Pakistan's Transgender People Want to Dance Again

Published May 22nd, 2020 - 09:08 GMT

Transgender people in Pakistan are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers.

Many claim to be the cultural heirs of eunuchs who thrived at the courts of the Mughal emperors that ruled the Indian subcontinent for two centuries until the British arrived in the 19th century and banned them.

They are traditionally called upon for rituals such as blessing newborns or to bring life to weddings and parties, in a country where it is considered un-Islamic for a woman to dance in front of men.

Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Several have also run in elections.

Despite these signs of integration, they are largely shunned by society, the victims of beatings and rapes. Those who cannot make ends meet as dancers are often condemned to a life of begging or sex work.

Over the past few months the shelter, which once helped around a dozen transgender people, has bulged to offer food to more than 70, supported by local donations.

The few rooms it offers were quickly filled, with some sleeping on the floor to maximise space.

Dancing is a way of avoiding a life of begging or sex work for many in the marginalised transgender community, believed to number hundreds of thousands in Pakistan according to studies by non-profit groups and development organisations.

Fear of contracting the virus has caused many sex workers to stop offering services, pushing them further into poverty.

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In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, a member of the transgender community carries food for "iftar" before breaking their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender pass

In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, a member of the transgender community carries food for "iftar" before breaking their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

In this picture taken on May 8, 2020, transgenders Adnan Ali (L) and Julie Khan (R) stand outside a shelter house in the Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

In this picture taken on May 8, 2020, transgenders Adnan Ali (L) and Julie Khan (R) stand outside a shelter house in the Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

In this picture taken on May 10, 2020, Nadeem Kashish, a member of the transgender community, gets a haircut at a shelter house in Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

In this picture taken on May 10, 2020, Nadeem Kashish, a member of the transgender community, gets a haircut at a shelter house in Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

In this picture taken on May 10, 2020, Julie Khan (L), a member of the transgender community, cuts the hair of Nadeem Kashish at a shelter house in the Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir Q

In this picture taken on May 10, 2020, Julie Khan (L), a member of the transgender community, cuts the hair of Nadeem Kashish at a shelter house in the Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

In this picture taken on May 8, 2020, member of the transgender community Adnan Ali (L) rests inside a shelter house in Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

In this picture taken on May 8, 2020, member of the transgender community Adnan Ali (L) rests inside a shelter house in Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QU

In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QU

In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QU

In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, a member of the transgender community carries food for "iftar" before breaking their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender pass
In this picture taken on May 8, 2020, transgenders Adnan Ali (L) and Julie Khan (R) stand outside a shelter house in the Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 10, 2020, Nadeem Kashish, a member of the transgender community, gets a haircut at a shelter house in Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 10, 2020, Julie Khan (L), a member of the transgender community, cuts the hair of Nadeem Kashish at a shelter house in the Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir Q
In this picture taken on May 8, 2020, member of the transgender community Adnan Ali (L) rests inside a shelter house in Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QU
In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QU
In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QU
In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, a member of the transgender community carries food for "iftar" before breaking their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender pass
In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, a member of the transgender community carries food for "iftar" before breaking their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 8, 2020, transgenders Adnan Ali (L) and Julie Khan (R) stand outside a shelter house in the Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 8, 2020, transgenders Adnan Ali (L) and Julie Khan (R) stand outside a shelter house in the Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 10, 2020, Nadeem Kashish, a member of the transgender community, gets a haircut at a shelter house in Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 10, 2020, Nadeem Kashish, a member of the transgender community, gets a haircut at a shelter house in Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 10, 2020, Julie Khan (L), a member of the transgender community, cuts the hair of Nadeem Kashish at a shelter house in the Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir Q
In this picture taken on May 10, 2020, Julie Khan (L), a member of the transgender community, cuts the hair of Nadeem Kashish at a shelter house in the Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 8, 2020, member of the transgender community Adnan Ali (L) rests inside a shelter house in Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 8, 2020, member of the transgender community Adnan Ali (L) rests inside a shelter house in Bari Imam neighbourhood of Islamabad. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QU
In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QU
In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP
In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QU
In this picture taken on May 9, 2020, members of the transgenders community gather to break their fast during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan at the Guru transgender house in Rawalpindi. Transgender people in the country are known as "khawajasiras" or "hijras" -- an umbrella term denoting a third sex that includes transgender women and cross-dressers. Pakistan became one of the first countries in the world to legally recognise a third sex in 2009 and began issuing transgender passports from 2017. Aamir QURESHI / AFP

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