Are they cross-dressing males? Are they drag queens? Are they transgender women, or are they simply feminine men? Sometimes at a stoplight or passing by in a rickshaw, you might see a few Pakistanis that resemble both the likes of traditional men and women. Often dressed in salwar kameez, or a Pakistani woman's main wardrobe, khawaja siras are living in clusters throughout Pakistan, especially in major cities. Though largely believed by society to be intersex people or hermaphrodites, the khawaja sira community actually consists of a variety of gender non-conforming persons assigned male at birth that share in common certain life ways. Being hijra is as much a cultural identity as it is a gender one.
Khawaja siras share a tenuous relationship with their social and physical landscape, many interacting with the public as entertainers, beggars and sex workers, while also living in deras or residences headed by a guru. In 2009, Pakistan became one of only a handful of nations worldwide to legally recognize genders that disrupt the male-female binary, or the third gender, and has since granted them basic rights. However, the movement for gender equality is far from over in this country, much less the world.
A quick media search reveals reporting on the rampant abuse facing this community as well as key legal victories. Ikra Javed delve past this macro understanding of Pakistan's unique 'transgender' community to unveil the micro context, ranging from their intracommunity dynamics to the diverse personal realities comprising a collective khawaja sira identity.