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Thursday Connectors: Pride Week

by Farzana Hakim

Hi, all. It’s Farzana again for another Thursday Connectors. This week, we at Write On! Extra have been celebrating Pride month by showcasing works by LGBTQ+ writers. So, today we’re connecting with two people from different parts of the world, with diverse stories and styles of writing.

First up, an account by a transgender person from Pakistan. It reads like a short story, but unfortunately, rather than being fictional, it’s completely real. I say unfortunately, because it’s truly heartbreaking and I must warn you to have your tissue box close by. Secondly, I’ll be sharing Thursday Connector’s first-ever flash fiction piece. This comes from C.H. Clepitt, who is an LGBTQ+ author based in the UK.

I’m delighted to be introducing Polly from Pakistan.

Hi, Polly. Let’s connect:

Parvaiz, Polla And Polly

You may call me Polly. It’s what they call me now. Polly. Mind you, I wasn’t always Polly. Parvaiz, meaning lucky, fortunate, is what my parents had named me when I was born. The long-awaited son, after a succession of five daughters, at last! Obviously, my birth was celebrated with the greatest pomp. Music, dancing, singing and charity, the lot. The entire clan was invited for a feast of ghee burra, the delicacy of white fragranced rice and gurr, lathered with a generous helping of desi ghee; a dish which is seen as fitting for such joy at the birth of a new son – since the times of the great Moghuls of Delhi.

This happiness wouldn’t last long…

My elder siblings, two of whom were happily married in their own homes by the time I’d reached the tender age of six, had given me the pet name of Polla – meaning soft and delicate. Since my birth, my Amma (Mum) and sisters, my ‘baji’s’, had doted on me. I didn’t need to touch the floor with my own feet until I was almost two! If it wasn’t Amma, it was one of my Baji’s carrying me, feeding me, playing with me or dressing me. I was their Polla. Their darling, their little brother. Their days were spent in spoiling me rotten and succumbing to all my whims.

That is, until my emerging feminine habits started becoming a concern for my family. It was Dulha Bhai, my eldest brother-in-law, the man who, after my father, held the most prominence in my family, began putting pressure on my parents to take note.

“Polla doesn’t behave how a little boy should,” he said, during one of his frequent visits to our house, as I sat rummaging through his wife’s, my Baji’s, handbag. It was Eid the following day, and she had a whole new collection of make-up. Another sister, this one two years my senior, was equally impressed. Snatching the wine-coloured lipstick from my hands, she ran into her room. Irked, yet excited, I followed. She was sat in front of our Amma’s vanity, the one which, thirty years on, still sits in the same spot. My maternal grandfather had chosen well when he’d sent the furniture over to my Abba’s (father’s) place as part of her dowry, just before they wed. I watched as my sister expertly painted her young lips. I marvelled how the colour flattered her features and brought her whole face alive. She puckered her lips and, getting carried away with the mood, I repeated the ritual, beautifying myself with this new shade of lip colour.

Meanwhile, the noises from the veranda, where the rest of the family sat, were getting louder. However, my sister and I couldn’t’ have cared less what the elders were discussing; we were busy admiring the fusion of purple and pinks on our lips. That is, until my arm was yanked by Dulha Bhai, and I was dragged to the veranda. Out of habit, I screamed and cursed, the way I often did, if ever somebody came in between me and my merriment.

“See him,” yelled Dulha Bhai, shoving me towards my Abba. “See what you call a son?”

“Kutha, dog!” I spat at him. How dare he? How dare he touch and hurt me like that? “Abba,” I cried, pulling at his beard. “Dulha bhai, the kutha, hurt me.”

“Polla!” Abba admonished, removing my hands from his beard. “He is your elder, mind your tongue.”

My tantrum only intensified. I began kicking and punching. Remember, I was spoilt – terribly spoilt. The more Abba showed his anger, the more I screamed. My outburst only stopped when Abba punched me back.

