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A fascinating discussion at the Thoughts of an Angry Hijabi Facebook page about the transgender rights movement and colonialism. It’s in response to a piece posted (CW: transphobia) by Mobeen Azhar about the Khawaja Sira (Pakistan’s traditional Third Gender population) and how it views the modern (and Western) Trans movement.

It’s sometimes difficult for Westerners to understand how even our progressive ideals and goals can have harmful effects (i.e. unintended consequences) and how the Western concept of “Rights” can be just as embedded within Western Culture (and thus a bit less than universal in a sense) and may cause more harm than good to cultures in which it is being thrust.

Two comments stand out, in particular:

“cow-towing” lmao you really have such a settler mentality

Has it occurred to you that this third gender has existed for centuries in Pakistan and that having people not conforming to their “birth” gender is by itself a result of western influence? Of course it’s going to have a spiritual element, for this is how this society has rationalized it.

Gender isn’t something universal, and the “transgender” notion is western. It will need to adapt to local customs, and this link is exactly about such local conflicts. The khawaja organize themselves around a guru as they historically have done, the transgender people don’t (whether they have family support or not). You are being extremely cynic for the sake of it and projecting such “hate” for transgender people that in no way is shown in this. Whenever they say “transgenders will never be women”, they are talking about themselves too, because their third gender necessarily means they aren’t women. – Uriel Carvalho

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and:

I didn’t mean that at all and I apologize if I failed at explaining my position. Trans women are women, I’m absolutely not denying that. What I’m saying is that a lot of the older NB folks in Pakistan will be hesitant to accept trans people because they will view being trans as a “Western” concept. They oppose Westernization because it was forced on us in the past (as Dev and Uriel mentioned). It’s different than transphobia from cis folks who actually oppress trans people because of their transphobia. – Thoughts of an Angry Hijabi

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The Khawaja Sira are just a part of the rich tapestry of gender in the Indian subcontinent and this is where Intersectionality and Postcolonialism intersect.

In many of the comments the question of the whether the Khawaja Sira are (at least according to this article) are being transphobic while some say that the Khawaja Sira have little social power so couldn’t possibly be oppressive towards who identify along the Western axis. Those who critique the Khawaja Sira as portrayed in the article are accused of having a “settler colonial mentality” as it seems to be the case that those who identify transgendered are usually people of some means thus intersecting with class issues.

There’s a great need for understanding the parochialism of Western concepts of trans rights by learning about regional examples of gender worldwide if we want to find ways for all voices to be heard and minimize harm to marginalized groups globally.

 

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Featured Image: Promotional poster for “Bol”, an Urdu language feature film which tells the story of a Pakistani family with a Khawaja Sira member. For more info, this review is a good enough place to start (CW: violence; sexual assault; transphobia; misogyny; spoilers). While Bol depicts some of the grim realities of Pakistani culture, it is part of PAIMAN (Pakistan Initiative for Mothers and Newborns) which advocates for women’s rights by bringing the focus of media and the elite of Pakistan to family planning and gender issues.

Bol was the highest grossing film in Pakistan in 2011, and one of the highest grossing films in Pakistan of all time.

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