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Kami Sid is best known for her work as an actor and a model but according to her, she is first and foremost an activist. Sid has been running her own organisation in Karachi promoting the rights and well-being of gender and sexual minorities and through her work in film, television and fashion, she hopes to gain visibility for trans Pakistanis. In 2017, she starred in the short-film Rani, which won several awards in international film festivals.

Sid was recently in Islamabad and Dawn caught up with her to talk about her work.

Q: What was it like growing up as trans person in Pakistan?

A: Growing up my life was not easy but I saw my mother raising eight children alone and I knew that struggle is an important part of life.

All transgender people I know have similar childhood stories of being bullied and mocked. I went to a coeducational school where I was relentlessly teased by the boys so I sat with the girls, which made the boys tease me more. They would do the stereotypical khawaja sira clap as I passed by. But children are cruel because they aren’t taught any better.

At home, I was the youngest among eight siblings and my older brothers and sisters would try to ‘fix’ me. They would say that you’re different but you can be ok. There was no education about gender identity or sexuality so I didn’t understand why I was different. When I gained access to the internet, I learnt about gender identities and at 22, I began to identify as transgender.

Q: From modelling and acting to activism, you’ve achieved a lot at a young age. What are you most proud of?

A: I was never interested in becoming a fashion model. I only aspired to be a role model. I have accepted offers from magazines because I want transgender people to gain visibility and for the fashion industry to become more inclusive.

The only work I have done on television has been for a social cause. I try to ensure that whatever I do doesn’t bring harm to anyone - neither to myself nor the trans community. It took me months to accept my first modelling offer. I was wary of being exploited and scared for my safety. After what happened to Qandeel Baloch, security is a real concern for anyone pushing the boundaries in a very visible way.

Even with the film Rani, I wasn’t interested initially because Rani’s character is very sad and emotional and I am the opposite. But I liked that there was no stereotyping in the film. Rani is defiantly independent and supports herself by selling toys in the streets. The film humanises transgender people and reminds the audience that they are just as capable of compassion as anyone else. It ended up being a success and winning awards internationally. I am happy that my work has paved the way for others. Today, we’re seeing more and more transgender people getting cast in films and appearing on television.

But what I am most proud of is my work as an activist and with HIV-Aids patients. There I served as a bridge between the clinic and the community and became stronger in the process. I am running my own organisation called Sabrang Society which works for the uplift of sexual minorities through awareness-raising, advocacy and projects aimed at economic empowerment.

Q: Transgender people are becoming increasingly visible in the media. Do you think this is motivated by a genuine desire for inclusivity or is it exploitative? How do you or others tread that line?

A: A lot of it is motivated by the desire to make headlines with the over-used phrase ‘first transgender’ this or ‘first transgender’ that. I abhor this term even when people insist on using it for me. I understood when the media referred to me as ‘Pakistan’s first transgender model’ two years ago but when it is still used every time I am introduced, I feel like I am being stereotyped again.

The trouble is that when you’re trying to gain visibility, you do become vulnerable to exploitation and it is a difficult line to tread.

Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2019