The Third Gender

A massive heat-wave had overwhelmed the sprawling city of Karachi, sweat dripped down the bodies of busy shoppers in the hustle and bustle of the bazaar. Spice stalls dominated this street, tickling the nose of this young child who clung to her mother’s hand. This child loved to spend but was wary of crowds.

“Always stick close to me, don’t get lost or the bad men will take you away, and you’ll never get to see me again,” Mummy had often warned, “Don’t talk to strangers, and if they try talking, run.”

Karachi was a rather dangerous place to be, and the mother’s paranoia was justified. So, they moved on from one street to another. This one held rows upon rows of shiny bangles dangling from jewelers stands, glittering in what little beams of sun escaped the tent flaps overhead. More eye-catching than the bangles, however, was the scene that unfolded in the center of the street.

A lady dressed in pale yellow stood surrounded by a circle of men; jeering, hooting, loud men. They laughed at their own jokes, whatever they may have been, and poking fun at something wrapped in the lady’s white dupatta: they made it rather obvious, so even their young spectator knew. Bangles lay shattered to pieces at the woman’s feet, and whatever was wrapped in that gauzy white clothe she had adorned, shook in fear. Later, the child would realize, the creature was sobbing.

The child pulled free of her mother, and ventured forward to take a closer look at the spectacle. Odd, the men were asking the creature to dance for them. Wasn’t this bazaar meant for buying and selling? What were dancers doing here? Was a scene from a film being shot here? Questions danced in the little one’s head. Then, an emboldened young man entered the inner circle and wrenched the creature out of the lady’s grasp.

At this, the woman whose face seemed made out of stone before crumbled entirely. Never would the little innocent forget the pleas that left her mouth. Face streaked with tears, the mother of the creature begged the men not to harm her child. The men were now pushing and passing around the thing.

Odd, how it appeared to be a girl…but not quite? Little cherub couldn’t figure out if it was a boy or a girl they were leering at. A pit formed in her stomach, and turmoil swirled round and round, until it made the little girl nauseous. There was something wrong with the people. They were hurting the…boy or girl, whatever it was. Soon, the anxiety turned to tears. By the time the child started to sob and wail similarly to the creature being pushed about, her own mother had come to drag her away from the crowd.

“Didn’t I tell you to stay close? Why do you disobey me at every turn?”

She didn’t stay mad for long, as relief took over and anger faded away. The child was too upset to ask questions, and only much later did she become aware of the third gender.

The forbidden, disliked, barely tolerated gender.

Why is it, that even after the laws protecting the third gender have been passed in this country – mostly as political moves – we still cannot change our minds about the third gender? Why do we still address them as “Khusras,” a derogatory term, often used by our youth to poke fun at their friends or acquaintances? If a child can feel for herself something wrong with the people, rather than the Trans kid who only wanted to buy bangles, like every other customer in the area, why can’t the rest of us?

As heard in a play, one Trans individual beseeches another:

“They don’t even respect women, and you’re still just a cheap replica.”

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