Faizan

Faizan

Faizan is a British Pakistani news journalist and televison producer who lives and works in Pakistan. 

In 1999 Faizan co-founded the British LGBT Muslim peer support group www.imaan.org.uk and is its former chair person. He's actively involved with LGBT Muslim organisations around the world and currently blogs about his experience of being transgender in Pakistan.

Social Profiles

Wednesday, 12 March 2014 17:18

Risky Business

What an emotional day it's turned out to be.
 
As I'm an foreign correspondent, I work remotely from my organisation's HQ and have hardly any face-to-face contact with my colleagues. They can see me onscreen when I do my news reports or live interviews, but I can't see them.
 
This afternoon, after three years of turning it over in my mind and being scared of the consequences: I came out to my boss in an email. The prompt was a work trip to Saudi Arabia to cover President Obama's proposed visit. 
 
My mind went blank when I got the email from work asking me to get my visa sorted ASAP.
 
I immediately emailed a FTM friend with family connections in Saudi for his advice.
 
I currently hold a passport with a female name but my appearance is very adrogynous; neither male nor female as I'm only 5 months on testosterone.
 
He replied, “That is a huge risk to take, If you really wanted to go for the job, than I would say put a head scarf on and that will protect you and people will not question as there are women (there) who are like men.”
 
I have no objection to Muslim dress. As a Muslim myself I appreciate and understand why loose clothes are a good idea. Here in Pakistan I often wear a kurta top (south Asian style long shirt) over my jeans. The added bonus for me is that both men and women wear this type of dress in Pakistan, so my clothes don't have to make me look or feel strange. 
 
In Saudi, I worried I would have to wear something female gendered: the thought of wearing, for example, a burkah or headscarf at this stage in my transistion really fills me with fear and horror. I know I would just disassociated and go into some kind of trance to cope with it. And that is not good for anyone's mental health.
 
Once, when I was about 6-7 years old, my overworked, exasperated mother lost her temper with me because I did not want to wear a dress. She shouted at me and threw me into the basement which she knew I hated because of the dark and the spiders. I felt so wretched and helpless. This is how I would feel being forced to wear female clothes. How on earth would I concentrate on my work?
 
My work is a hugely important part of my life and I've strived very hard in my life to achieve; so this decision was really hard for me.
 
It's an emotional day; I'm putting myself first and I'm not used to it. 
Wednesday, 30 October 2013 14:39

Being Trans In The News Industry

As coming out goes, being an onscreen reporter in a foreign country for a channel in another country is probably one of the more challenging environments in which to do so.
 
The mainstream media is a brutal industry. It's takes grit, tenacity and a tough skin to get ahead. I'm by no means at the top of my field but I've enjoyed a degree of success that I'm happy with so far.
 
The Imedia industry can be tough. There's little place for vulnerablity or perceived weakness. There's also little space for diversity – something I've struggled to understand for a long time.
 
Like politics, I believe that journalism requires a diverse range of people working in it to accurately reflect the world we live in. I'm proud of my background and identity and I find they open my eyes to stories other journalists would miss.
 
I don't know of any other trans Muslim migrant class foreign correspondents anywhere in the world.
 
Coming out as trans on this particular job is hard.

People will inevitably talk but sometimes the line between talk and gossip is blurred and the consequence is that an already challenging situation becomes unnecessarily stressful for me.
 
A while back I was at a party with a cis female friend who at one point during the evening said we should leave. It turned out that a minor local news anchor at the party was bad mouthing my appearance (the standard “What the hell is that? Is that a girl or a boy?” - because yes the world really is a school playground even when you're 41). My friend told me that happily, the host of the party stepped in and defended me. That was heartening to know. But I wondered later if it would have been easier for me not to have known about the mini drama at all.
 
Fast forward a few months and the same friend, in complaining about one of her own colleagues mentioned that he too had made some kind of childish remark about my gender presentation. But that she had rebuked him. Again I was grateful but wondered: would it not have been better if she had said nothing at all? I mean, what's confirmed to me is that a friend stood up for me but moreover and to my anxiety that even more strangers are transphobic and think negatively of me.
 
Next, yesterday I got an email from a work colleague whom I've been soliciting advice from about coming out as trans to my bosses. She has voiced her support of me indeed tells me she has my back, that I have her admiration but at the same time tells me that others have been talking about my appearance and that another colleague has talked about my transition with her.
 
Of course it is impossible to police what friends, peers and indeed strangers have to say about my life and my transition. If it were as simple as ignoring tittle tattle I would.
 