I woke up the next day. It was Eid and I was even more agitated. My screams were even louder that day. All my sisters were decked in pinks, greens, blues, yellows and reds. Their arms were adorned in colourful glass bangles which jingled against each other. Their necks were decorated by necklaces and their dangly, gemmed earrings glistened against the midday sun. And, worst of all, they had wine-coloured lips.

I, however, was forced into a plain white tunic and a plain white baggy trousers, my hair untamed and my face scrubbed clean. No colour on my lips, no blush on my cheeks and no liner along my eyes. No jewel or gem, either. I couldn’t deal with this. In fact, I wouldn’t tolerate it. So, when my family sat down for their afternoon tea, I kicked the table and laughed and clapped as Amma’s oldest and most precious tea set, another antique from her treasured dowry, rattled and tumbled and broke into a thousand tiny pieces. That day, three members of my family were treated with minor burns from the spilt tea.

This Eid marked the beginning of my doom. No matter how hard my family tried to hide it, my feminine ways would always break free. My parents were stressed. My sisters were embarrassed and my friends from the neighbourhood, who until now had been my partners in mischief and play, worked hard on their campaign to bully me every chance they had. I was shunned and teased and called names.

“Kusra, oi kusra,” they would laugh. At fifteen, I knew this was a derogatory name in Pakistan for a transgender, among others, such as ‘Hijra’. The worst thing was, though, nobody from my family came to my defence.

I quickly came to terms with the fact I was not the much-yearned-for son, for whose existence my parents had once visitied the shrines of blessed Pirs; travelling far and wide, to pray for my safe arrival. I wasn’t the son they had wanted. I wasn’t the brother my sisters would once give up the morsels from their own mouths for. I wasn’t their Parvaiz, or their fragile Polla. They had distanced themselves from me, but I still wanted to be close to them. I’d give anything, now, to spend an evening in the company of my sisters, laughing and giggling.

Before I turned sixteen, my Abba passed away. The little security I’d had from him simply vanished. Within days, I was kicked out of my house. I was a disgrace. The way I wailed and grieved for him over his body was unlike anything my relatives had ever seen.  Dulha Bhai agreed with other elders that I was not acceptable. I was a bad influence on my nephews and nieces. I was the reason the youngest two sisters were being rejected by prospective grooms and their families. My appearance was different. My habits were weird. My walk was disgraceful and my speech was a humiliation.

The doctors couldn’t do anything about me. I wasn’t sick. The Imams and the Raqis couldn’t do anything either. I wasn’t possessed by a jinn or under an evil spell. I wasn’t educated; schools and I didn’t get on. The teachers and other pupils never accepted me. I’d never be able to earn a wage and wouldn’t be any use for my elderly mum or family. It was best I was thrown out. It was the only way, if I couldn’t change.

Since then, my life hasn’t seen much colour. A smile would cross my face about as often as the rare rainbows that throw themselves across the skies. Though I have every tube of lip shade you can find in the shops at the markets of Islamabad, I am as colourless as that Eid attire from years back. However, none of that matters any more. What does, though, is the refuge I was given by my kind. Where my own people shunned and disowned me, strangers who acted and looked like me, welcomed me with wide-open arms.

With them, I dance at weddings, birthdays and at the birth of a child (mainly sons), to pay my way. I even danced at my sister’s wedding, albeit with tears in my eyes and a veil to hide my identity. They didn’t think to invite me, their Polla, their brother…

Like I said before, I am now Polly. Polla was deemed too masculine here and wasn’t fitting for somebody who used make-up and jewels, and yellow and red and blue veils as adornments. I am Polly of the Khawaja Shira community of Rawalpindi, in Pakistan.

*****

Oh, Polly. What can I say? I hope you never stop adding to your story.

