Transgenders: Pakistan's Open Secret

Transgenders: Pakistan's Open Secret image

(54 min.) Pakistan/UK

Director/Producer: Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy


Many people among Pakistan's colorful transgender community scrape a living through dancing, singing, begging and prostitution on the streets of the country’s economic capital, Karachi.  Thrown out by their families, they come together to create underground communities or “families.”  In a never-before-seen side of life in Pakistan, we follow the stories of three transgenders, each of whom represents a different way of life in the country. Maggie is a prostitute who dreams of becoming an flight attendant, while Chahat was abandoned to beg the streets by her middle-class family. Sana is Karachi's most sought-after transgender dancer, desperate to give up the profession after a particularly gruesome gang rape. Transgenders are frequently victims of violence, but the film also reflects the guru system within their own community, where young novices are bought and sold, obliged to make money for their elders.  But there is hope for those who want to stand on their own: The local tax office has advertised for transgenders to work as tax collectors, to publicly embarrass even the most stubborn tax evaders to pay up. Can Sana get one of those jobs? Will Chahat ever escape her desperate poverty? And will Maggie fulfill her dream to fly away?


Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy, is the president and co-founder of the non-profit organization the Citizens Archive of Pakistan. Formed in February 2007, within four years of its inception, CAP has expanded to Lahore and is forging partnerships with Islamabad, Dhaka and Delhi. CAP works on historical preservation, promotion of democratic values and building tolerance and civic sense in the youth of Pakistan. The organization has three main goals: to preserve, provide and promote access to its Oral History archive, to build and support educational programs that instill critical thinking, and to develop educational materials that provide the next generation with a window into the nation’s past, present, and future. Sharmeen is a founding board member of the Charter for Compassion Pakistan. The charter is based on the original Charter for Compassion initiated by Karen Armstrong. By adopting the Charter of Compassion in Pakistan, they hope to raise awareness, encourage, and share acts of compassion with fellow citizens to stir a desire to change the global community collectively. Its first project is to create a Facebook application to be launched this Ramadan to encourage citizens to record their acts of compassion, hence encouraging those around them to do the same.