Anaya Shiekh is one of Pakistan’s first and most promising transgender stand up comedians. Her performances are hilarious but also nuanced because she draws a lot from her life as a person growing up with gender ambiguity. Today, she is a proud trans woman who works on transgender rights and spends her free time making people laugh. “I went to watch Auratnaak at the end of 2016,” she says. “They had personal stories about what these women face in the society. I related very deeply with that. I told them I loved their show and cracked a few jokes with them. A month later I got a message from them. They asked if I would like to perform with them.” Anaya says she wants to use her comedy to convey some serious messages about her community, sexuality and trans women in the society. Zahra Peerzada was the one to connect with her first. Anaya then went on to take workshops with Auratnaak. She performed with Auratnaak in March 2017 at the Last Word in Lahore. She then started performing with ProperGaanda, an online news company and later Olomopolo, a “cultural hub.” She says that sometimes after her performances strange people come to her with the intention of taking advantage of her or experimenting with some strange fetish. Anaya adds that people know that trans women lack security and believe they can use and throw them like a “tissue paper.” Anaya says that sometimes after her performances strange people come to her with the intention of taking advantage of her or experimenting with some strange fetish Muhammad Moiz, the talent behind the online sensation Shumaila Bhatti, is her close friend for many years. He appreciated her comedy and recently decided to co-present his comedy show with her. The show was performed last month and was titled “Liberals ki Akhri Saazish.” Moiz performed it as a drag queen while Anaya was herself on stage. Anaya fueled the dirty and explicit comedy routine with her lighter, more personal jokes. She was more constrained but also more real. She walked up to the crowd, asked them questions and provoked them to give a frank response about their private life choices. But what does Anaya do for a living? “I have been working in Dubai before and have recently shifted back to Pakistan,” she says. “Life in Dubai is very difficult as a trans. Initially, I started working in a furniture store. They removed me because they thought a trans woman might discourage customers.” She then began working in a clinic and later left that for a job at an NGO. “Finding a job as a trans person is very tough in Pakistan,” she says. “I took a job everywhere I could manage or wherever I had a contact. In the furniture shop, I used to deal with both men and women and make them laugh. But the store let me go because they thought the news that a trans person was working there might reach the media.” Anaya is 24 and holds a bachelors degree in business from Comsats university. She says she always considered herself as a girl but gradually began adopting her trans identity in the university. “When I came out there was a huge backlash and it took me two years,” she says. “ They were not accepting. I went to Dubai to buy some time. On my return, my parents agreed.” Anaya lives with her parents in Lahore. She has two siblings and they live abroad. She says she is “blessed” with a very understanding family. “In the university, I came out and I did my degree as a girl,” she says. “I was open and everyone knew I was a transgender. Everyone in my university supported me – from my teachers to fellow students. When I hadn’t come out, I was teased for being a “sissy gay boy.” As a transwoman or “Khawajasara” I was given respect.” She says her dressing has always been neutral and plain. “I don’t wear those lawn suits or sarees,” she laughs. “I wear ladies jeans and tops. I even wear a bra and this shocks my friends. But my mother said it is alright if I am comfortable being a Muslim and Pakistani. They prefer me to hide everything” Anaya also underwent hormonal therapy. The therapy is difficult and demanding. This experience became the source of many of her jokes. “Being a trans I had to go through it because neither the testosterone not estrogen were complete and my body was not developing either way,” she explains. “When I decided to do it, I was 22. I started growing everything and it was super painful.” Does she think about marriage? “No. It is not possible in Pakistan.” Anaya says that as an activist and feminist she really wants to work for her community. She believes that the awareness has increased but the implementation is still missing. The Transgender Rights Law is a landmark achievement but has to be implemented now. She feels that there is still a lot of discrimination against trans individuals in the employment, education and health sectors. The society needs to change and she wants to work on it. Why do we see so many trans people begging on signals now? “There is no employment,” she says. “If you won’t hire people, they will have to beg. Give them a job, on merit, but do give them something to do. This will restore their confidence. I am very educated but I cannot land a decent job.” But is unemployment the most important issue facing her community? “Employment and education both,” she says. “Education rate almost 5%, and only 1% of them come out as a trans person. The educated don’t come out because they fear being shunned by employers and the society. They prefer to be a boy or girl for their career. No good organization will hire them otherwise.” The transgender community in Khyber Pukhtunkhawa has suffered a bout of violence. Many members of the community have been murdered in the past few weeks. “KPK has had nearly 70 trans women killed in the last eight months,” she says. “Our organization is now working to see if there is a group behind it. Mostly it is your own people- boyfriend, brother, uncle, lover or some cousin kills you. Sometimes the trans woman is at fault. They don’t know who is good for them and who isn’t. Again, there is no education and no employment. These women become involved in sex work or become dependent on a man. Then if they fear disloyalty, that man kills them. These trans women have no security, they cannot legally get married or any legal cover for their relationship.” Anaya adds that sometimes the trans woman is killed for seeking inaam or gift money during a dance from an enemy. “There is no support for these trans women. It is easy to abuse, beat or kill them. They don’t have protection from police, government or their own families.” Anaya says that three NGOs work for transgender rights in KP but none of them has given a solution to this issue. “This is about patriarchy,” she says. “The concept of masculinity or mardangi is so strong that a lot of time is spent trying to convince them to not use force against women and trans women. This problem will be resolved only if there is equality in Pakistan.” The writer is based in Lahore and tweets as @ammarawrites. Her work is available on www.ammaraahmad.com Published in Daily Times, September 3rd 2018.