Kami Sid, the Pakistani Trans Activist who Became a Model

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A 29 years old transgender woman from Karachi, Pakistan is known for her talent, witty behavior, knowledge, courage, bravery and charm and the world knows her as Kami Sid. Kami is the name of courage and passion. She has proved at a very young age that anything is possible to achieve. Belonging to a country like Pakistan, Kami had numerous social and religious obstacles to conquer, but her unstoppable nature led her to destinations which a lot would only dream of.

She has the title of being the first transgender model, not only in Pakistan but in the entire Muslim world. She is internationally known for her activism and also as a very well-known transgender rights spokesperson. Kami has the honor of representing Pakistan on various international platforms.

She is an activist and a model at the same time. This is exactly how she is known as; Courageous and Glamorous. She is member of a Thai organization “Youth Voices Count” which aims to address issues related to HIV, health, and human rights through capacity building, advocacy and community mobilization within the Transgender communities in the region.

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She is President of Board at Naz Male Health Alliance, the pioneer organization in Pakistan founded by Mr. Qasim Iqbal, which is working for the welfare of Queer population in Pakistan.

With a lot of experience and talent comes a solid ambition. Kami has started her own organization with the name of “Subrang Society”. “Subrang” means” All Colors”, a word strong enough to define the mission of the organization. She is all set to take Subrang to another level now, where she wants her organization to be a platform known for advocacy of transgenders and other minorities.

Tell us about your first offer for a modeling shoot: what was your spontaneous reaction? What were your reservations as a Pakistani citizen and as a Muslim?

Modeling was never what I aimed for, but on 23rd November 2016 when I was approached for the first shoot, I had a mixed feeling. I had concerns because of family and society; which I believe anyone would have because being a transgender one has a lot of social reservations.

What convinced you eventually to pursue with the offer?

I have a very strong mindset about doing things, once I make up my mind than nothing can stop me. I am very glad that people from my community and from the society had nothing but appreciation for my work. I realized it later that modeling and acting is a very tough job to do, and those who are affiliated with this profession need a big hand of applause as I believe they are doing a very tough job which is not possible for every other person. So, basically I took it as a challenge and I am glad that I am successful yet another time in my life.

You have set a new trend in Pakistan’s showbiz industry. How did the showbiz fraternity respond to an educated transgender woman becoming part of the industry?

Showbiz is a glamour world. Our society lacks the basic etiquettes to give respect to a transgender person. But as I stepped in into this industry of lights and glitter, I knew my steps were opening up doors for more transgender to be part of this world. Within no time, after my shoot Pakistani media welcomed a transgender anchor on a news channel and a transgender dancer on silver screen. So basically I had responsibility on my shoulders. The image which I was going to create and maintain in the showbiz world was to become a precedent for the new comers.

Was there any discrimination towards your gender and fame?

I was an activist, way before becoming a model; I knew how I am going to handle situations. It is true that you get a lot of good and bad people everywhere and on every platform but if you are on the right track, nothing can go wrong with you. It is all up to your own attitude and behavior.

You were international news after your first shoot came out. Tell us how on an international platform you had a chance to change the negative mindset of international audience about Pakistan and the first transgender model of Pakistan.

[Laughs] Who doesn’t want fame, and who doesn’t want to be in lime light. I am quiet confident that my entire showbiz career has been a living example for the world to think and imagine Pakistan in a positive way. I belong to a conservative Muslim family and as I mentioned earlier my family had concerns about me becoming famous after my first shoot.

But right after my first modeling shoot BuzzFeed India published an article on me, as first Pakistani transgender model that has broken all the stereotypes of the society; and then rest was the history. Pakistani media was on fire, I started getting approached from every corner of the country. I was excited and this was a very overwhelming feeling. CNN, BBC, Times of India and a lot of international media wrote and said about me.

I was wondering, why now? Why not before? Why not for all that I have been doing till this time? But then I realized it is another responsibility which I have got in the journey of life and I have to show the world that when you have courage you can do anything, literally anything, and that also includes a person from a gender mqinority bringing a positive fame to a country known internationally for extremism.

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We all have a rebel inside us. Tell us about your rebellious instinct. Do you think you listen to your rebellious side? Or you always go with the flow.

“Kami has been rebellious since ever”. I was mocked in school and college because of my feminine behavior, but this rebel inside me never let me lose confidence. May be this was my rebellious nature which never got me confused in any circumstances. This rebel inside me taught me to become optimistic. This rebellious nature made me fight for myself and my rights.

I am 29 years old today and I am still fighting for truth and justice, against people who belong to me and those who are completely strangers. I take everything in myself positively, so I believe being rebellious is not at all wrong. I listen to everyone around myself and make myself according to what my well-wishers want me to be.

Did your status of a celebrity help you in activism?

Yes, I have been an activist and a spokesperson since 2012, but I got international fame after I became famous as a model. No doubt, my modeling career has given boost to me being an activist. People on international platforms got to know about how transgender people have been doing activism in Pakistan and what troubles do they have.

