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#FreeJulie - Trans Activism in a Cis Normative World

Following the arrest of trans-activist Julie Khan, the campaign #FreeJulie took social media by storm. But it was a movement that went far beyond a hashtag.

The trend started in response to the undue arrest of trans activist Julie Khan, who was considered somewhat of a modern day Manto following her explosive series Naked Truth.

On 10th August, Julie was arrested under a fabricated claim that was made up after she and fellow community members and activists spoke up against the brutal physical abuse of Rosy, a fellow member of their community. In response, she was arrested by police in Islamabad, which led to an onslaught of voices speaking out against police brutality and the silencing of trans voices in Pakistan. While its not an issue that’s new to the country or the community in any way, Julie’s case has opened doors for a normalisation of such conversations.

Where issues pertaining to the trans community have previously been as hushed and ostracised as the community itself in certain circles, this is a clear first step to change.

If you’ve seen an episode of Naked Truth you know that Julie doesn’t hold back.She’s been lauded for her brutal honesty on large media outlets, social norms and even the infamous Malik Riaz. She is quickly becoming a figurehead for change and a voice for the voiceless - but it isn’t a journey that comes easily. In speaking out against the toxic culture that many members of her community have had to grow up under, Julie isn’t just talking about the outside world, much of her frustrations are directed towards the restrictive culture within the community as well.

The DC Islamabad also called the whole affair a ‘community issue’, but in this case it seemed more of an excuse to let responsibilities slide. There is a dark history in Pakistan of the suppression of the transgender community. Countless violent and sexual crimes occur against them on a regular basis, however very few of them are registered or highlighted due to the lack of legal protection and security awarded to these victims. The criminals who engage in this behavior feel entitled due to society’s tendency to sideline or overlook transgender people.

The extent of an average person’s interaction with a member of the transgender community would be in the middle of a traffic jam or at a signal. Many do not perceive what their existence must be like beyond those glimpses or even wonder why they are kept chained to the sidewalks of these busy roads. Why is it so rare or unusual for a transgender person to be working or studying alongside everyone else? A stigma, or air of mystery and taboo, surrounds this community in Pakistan. This is exactly why activists such as Julie are so crucial for the development of society. The bulk of the Pakistani population needs to hear the ground realities of life as a transgender in our country today and what it is like to live without any infrastructure or laws built to facilitate and protect you. However, these ideas would encourage our society to rethink not just transgender rights, but also our approach towards gender roles and minorities as a whole.

Such a situation would unravel the social fabric of the country which is based on the conservative and strict observance of traditional and cultural norms which rarely call for the equal representation of minorities. The threat people like Julie pose to the existing status quo deeply terrifies many of the stakeholders of society as we know it, hence it comes as no surprise that they will go to great lengths to eliminate them. Sometimes the best way to do so is to not stand up for them or give them justice when they are knocked around by other factors of life.

Cover image - TCM

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