“Eid-e-La-Binaria Mubarak!” and “Happy, happy happiness!” is how many of the genderqueer folx living in Pakistan wished each other ahead of the International Non-Binary People’s Day, celebrated around the world on July 14.
Here, in the South Asian metropolis, Karachi, the Non-Binary Collective (NBC) officially launched with the Queer Poetry Reading Circle, a virtual event bringing together a community invisibilized across a cisgender heteropatriarchal society.
Queer poets, writers, activists, and journalists attended the event, being able to shed their forced masquerade in order be their authentic selves. From skirts and off-shoulder tops to striking nail polishes, lip colours, and jhumkas — they rocked it all better than their cishet counterparts.
Almost two dozen individuals from Pakistan’s non-binary community came together to share heartfelt poetry — by themselves or someone else — as well as experiences, challenges, the joy of uniqueness, and the expansiveness of their identities.
The event was created in a way to ensure freedom of expression yet keep at bay harassment and invalidation, thus allowing the genderqueer participants to be themselves without any fear. Said one, a musician, at the occasion: “In a world of non-binary transness, there’s confusion due to the COVID-19 [pandemic].”
Which holds very true; after all, a huge majority of the non-binary folx in the country have found themselves trapped round-the-clock with families that are abusive, unwelcoming or simply too conservative to let them dare be their true selves. For many of the participants, it was a lack of their visual markers — changes in appearance or distinct accessories — that was primarily worsening their gender dysphoria.
Bowties, explained a non-binary transmasculine individual, who chose not to be named, “make me confident in who I am”, which is why they go about their day wearing bowties — even inside the house. “I can go to a mirror and call myself with my pronouns,” they mentioned with a sheepish grin.
Layla, a mental health practitioner, spoke about “Disclosure,” a Netflix documentary about whether Hollywood has molded the trans community into its status quo or let it grow. She shared how she excited about watching the film and what conversations it brought to the fore.
Zulfi, a non-binary transfeminine Pakistani-origin rapper, shared a few of their poems, including one set in theTurkish city of Istanbul and centering on a woman called “Honour.” Their work was rich in culture, oscillating between two languages, and was no-holds-barred — even using some of the Urdu language’s choicest expletives best expressed untranslated.
Genderqueer writer Dr Orooj-e-Zafar read from some of their own works, including “heart the size of a loosening fist,” and voiced solidarity with the NBC and its political path forward.
Another non-binary person, K*, recited two of their poems, sharing their “experience of being a non-binary person”. They also spoke about the challenges they have faced as a gender non-conforming individual living between Tando Muhammad Khan and Karachi.
A medical student, Imaan, discussed their aspiration to become a famed Pakistani brown non-binary artist and help bring about change for gender minorities through their art. They read a poem by Tahira Sadaf that they said was a window into the experience of religious judgment as a gender minority.
A portion of the poem is as follows:
“…And tell the man with his God
To leave me and havoc alone,
Tell the man with intelligence
To leave my ghosts alone,
We pray in silence
To our saviors
And we bow down,
To this hell we have created!”
As the almost 90-minute long event — full of both heart-warming and heart-wrenching performances — came to an end, it was wonderful to know that it was a success despite some jitters, Karachi’s notorious power outages, and Internet blockages.
The NBC’s Queer Poetry Reading Circle, many of the participants commented, should happen more often to help the non-binary community of Pakistan pave its way forward.
In line with the NBC’s goal of social and political work for the non-binary folx in Pakistan, the Collective has vowed to organize more events in future and push for space in the cisgender heterosexual society of today.
*name withheld for anonymity
*This piece was originally published by Dheet Magazine.