PAKISTAN -- Urban Pakistan assaults your senses: tangles of traffic; Pakistani pop competing with the mosque's call to prayer; pungent spices in the steamy air. And then there are the transvestites.
At traffic lights, you see people draped in elegant pink and red clothing, with sparkling makeup. They tap their painted fingernails on your car window, asking for money. And that's when you notice the stubble on their chins.
"Begging here in traffic is just a part-time job," says 32-year-old Mina Mehvish. "I really want to be a dancer."
Mehvish is a hijra, the South Asian term for a transgender woman. They trace their presence back to at least the 16th century, when eunuchs served as entertainers and guards in Mogul courts. The word means "leaving one's own tribe" — or in this case, gender group — in several Asian and Middle Eastern languages.
In Pakistan, transgender women have long been considered good luck for both newborns and newlyweds — and perform both at baby showers and weddings. Despite this, they continue to face discrimination in this otherwise conservative Muslim country.
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