Social media, the yardstick of our times, alerts us that transgender Pakistanis are having their moment in the sun. Hardly a day goes by it seems when they’re not breaking records by becoming the first fashion models of their ilk, obtaining the first transgender passport or being the first transgender university lecturer. And soon there may well be another chapter in the fortunes of Pakistan’s transgender community: the Transgender Persons Protection of Rights bill. Tabled by a member of Jamiat Ulema-e Islam no-less, the draft bill seeks to outlaw discrimination and violence against transgender people and outlines the punishment for those who breach it. Activists say that there’s broad support for the bill which, crucially, applies to all gender expressions: “(a) Transgender Person” is a person who is… (ii) a Transgender Man, Transgender Woman, Khawaja Sira or any person whose Gender identity and/or Gender expression differs from the social norms and cultural expectations based on the sex they were assigned at the time of their birth.” So whereas Khawaja Sira (as the uncomely terms that ‘hijra’ and ‘kusray’ are gradually being replaced by) have been the dominant trans identity in Pakistan, soon other parts of the gender spectrum will be able to enjoy protection under the law. This is nothing short of startling when one considers that so-called progressive countries in the West have yet to come even close to adopting anything so inclusive. And it’s why the latest news in Pakistan’s transgender revolution is important: last week, it emerged that a transgender man had officially registered himself as male for the first time in Pakistani history. Mani AQ the trans man in question featured in my 2016 film *Poshida. Sadly as film maker and journalist, I’ve watched as other transgender, genderqueer and non-binary Pakistanis have struggled to find acceptance while their transgender sisters have gone onto greater heights. On a Facebook chat from Lahore, Mani tells me that his struggle is far from over and he has additional battles to contend with in obtaining a new passport, tax registration and bank accounts. “You need a lot of strength,” says Mani AQ, the first transgender man to have officially registered himself as male in Pakistan’s history. “And my struggle after this will be to help others like me” “You need a lot of strength,” he says. “And my struggle after this will be to help others like me. We all know that our government system pushes you around and sometimes you think, ‘Enough, I can’t push back any more’ but even so I’ve really bucked myself up and told myself: ‘I will do it’.” Knowing Mani’s determination, I have no doubt he will succeed. Nonetheless, his breakthrough is just ten short years after the tamasha of the case of Shumail Raj and Shazina Tariq — a married couple who were publicly humiliated and jailed after Shumail was ‘outed’ as transgender. While some may recoil at the pace at which gender identity is evolving in the world, it’s important to keep in mind that trans people have been part of this regional landscape for centuries — in some form at least. South Asian history shows that during the positively progressive sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Khwaja Sira were army generals, harem managers and Royal Court officials under the Mughal Empire. But this freedom was plunged into darkness with the arrival of the British and their staunchly conservative Christian Victorian values. Under the Raj, this transgender community were seen as an affront to public decency and were deliberately stigmatized under the Criminal Tribes Act (1871) which subjected them to compulsory registration and strict monitoring. Fast forward a century and the stigma became firmly entrenched, aided in no short measure by General Zia’s programme of Islamisation and the expansion of Sharia law. The rights and privileges that transgender people had enjoyed several centuries prior were now extinguished and the system of oppression was complete. That status quo remains deeply ingrained, forcing trans Pakistanis into the margins of society to eke out whatever meagre living they can from bawdy dance performances, begging and sex work. But is that all set to change with many advances we are seeing in trans rights in Pakistan today? After all, there’s an entire global trans rights movement behind them spearheaded by the likes of Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner. Sadly, I am pessimistic. After living in Pakistan for many years and making my documentary featuring trans people, it seems to me that the law and every day realities in the country are poles apart. Minorities of whatever stripe, be they religious, ethnic or gender remain the most vulnerable and endangered in Pakistani society. It will only be through the sheer will of people like Mani AQ and his fellow activists who can prove us wrong. The writer is a British-Pakistani journalist and film maker who has spent almost a decade reporting from Pakistan for global news organisations including the Associated Press, BBC, Daily Telegraph, Radio France International, NPR Radio and CCTV News. Follow them on Twitter: @Faizan_Fiaz *Poshida: Hidden LGBT Pakistan is screening at the Trans Screen Festival in Amsterdam and the Stamped LGBT Film Festival in Pensicola, Florida in September 2017 and Tasveer South Asian Film Festival in October 2017 in Seattle, WA Published in Daily Times, August 27th 2017.