In 2017, I spent three weeks pursuing a story I've been following from afar: the trans movement in Pakistan. With nothing but my DSLR and a few microphones, I bought a plane ticket and landed in Islamabad. With the help of several friends I made along the way, I was able to embed myself within the Khwaja Sara (trans) community in the slums of Lahore. I captured their empowerment through film and photography.
What is it like to be trans in Pakistan? This is a preview of their raw narrative generated by the voices of the community. Despite being viewed by the West as one of the most conservative countries in the world, Pakistan has taken many progressive initiatives such as granting full rights to transgender citizens and issuing passports with a separate gender category (which the US does not even offer). However, little has been done to positively impact other aspects of their everyday lives. Trans people (sometimes referred to hijras or khwaja siras) remain one of Pakistan’s most marginalized citizens. Often portrayed as dancers, beggars, and prostitutes by the media, they are scarred with a fallacious perception that deceives their true identity.
I met some of the most inspiring individuals from the trans-communities in Islamabad and Lahore. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mehlab, Jannat, Moon, Zehrish, Bijili, Badshiri, and many others who strive to defy misconceptions by promoting activism through health, education, and performing arts. Some, as part of the Khwaja Sira Society, an NGO dedicated to advancing social and health needs, are advocating for social justice, equity, and well-being. Their resilience and resistance have and will continue to empower other trans-women to raise their voice for a better future.
Their fight should not be alone. Trans people are not looking for pity from society - they themselves are capable and tenacious individuals. What they do need is the society to stand with them, listen, and understand them. Regardless of what country you dwell in, I challenge you to ask yourself how you can be a better ally for their movement and support them in their struggle.
All photos are original. If you'd like to use them elsewhere or make a print, please contact me. Thank you!