But the biggest obstacle was to keep a balance between both. Losing control on any of them could have led to death of my entire struggle. My both careers are cause related, both eventually have the same mission and vision which is to prove the world that being a transgender activist and a model is no more a thought, it’s a reality now.

Who has been your role model as a woman?

I believe my mother is my biggest inspiration. I was very young when my father passed away and my mother took responsibility of me and my other 7 siblings. She facilitated all of us in our up brining and education and eventually settling down in life. We are all settled in our lives because of my mother. She is an inspiration for me because she is a house wife who doesn’t know much about ups and downs of the outer world, but even than she fought for us through out.

And as an activist?

I have many inspirations. Qasim Iqbal and my partner are my inspirations because these people believe in equality regardless of gender, age, race and color.

And as a feminist?

All those people who really believe in the true meaning of feminism are my inspiration. Feminism is not about being against masculinity, it’s about inclusion and justice.

Pakistani transgender community is transitioning into another phase of acceptance and visibility. What do you think are the pros and cons of this re-branding of the entire trans community?

It is really hard to accept change. Pakistan got independence 70 years ago, but the transgender community started struggling for their official status only 5 years ago, with that you can imagine how suppressed this society was.

I see unity within the transgender community at some points, but than on few points I do not see unity in the community, maybe because there is difference in mind set and mentality of the community members. There is illogical race of winning. People within the community are running to achieve the limelight for their own name, though it is completely forgotten that any achievement is actually collective achievement of the entire community and not of any specific person or a group.

Transgender community is getting visibility and acceptance at the same time, but within the community issues need to be sorted out on priority as the upcoming transgender generation will get a very negative impact on themselves because of the negativity they will inherit from their elders.

The mainstream society has always been familiar with us. It’s just that they never included us with in themselves. The transgender community has to fight for inclusion. For instance, I started with acceptance from my own family and then I reached to society for further acceptance. It is us who are going to change our own ideology in the mindset of the mainstream society. We have to create an image to eliminate the stigmas attached with us.

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What were your expectations from your community when you became model? Did you get more support from Pakistan’s transgender community or from mainstream society?

As I said earlier, I got huge support from my own community. And the true satisfaction comes when my own community members appreciate me and my work. There have been rumors floating regarding me, such as me being self-centered, or my activism and modeling career is for my personal benefit. I would again say that I take criticism in a positive way. Allah has given me respect and responsibility and I will make sure that I keep my focus and do not put ear to the negative criticism.

You have come a long way. Your past has a lot of good and bad memories. Do you think your past memories are your weaknesses or strengths?

Everyone has a journey. Like everyone I have good as well bad memories. It is really hard to survive. I am always motivating others, but than a time comes when I need to motivate myself, because after all I am also a human being. That is the time, when I look for inspiration from within the community. I spend time with my community member and listen to their life stories. This gives me boost and self-motivation. The more I listen to my community, the more I get away from miseries of my past and the more I get sense of responsibility towards my cause.

What is your message to young Pakistani transgender people who want to pursue career in showbiz?

Take it as a responsibility. Showbiz is a strong medium to promote your voice. So be someone you really want to be known for. The more positive image created by a transgender in showbiz industry, the stronger positive impact it will have on the mainstream society. We need to fight for our rights and recognition. Nothing is greater than self-respect.

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What projects should be done by Pakistani showbiz industry to promote a positive and transgender-friendly society?

There is a lot to be done yet. Recently I did a historical campaign through social media which was known as “Change the Clap”. The agenda was to recreate the image of traditional Khajah Sira Clap into a hand of applause. It was huge success nationwide.

General Elections are scheduled in Pakistan by end of July and regarding that I myself have been part of an electoral campaign “Hum Mai Say Aik”.

So, all those projects which highlight the issues of transgender, and create agenda and motivation for inclusion are required. No doubt, we have a long way to go and our dependency on electronic media is big, but the transgender community has to come forward and speak for their own rights using theatrical platform, social media, electronic media and other platforms related to showbiz.

Pakistani media has at times used derogatory characters to humiliate transgender community especially when a transgender character is being played by a cisgender man or a woman. What and how should that be controlled?

Just the way we don’t want to stick to roles related to transgender so is with cisgender actors and actress. If they can play a role of a transgender in a good way, than why not? But all that needed to be understood is that before anyone signup for a role as a transgender, one must do proper homework. The producers and directors need to understand that portraying a humiliating and demeaning image of transgender by a character will only create more distances between transgender community and the mainstream society.

There are people from the transgender community who come on media and portray negative and unacceptable image of the Pakistani transgender community. Has there any legal action taken by the community against them?

There are few black sheeps within the community who can say anything on media for a little monetary gain. Because they are also from the community so taking any legal action against them will only create embarrassment to the already struggling community. All I can say is that they should learn a little more about themselves get, some education and should have a positive substance before coming on media.

Lastly, what do you think it takes to be “Kami Sid”?

A lot of positivity, courage, patience and belief in Allah.

This interview was first published in Il Grande Colibrì