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Transgender community seeks acceptance in society

BY: Zoya Anwer

KARACHI: The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Pakistan, in collaboration with the Pakistan Medical Association Karachi, conducted an interactive session on Tuesday at the PMA House, where experts discussed the issues faced by members of the transgender community in relation to their medical needs.

Dr Nighat Shah stressed the need to break the taboo surrounding the transgender community and urged members of medical societies to accept them instead of shunning them.

“We should at least talk about this because we tend to sweep such issues under the carpet. The scientific minds should sit and come to a consensus in the interest of such individuals,” she said.

She added that instead of sending them to clerics or mental asylums, we should try to empathise with them and help them become a part of society.

Dr Shershah Syed, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, who has previously dealt with many cases where individuals wanted to change their sexes, narrated the ordeal of all those who came to him. He explained how a human being’s anatomy depended on both genotype and phenotype, genetic and physiological aspects, respectively, and how a person could feel conflicted with their assigned gender identity if there was a contrasting difference in both of them.

“Our duty is to make sure that paediatrician and gynaecologists are able to gauge the sexual identity of a child at birth, that the gender assigned to the child is not incorrect. When parents ignore this, the consequences are severe for the child because s/he later grows up confused about his or her identity.”

Referring to the common belief that transvestites are nature’s curse on the family or that the gender could not be changed, Dr Syed said such thinking created hurdles for the individuals and they were forced to accept their lives as an outcast.

Dr Tahir Sheikh, a plastic surgeon, elaborated on different methods via which treatment was possible which could help such individuals in their early life. “There are surgical methods as well as there are products to go about the procedure. However, counselling is most important because at times the individual fails to identify with the body after the operation, consent forms with legalities are needed to ensure that these are irreversible. In places such as the Far East, this practice is rampant because many males choose this owing to prostitution rings established there.”

Dr Samina Mateen, consultant psychiatrist, said the issue was not solely psychological as was thought by many. She said that in psychology homosexuality was considered a mental ailment, which was later disproved. Similarly, intersex was also no longer considered a mental problem. “When norms cannot be decided, how can we decide the deviation?” she remarked.

She added that the intersex like all other beings suffered from mental illnesses such depression, anxiety or schizophrenia, but that did not mean they were alienated from society. Gender dysphoria needed to be delved to understand the layers surrounding the complex nature of the intersex.

Dr Severine Minot, a sociologist from Canada and an assistant professor at Habib University, shed light on the trials faced by the intersex in North America, where society was very progressive, individuals were not wholly accepted and at times their lives were taken away because of their identity.

A short documentary, Sapna, was also shown. Made by Ali Rizvi, it addressed the everyday issues faced by the intersex. The documentary showed how Sapna, a transgender, was mocked by children and repulsed by men who sought pleasure from her existence.

Sapna, on whom the film was based, was also invited to speak about her life. She requested the audience to spread the word that all others like her should be treated with dignity and respect, and given that the government had issued CNICs for them, there should be equal employment opportunities for them.

“I want all present here to know that we don’t want to cause any harm, rather we are just like you and want acceptance in society we breathe in.”