the movement had accomplished thus far. She claimed that upon their demand, the state had started providing them spaces in various spheres of social and political life.

The narrative of rights claiming lacks lucidity. From where should the rights originate? Interaction with trans intelligentsia explicitly reveals that they are surrounded by fundamental controversies over this

Despite the fact that movement is witnessing enormous successes, the societal response towards trans people is somehow experiencing a fall down the hill. Recurrence of violent incidents is becoming a routine story.  Institutional responses at local administration level are still problematic. The first ever research regarding healthcare needs of the transgender community, which was launched in October, evidently suggests that in Pakistan, there is serious ignorance, insensitivity and discrimination of healthcare providers towards the trans-community, while keeping them deprived of their basic right. The study reveals 78.75 percent respondents from the transgender community feel that they do not have access to qualified healthcare providers while only 21.25 percent stated they had sufficient coverage. The nexus of binary sexes (male & female) and its dominance over the socio-political discourse is somehow producing depressing outcomes. Passing remarks with stereotypical connotations towards the transgender has become a common habit. The aforementioned research also verify that 92 percent of the respondents were facing some form of discrimination which was not limited to refusal of care, harassment, insensitive and disrespectful behavior, but extended even to verbal abuse and violence.

At this juncture, the transgender reform initiatives are in dire need of critical revision. The prevalence of the existing situation noticeably manifest that reforms are not addressing the issues for which they were intended.

One of the most overlooked matters is the hegemonic bisexual gender construct. Unfortunately, activists and legislators have paid very little attention to this particular aspect. Established gender theories propose that binary sexes are not merely the biological beings but they have social existence as well. The gender theorists continue to argue that binary genders do not only think of themselves in duality but they act in likely manners. Hence their actions in the real-life interactions are dogged by that meticulous fact. In this whole picture, the third sex is extremely vulnerable to the denial of their sexual identity, social hatred, mental torture and many of other tribulations. I am afraid to argue that the trans reforms initiative cannot validate its intentions, unless and until they do not adopt substantial measures to break the hegemonic gendered ideologies.

Moreover, the entire trans reform initiative is following the “top-down approach” meant for addressing their issues. Change through legislation is dominantly being preferred by activists and the politicians (which is not wrong in itself) which unfortunately has failed to trickle their positive outcomes down to the wider society. In order to have genuine and comprehensive transgender reforms, we have to work seriously on the consciousness of the general masses. Gendered exclusive consciousness needs to be altered with the inclusive one. Community gathering (in cultural context), and Juma sermons (in Islamic context) are the perfect sites for producing consciousness sensitive towards the transgender. Additionally, while talking about ideological construction, the role of textbooks and curricula cannot be ignored. Gender-based content should be kept informed of the problems that, androgynous, bigender, pangender, agender drag kings, drag queens, cross-dressers and intersex individuals face in their interactions, by day and night. Relevant to mention here is the pedagogue’s role, which also requires immediate attention of educationists and trainers.

Furthermore trans reforms initiative have completely missed the function of media imagery. Comedy shows are serving as the most intoxicating agent of passing derogatory image of trans people to the general masses. Talking exaggerative, comedy stuff in Pakistani electronic media has enormously been assimilated with humiliation of trans people. Their image as beggars, abnormal humans, and inferior beings is dominantly endorsed by so-called comedians. Consequently, the stereotyping of transgender has become a usual custom. The engagement of PEMRA has a crucial, central and decisive part in this regard.

Lastly, the narrative of rights claiming lacks lucidity. From where should the rights originate? Interaction with trans intelligentsia explicitly reveals that they are surrounded by fundamental controversies over this particular question. There are people who argue that we should extract rationales for rights claiming from religion (prominently Islam). They consider “Ijtihad” as the most persuasive source of legitimising the narrative. However, opponents are there to ponder the question of non-Muslim transgenders. Hence, they are seeking secular answers to the very question of building a narrative. In my humble opinion this debate is crucial and need be attended by influential religious dogmas, intellectuals, and the civil society members, while the praxis should keep its journey forward in line with on-hand spaces provided by the Constitution.

The writer can be contacted at [email protected]