Stigmatised, stereotyped and socially disgraced—these words encapsulate the unfortunate reality of the transgender community in Pakistan. Their expression is questioned and their lifestyle is ridiculed, leaving them in a position where they are forced to beg on the streets. They are abandoned at birth and discarded as an alleged ‘punishment of God,’ only to be taken in and raised by Gurus who bind them in a rebirth that initiates with debt. In essence, they are forced into isolation, imprisoned by the walls of socially-constructed norms, stigma and patriarchy that renders them invisible.

Now, COVID-19 has forced the entire world into isolation, handicapping the socio-economic structures of even the world’s most powerful countries such as China and the United States; everything has come to a halt and citizens have been required to actively adopt quarantine measures. Difficulties of adjusting to the ‘new normal’ have become the talk of the town, how self-isolation has induced levels of stress, anxiety, fear and uncertainty across Pakistan. In other words, every Pakistani has been forced to experience the reality of the transgender community, a life that is marked with forced isolation and unacceptability.

Self-isolation has led to emotions of solitude and boredom; social media is filled with posts about how to keep yourself busy with workout routines and fitness regimes, makeup and styling tutorials, cooking recipes etc. The list goes on. We feel anxious because we are not able to walk out freely, meet our friends or go to work; these are all valid emotions but what if your entire life was underscored with abandonment and isolation? Scrolling through news feeds you hear and see people discuss how they “cannot wait to walk out of quarantine and resume a normal life,” but what do you do when your entire life is the equivalent of living in isolation, such that you have no escape?

During this pandemic, pause and reflect on your actions and reactions. Imagine the lived experiences of the transgender community who are left alone to fight the toughest battle of their lives—survival; these incredibly strong members of our community thrive in a patriarchal society where they are forced to live alone, without education, friends or relatives. Fear and solitude are their only companion as people refuse to acknowledge their inner beauty, their soul. Perhaps, this forced isolation will serve as a reality check for everyone guilty of enabling an environment that dishonours the transgender community. Perhaps, as we practice social distancing, we can truly empathise with the marginalised members of our society whose entire life has been marked with deprivation of the basic necessities of life and whose concerns are deemed invalid and illegitimate.

COVID-19 has indeed disproportionately affected marginalised individuals. Rethink, and reevaluate your values and morals as well as your actions and reactions towards the transgender community across Pakistan. Let this period of isolation be a moment of learning, a time when you can reflect upon your doings and how you can play a role in redefining societal misconceptions about the transgender. Realise that these souls have been surviving in a community that treats them unjustly, unfairly and inhumanely. Do not let that continue. Let these unforeseen circumstances be a reminder that our nation prospers only when our people prosper, and our people cannot prosper until every member of our community prospers.

Our worries, our emotions, our fears—channel and extend those feelings towards the transgender community who are exposed to the consequences of this pandemic. Accept them, support them and respect them, and do not let your misconceptions guide you otherwise. Value the transgender community and change their reality from isolation to inclusion. Be kind and be inclusive. Be human.