Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Femaling Males: Anthropological Analysis of the Transgender Community in Pakistan

Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

Femaling Males: Anthropological Analysis of the Transgender Community in Pakistan

Article excerpt


There is a widespread belief in Pakistani society that hijras or khusras1 are the people born with ambiguous genitals medically termed as hermaphrodites. Most people think that born as hijra refers to an organic condition; but contrary to this myth, in most cases, becoming a hijra is one's own conscious attempt driving out of psychological and organic etiology. In this regard, we conducted an interesting anthropological study in Dera Ghazi Khan, Punjab. We selected ninety-one different types of transgender for in-depth interviews and case studies from six deras from Ghanta Ghur Gol Bagh and its surroundings. We discovered several factors that persuade one to join the hijra community; they include a passion, a desire to express their feminine identity more explicitly, poor economic conditions and, above all, to live a carefree life. The hijras who are born intersexed have the highest status as this condition is rare in humans. Interestingly, in a sample of 91, only three were real hijras or khawaja sira, 57 were zenanas in the guise of hijras and 31 were nirban. The study reveals that becoming a hijra entails many material and psychological advantages. As a career, it provides them opportunity to earn easy money through vadhai, dance performance at disco bands, circus and prostitution. On the other hand it gives them personal autonomy and provides them excuse to win public sympathy. Their traditional role depends upon their individual talent, ability to face hostility and ridicule. In short, Pakistani hijras do possess contradicting virtues of masculinity and femininity and Pakistani mainstream culture does have room for them to survive under the shadow of sexual variance.

Keywords. Hijras, Sexuality, Gender, Culture, Economy


'Sex' refers to the biological characteristics that define men and women but 'Gender' refers to the socially constructed attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women. It is usually presupposed that there are two genders, masculine and feminine, founded on the two biological sexes, male and female. However, for anthropologists apart from these two categories of human beings based on sex and gender another category of transgender exists as a separate gender. Transgender locally known as hijra can be defined as the one who can not reproduce due to some biological disorder. Interestingly, the ratio of hijras has increased in Pakistan although the birth of a natural hijra is a rare happening. According to Jami (2004:5) about 1% of the whole hijra community is hermaphrodite or intersexes, remaining are transgender, cross-dressers, homosexuals or bisexuals. They change their gender because they feel that they are different.

In a broader sense, the term hijra 6 is used for a man who is perceived by others to be of an intermediate sex and who pursues the culturally prescribed occupation of dancing and taking vadhai7 on marriages and birth of male offspring. Hijras form a unique sub-culture within dominant Pakistani culture which is comprised on the usual categories of men and women. The culture of hijras is dynamic and requires differentiation of diverse categories that exist in it. To join hijras community, some individuals undergo castration and those who undertake this surgery are called nirban equivalent to a transsexual. Those individuals who refuse to undergo the emasculation are called zenana. The criteria of being a hijra and not a zenana are castration and membership of a hijra group as vhaila 8. Zenanas keep their hair short like men and wear wigs when the occasion demands. Many of them are married men with children. On the other hand, hijras live as full time females. They grow their hair, nails and pluck eyebrows. In order to look exactly like women, they only wear female clothes while zenanas have both male and female wardrobes. Zenanas perform at disco bands or traditional gatherings but do not take vadhai.

Hijras describe themselves as individuals having male bodies, with a female spirit trapped in it. …

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