Transgender people face discrimination whether here or in Europe, though the issues they face in Europe are very different, said German transgender Muslim activist Leyla Jagiella while speaking at a session of the Aks Art, Film and Dialogue Festival held at T2F on Saturday evening.
The session titled ‘Spiritual and cultural resources for trans empowerment’ was part of the second day events of the four-day festival being held in Karachi.
Leyla, who predominantly works with transgender people from the migrant Muslim community in Europe, has been visiting Pakistan for the past 10 years and has been interacting with the local community quite extensively.
Here people were under the assumption that it’s easier to be a transgender person in Europe whereas that was not entirely the case, she said while speaking to Dawn after the talk. “The issues faced by the transgender community in Europe are very different. Over there, we’re stuck between two sides. On the one hand, there is mainstream European society that can be quite racist and Islamophobic. On the other side, we have conservative Muslims from the migrant community. Transgender Muslims are caught between these two sides and are marginalised by both.”
There was an interactive talk about gender, sexuality, society and religion and a wide variety of opinions were shared from among the audience. “This is what happens whenever there is a discussion about religion and Islam — there is a diversity of opinions,” said Leyla. “Something we often forget is that this kind of diversity of opinion has been going on for the past 1,400 years. The result of these discussions is what we know as Islam in the present age. Everyone is looking for a ‘pure’ Islam,” she added.
According to her, transgender people have historically always been a part of Muslim societies.
Today, different Muslim countries deal with transgender people in their own way. “In Iran gender-reassignment surgery is supported by the state,” related Leyla, “In Pakistan you get an official status as a Khawaja Sirah [a third gender]. You are neither man nor woman.” The situation is different in Iran. “After your transition, you are accepted as a woman and are permitted to get married,” she said, “There are other scholars who disagree with this but the state allows it.”
There were quite a few members of the transgender community present on the occasion who expressed their opinions on the subject. “It’s very important that events such as this festival take place,” said Zainy, a transgender ‘guru’, speaking to Dawn after the session.
“There is a lot we want to express to others about what we go through and this provides us with the opportunity to do that. Plus, a lot of problems get solved once you start talking about them.”
Zainy said it was very important to have a platform through which the transgender community could come forward and speak about the issues they faced themselves.