But the problem is manifold.
 
There is so little that is readily available in the public sphere about transgender people. What is out there is a load of tawdry information and imagery about sex swapping squaddies or lady boys or 'trannies' or pornography. And none of this is me. But even if it was: it's nothing to do with who I am, the career I've built, my intelligence or skills, my identity, my history or to be frank, the things I want to be known for.
 
But in one small or misjudged comment by either a well meaning friend or colleague and all of what I am, all of what I'm proud of, all of what I have achieved is reduced to a joke.
 
Secondly, nobody in my environment knows how to respond. And in spite of all the reading I've done online, all the discussions I've had with trans friends, the many appointments with my medical support – I'm no expert myself. Knowledge is one thing, experiencing gender transition is something else completely.

Of the selected few people I've been candid with have responded appropriately I guess. Asking questions, pledging their support or in one case being honest and showing that they found it a little difficult to understand.
 
But how they explain me when asked seems to be an issue.
 
So for now, I'm taking a step back with being open and letting the changes unfold slowly and ask my friends to spare me from what I don't need to know. 
 
 
Thursday, 03 October 2013 17:37

Back with a Bang

My return to Pakistan had gone off with a bang, quite literally.
 
A bomb attack on church worshippers in Peshawar killed 81 people and heralded a crazy, violent week for Pakistan, putting my own seismic life change on the back burner.
 
Two days later in a twisted irony, a massive earthquake struck Pakistan's least developed province Balochistan killing hundreds.
 
A bomb attack on government employees, then an aftershock and finally another car bomb ended a particularly nasty eight days – killing 600-800 people altogether I'd estimate and destroying the worlds of thousands of others.
 
In a place like Pakistan where calamity descends regularly, your own personal life can easily seem insignificant - especially as a journalist I think.
 
Events in Pakistan often serve to distract me from what's happening in my life and can even work in my favour. 
 
For example, if I'm out shooting a news report, the crowds that inevitably form as we're filming are not interested in why I don't conform to a gender stereotype; they are curious and want to feel that their particular calamity is being given attention. Sadly, the authorities are often slow to react to violence and disaster and cameras are more often than not the first on the scene.
 
Anyway, I'd been back in Pakistan for less than two weeks when I'd found myself back at Benazir Bhutto International Airport boarding a flight to London. Family illness had interrupted this roll at work and I needed to be home.
 
Airports represent a nightmare for transgender people and I'm no different. I'm glad it's a place like Pakistan where I have to confront other people's questioning attitudes as somehow Pakistani customs and security staff make the experience more human than in other countries I've visited. 
 
My passport right now has my old name and photograph in it and inevitably at several security stages at the airport I prepare for the wary slitty-eyed look that moves from my face to my passport and back again.
 
I find giving them a “whatchagonnado?” type shrug of a look tends to help and invariably I get a peculiarly 'knowing' Pakistani look back. I'm not quite sure what it is they know but I've often tried to analyse it. It kind of feels like they're saying “I know what you're up to” or sometimes it seems like we're sharing an in-joke? I don't know. But it doesn't feel malicious or aggressive.
 
This time round I went through the metal detector door frame and was patted down by security staff. Normally, I head to the women's curtained off search cubicle where they ask me weird questions like “Are you with the Pakistani women’s cricket team?” or seem over enthusiastic to meet me which makes me wonder if I should add airport security to the list of places to find Pakistani lesbians.
 
I'm glad I did go through the regular security and got the pat down. It beats being embarrassed by overly officious staff who shout at me that I'm in the wrong queue, in front of the other passengers and then quickly retract and laugh at their mistake and at me.
 
So all in all, a small step forward in the world of transitioning gender in Pakistan. 
 
IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO DONATE TO VICTIMS OF PAKISTAN'S EARTHQUAKE PLEASE GO HERE: http://bit.ly/173XCwg
Wednesday, 25 September 2013 14:58

Hello Pakistan, We Meet Again...

It's been a lovely long summer in my hometown of London but it's time to leave to go back to my base in Pakistan and back to my work as a reporter.
 
I've been living there on and off very happily for several years but it's gradually becoming harder for me to live in since I began my transition.
 
Pakistanis are very curious and don't have the same etiquette as we do in the UK. In England, the mantra to young children is “it's rude to stare”, but in Pakistan staring and invading personal space seems like a national pastime, it's also quite a conservative country and so as my appearance has become more ambiguous, I get more people staring, whispering, pointing fingers and so on. And it's not just children. 
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