Sex and violence go hand in hand for Nazuk. ‘Is there any other way to have intercourse?’, she questions, punctuating with a deep, manly laughter as her Adam’s apple bobs up and down, almost as if enjoying the flummery of the question. ‘I think by beating me up, men feel they are in turn atoning for the sins they are committing. It’s like inflicted retribution.’ Her name Nazuk, which means delicate, stands in grand contradiction to her broad, burly frame. Tall at six feet, accentuated by strong shoulders, Nazuk is physically anything but delicate; almost like a big oak tree emulating a dandelion. Behind layers of a chalky mixture of water and white powder caked on her face, Nazuk has strong, defiant features adorned by a hooked nose and deep-set eyes. Her thin lips have been painted a bright pink, with a darker lip liner extended beyond them to appear fuller. She wears a tight-fitted shalwar kameez, with breasts made of foam as she coyly confides in me and prompts me to verify with the jab of my finger on her foamy bosom. Her hair, long and braided, is flung to the side and she has a habit of playing with her mane instinctively before answering a question, almost as if providing her with the strength to delve into her painful past. She tries to appear unaffected as we continue with our talk, but her sporadically glistening eyes give away her inner turmoil. ‘My family didn’t disown me. In fact, it was I who disowned them,’ she states with proud defiance. ‘Them not accepting me for who I was, was tantamount to them rejecting God as it was He who willed me to be with this. We are born out of humans, why must we be treated as any less?’ Her growing aloofness with each question made her façade even more apparent. It revealed years of practised strength she had garnered from building a big wall around her – one brick at a time, one rejection at a time. Nazuk was indeed very nazuk, if not by her physical self but the frailty of her heart. ‘I was born after a long line of sisters, and my father could not have been more jubilant about the final arrival of a boy. I just wish someone had recorded his expression when he learnt that I was physically far away from being a normal one,’ she replies giddily. A dark expression overtakes the smile on her face as she adds, ‘He was never a real man himself. Having a functional penis does not make you a man. He wasn’t even human.’

Nazuk belongs to the historic city of Lahore, the second largest in Pakistan and the capital of its bustling province, Punjab. Once known as the ‘Paris of the East’, Lahore is steeped in rich culture and traditions while also maintaining the relative height of liberalism in the country, when compared to the smaller cities and villages. Acting as the cultural heart of the country, Lahore hosts much of its arts, cuisine, music, cinema and intelligentsia. Despite the growing modernity of the city, many factions of the society continue to spiral downwards in their regressive path of intolerance. ‘I feel I was lucky to have been born in Lahore, rather than a city like Peshawar, because we live like princesses here compared to the harrowing stories of what happens there to people like us.’ By ‘us’, Nazuk is referring to the population of over a million and a half in the Third Sex community, also called khawaja siras and derogatorily, hijras, in the country. A significant number for a highly marginalised section of society, in which almost every member is either forsaken, abused or assaulted.

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