"We have been quarantined for our entire life"
Numerous Pakistani transgender dancers have been forced out of their homes due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
One of those affected is Adnan Ali who had a comfortable life performing at parties for newlyweds and newborns and avoiding the financial hardship faced by many transgender people in Pakistan.
However, lockdown has led to the closure of wedding halls and cancelled parties.
As a result, Adnan has not been able to generate an income and she has now been forced out of her rented apartment in a wealthy suburb of Islamabad.
Adnan now shares a single room in a shelter with other transgender dancers who have also lost work.
Adnan said: “I want to return to a routine again, to dance again and to do something good in my life.”
The transgender community are traditionally called upon for rituals and in Pakistan, they were legally recognised as a third gender in 2009.
Despite the signs of integration, they are largely shunned by society.
Those who struggle to earn a living as dancers are often forced to a life of begging or sex work.
Outside of dancing, Mena Gul has always felt like a form of self-isolation.
She explained: “We have been quarantined for our entire life, we cannot go outside and we hide our faces whenever we leave our homes.”
Mena has now left the safety of the apartment she shared with fellow dancers in Peshawar and moved into a room in one of the slums.
While Pakistan has relaxed its shutdown of businesses, wedding halls have not been allowed to reopen.
A shelter previously helped approximately a dozen transgender people. But over the past few months, it has stretched to offer food to more than 70 thanks to local donations.
The few rooms were quickly filled, with some sleeping on the floor.
Make-up artist Nadeem Kashish founded the shelter. Nadeem revealed that she has had to turn many away.
Outside the shelter, homeless Pakistani transgender dancers beg passers-by for food.
Nadeem said: “I can see that the problems will increase in the future, it’s not going to end, the uncertainty has created mental and physiological problems.”
She questioned whether the dancers would be able to regain the financial freedom they once had.
According to studies by non-profit groups and development organisations, the Pakistani transgender community is in the hundreds of thousands.
Many turn to dancing as a way of avoiding a life of begging or sex work.
Many sex workers have been pushed into poverty as the fear of contracting the virus has caused them to stop offering services.
Taimur Kamal is a transgender rights activist said of those forced out of work:
“They were already facing social humiliation and further isolation is increasing their stress and anxiety.”
For Adnan, the month of May should have been a time of celebration but instead, she has been spending her time searching for donations for the shelter.
She said: “I dream of a time when this corona thing has ended and I start performing in parties again.”