Since Polly first sent this story, I’ve had the chance to speak to her again. Lockdown in Pakistan has affected her badly and she’s been in a bad way. With no weddings and events to dance at, she, as well as others from her community, are struggling to even eat. But on a more positive note, she told me the future for transgender persons in Pakistan is looking more hopeful. The government is working hard to include this minority group into society. Special schools and workplaces are opening up to give room for transgender people to move away from clichéd jobs such as dancing at weddings, and to enter other forms of employment. This is indeed good news!

*****

Now from one cultural perspective to the next. Let’s head straight into our second ‘Connector’. C.H. Clepitt is an LGBTQ+ author and she wrote this flash fiction especially for our themed week.

Hi, C.H. Clepitt. Let’s connect:

Not A Date

“It’s not a date,” Abigail insisted, as her housemate pulled another top from her wardrobe, held it up against her and then tossed it on the bed.

“But what if it is?” Katie replied. “You need to look good. You don’t wanna turn up for your not-date to discover the girl of your dreams and you’re in joggers.”

“It’s a business meeting, so I’ll be in business clothes!” Abigail pulled a shirt from the pile of discarded clothes on the bed and put it on.

“Sure, a business meeting in a bar on a Saturday night…” Katie laughed. “At least wear the tie.” She chucked a brightly coloured tie over from the hook on the door.

“Of course I’m wearing the tie. I’m not a slob!” Abigail grinned. “Maybe it is a date, but I don’t wanna presume.”

“I mean, I’d have asked.” Katie elbowed her teasingly.

“It’s easier for you,” Abigail said. “Men won’t reel away and never speak to you again if it’s not a date.”

There was a pause.

“Anyway,” Abigail laughed awkwardly. “How do I look?”

“You look hot!” Katie affirmed. “Get a couple of drinks in her; you’ll soon find out if it’s a date!”

“Thanks, K.” Abigail grinned.

“Text me later.” Katie skipped from the room, her work complete.

***

Abigail leaned against the bar, nervously clutching her lime and soda. It was still early, and the place was reasonably quiet. The bar staff were bustling around getting ready for the later rush and there were shoppers and tourists walking along the waterfront and milling about. ‘It’s not a date,’ she thought. ‘It’s too early for a date.’

“Abi?” A tentative voice behind her caused her to turn.

“Cat?” Abi spun around, almost spilling her drink. Steadying herself, she cleared her throat, swallowed and cleared her throat again. “Hi.”

“Hi!” Cat laughed at her awkwardness. “Nice to connect in person!”

“Yes! Absolutely.” Abigail tried to act cool by taking a sip of her drink, missed her mouth and felt it run down her chin and onto her jacket. “Christ, it’s like I’ve never been out before!” she exclaimed, grabbing a napkin and mopping furiously at herself. “Can I get you a drink?”

“I’ll get them.” Cat smiled at her. “Do you want to grab a table?”

“Sure.” Abigail was relieved a mere table would serve as some protection against her discomfort. “Lime and soda, please.”

“Ha! Cheap date!” Cat grinned. “Did you want to eat here, or find somewhere else?”

“Um… what do you think?” Abi asked. Did she just say date?

“Let’s look at the menu and make a decision.” Cat moved a strand of hair behind her ear and glanced at the floor before looking back up. “We have all night, don’t we?”

“I guess we do!” Abigail grinned and headed for a table in the window, where they could look out at the river. Her phone buzzed. A text from Katie. So? Is it a date?

Abigail hit send on the thumbs-up emoji just as Cat arrived with the drinks. She locked her phone and put it away.

*****

You can connect with C.H. Clepitt by visiting her website: chclepitt.com/

That’s it for today. Next week, we have poetry from the Caribbean and a lockdown story from Brazil. I’m already looking forward to sharing them with you. See you same time next week for more exciting Thursday Connectors!

You can connect to Farzana on Twitter: @farzanahakim

Read Issue 4 of Write On! magazine here.

The doctors couldn’t do anything about me. I wasn’t sick. The Imams and the Raqis couldn’t do anything either. I wasn’t possessed by a jinn or under an evil spell.