INSIDE THE DOUBLE LIVES OF PAKISTAN’S CROSS-DRESSING MEN


“I am a man who simply enjoys dancing and needs money to have a better life, and being a woman is the way.”

By Elizabeth Griffin/Marie Claire

Cloaked in a vibrant red sari, a veil covering his fully made-up face, 27-year-old Waseem Akram has become “Rani,” a female dancer. “I am not transgendered,” Akram asserts to Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Muhammed Muheisen. “I am a man who simply enjoys dancing and needs money to have a better life, and being a woman is the way.”

Akram lives in the northern Punjab city of Rawalpindi, Pakistan, where he works as a mobile accessories salesman at an alleyway shop and struggles to make a living. “One job is not enough to help me and my family,” Akram says. “Being a dancer at weddings, parties and private events…helps me to earn much more money than working in a shop.”

Akram is one of a small group of men living in Rawalpindi who lead double lives. During the daylight hours, they are salesmen and hotel clerks. At night, they assume female identities.

Photographer Muheisen spent two years following these men, and provides an extraordinary look inside their world with his series Pakistan Double Life. “I tried many times during those two years to take photographs, but it wasn’t easy,” Muheisen tells MarieClaire.com. “I kept visiting them and explaining my approach and my intention until they believed and understood what was trying to do.”

  Before and after of Riasat Hussain, 19   AP Muhammed Muheisen

“Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith male cross-dressers and the transgendered face a challenge of balancing two identities,” Muheisen explains. “Some left their villages for the anonymity of a big city, fearing the reactions of their families while still concealing their identity from neighbors and co-workers.”

Before and after of Bakhtawar Ijaz, 43  AP Muhammed Muheisen

Before and after of Tahir Abbas, 26  AP Muhammed Muheisen


Before and after of Arfeen Nasar, 49 AP Muhammed Muheisen


Before and after of Waseem Akram AP Muhammed Muheisen

Before and after of Amjad Mahmoud, 44  AP Muhammed Muheisen

Many face harassment and threats, and yet, the men are readily accepted “dancers at weddings and other celebrations at which men and women are strictly segregated.”

Still, despite a 2009 ruling allowing transvestites, eunuchs, and hermaphrodites (referred to in Punjabi as “hijra”) to identify as a third gender to “ensure their rights,” the men face shame and scrutiny from the population at large.

As a result, several share an apartment together to find support.

“Eyes always follow me when I walk out of the apartment that I share with a few friends who share the same job like mine (as) dancers,” Bakjtawar Ijaz told the AP. “Being with them is like being with a family. When I am surrounded by them, I feel safe, respected and empowered.”

Akram at the mobile shop where he works.

                   

 Akram, preparing himself for a friend’s party

Akram, as Rani, dancing at a private party

Published by CityFella

Big city fella, Born and Raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lived in New York (a part time New Yorker) for three years . I have lived in the Sacramento area since 1993. When I first moved here, I hated it. Initially found the city too conservative for my tastes. A great place to raise children however too few options for adults . The city has grown up, there is much to do here. The city suffers from low self esteem in my opinion, locals have few positive words to say about their hometown. visitors and transplants are amazed at what they find here. From, the grand old homes in Alkali Flats, and the huge trees in midtown, there are many surprises in Sacramento. Theater is alive is this area . And finally ,there is a nightlife... In.downtown midtown, for the young and not so young. My Criticism is with local government. There is a shortage of visionaries in city hall. Sacramento has long relied on the state, feds and real estate for revenue. Like many cities in America,Downtown Sacramento was the hub of activity in the area. as the population moved to the suburbs and retail followed. The city has spent millions to revive downtown. Today less than ten thousand people live downtown. No one at city hall could connect the dots. Population-Retail. Business says Sacramento is challenging and many corporations have chosen to set up operations outside the cities limits. There is vision in the burbs. Sacramento has bones, there are many good pieces here, leaders seem unable or unwilling to put those pieces together into. Rant aside, I love it here. From the trees to the rivers. But its the people here that move me. Sacramento is one of the most integrated cities in America. I find I'm welcome everywhere. The spices work in this city of nearly 500,000 and for the most part these spices blend well together. From Ukrainians to Hispanics and a sizable gay community, all the spices seem to work well here. I frequently travel and occasionally I will venture into a city with huge racial borders, where its unsafe to visit after certain hours. I haven't found it here. I cant imagine living in a community where there is one hue or one spice. I love the big trees, Temple Coffee House, the Alhambra Safeway, Zelda's Pizza, Bicyclist in Midtown, The Mother Lode Saloon, Crest Theater, and the Rivers. I could go on and I might. Sacramento is home.

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