kulfi - it's a whole bar in the shape of a horizontal drum of frozen, flavored milk when I spotted a tall hijra across the street; you can recognize them anywhere, by the way they dress, by the way they carry themselves. I remember the first time I met a 'hijra' in Pakistan many years ago walking around my grandmother's neighborhood, dancing for interested-looking people just for a few rupees. My cousin and I had stopped to watch the exaggerated dance to an Indian song the hijra was singing in a man's voice. Every time I saw them, they were always dressed as women either begging at traffic lights, entertaining people by dancing and singing in their usually hoarse voice.
After talking to a few eunuchs during my last trip to Pakistan a few months ago, I understand why not a single hijra I have come across has adopted a profession other than prostitution, dancing, begging or selling prayers: they are not allowed to by the society they live in; it is unheard of for a hijra to have a respectable job. The Pakistani society humiliates them with their eyes, their body language, yet when it comes to entertainment, the hijras are called upon to perform dances at weddings or other parties and paid with lots of snickers and a little money. Most people are very conscious of not having any sort of physical contact with these eunuchs, not even a simple handshake, almost as if they will infect them. The majority of these hjras in Lahore live in the red-light district, Heera Mandi, but not all sell sexual favors; the ones who do not wish to engage in these activities simply make a living by begging. And according to Saba, the first hijra I interviewed at Benazir Kulfi shop, some "sell prayers." (translated from urdu)
Saba was a little different than the average hijra you see roaming the streets, calmer and seemingly religious. Although layered with makeup to make herself/himself known, Saba said that she does not 'feel like a woman or a man. 'I summed up the courage to ask her within the first few minutes of the interview what exactly made them physically different from both genders. (Translated from Urdu) "We do not have the reproductive organs of a woman or a man, we just have a hole over there by birth where we urinate from."
During our half-hour conversation, Saba thanked Allah (God) numerous times by allahmdullilah in response to me asking her/him whether or not 'she' felt angry at 'her' ill fate. (They generally refer to themselves in the female gender) She said that she prays and goes to the mosque regularly and while during her childhood she did question God's will many a time, she accepts her fate and knows that there is a reason their kind exists that they do not understand but it is the way God made them, then allahmdulillah. She said humans cannot comprehend the will of God and why He makes certain people the way He does but her faith does not allow her to cry over something she has no control over, something that was clearly His will. And because of religion, Islam, Saba does not make a living out of prostitution but just giving people duas (prayers) and has to 'dress up' as a woman so she may be easily spotted for the sake of earning money. People of Pakistan give money to hijras out of sympathy and superstition - some believe that denying a hijra money will result in bad luck.
My friend politely asked Saba whether she was sexually attracted to men or women and Saba replied, "we have no such feeling for either sex; we are not born with them." She said she lives with a group of hijras because that is their only social circle. They have never been and never will be accepted as part of common society; the only people they are accepted by and can lead a peaceful life with are hijras.
Saba roused my interest in the hijra community and shortly after my meeting with her, I visited a run-down apartment where three hijras resided. Only one, Simi, was home. She looked more like a woman than Saba, with softer hair and softer features. In fact, it would be quite easy to mistake Simi for a woman if she did not talk in her manly voice. I was a little uncomfortable in the apartment, not because of Simi, but because of the scandalous neighborhood. Simi differed from Saba greatly. She said she always felt like a girl, and in fact, was actually born a man! It is hard to differentiate between the ones who are physically and mentally in-between. Despite their differences, Simi and Saba both left home when they were eight or nine years old. Their family members were 'normal' and lead normal lives which of course, made it impossible for them to live there. So they found their families with each other. Simi was not a prostitute either, but she was a professional dancer an was often called to parties to perform.
It must be formidable to feel differently than the gender you're born as, and even harder to be born with no gender. But these people still deserve respect and a chance at leading a somewhat normal life."/>