“I knew I was different ever since I was four years old,” says broadcast journalist Marvia Malik, 21, who grew up in a conservative joint family in Lahore, Pakistan. “Before I even turned 10, I wanted to express what I felt inside. So, I began calling myself a girl. But my family was strict and wanted me to behave like a boy,” she says, admitting that she has only visited them twice since she was thrown out of her home over a year ago, for refusing to conform. By this time, she had embraced her gender identity, wearing lipstick, and speaking Urdu in the feminine tense.
At school and at college, she was frequently taunted, though her teachers, she says, were supportive. When she completed her matriculation exams, Malik decided she’d had enough, and that it was time for change. “I realised I had to make a choice or I would end up depressed and suicidal. I wanted to prove myself and earn a dignified income.”
She moved in with a transgender friend and earned a BA in journalism and civics from Lahore’s Punjab University, while studying make-up and working at a local salon to support herself. Upon graduation, she began looking for jobs — and landed her first and current one with Kohinoor News, a small Lahore based TV channel, after passing her screen test with flying colours. “At my interview, they asked, ‘Why are you interested in working here? Don’t transgender people just beg and dance for money?’” After three months of training, she began her career on March 23, 2018 — incidentally, on Pakistan Resolution Day. Soon, news of her employment went viral.
Malik is currently undergoing hormonal treatment as she transitions, and has set her sights on the UK for the gender reassignment surgery. She is now looking forward to doing an MA in journalism, even as she fights for transgender rights as the president of Lahore’s Khawaja Sira Society, an NGO that supports transgender rights. The future might even see her dip her toes in politics — after all, transgender candidates have been running for elections in the country since 2013. “Things are changing. I’d like to run for a parliamentary seat one day and fight for equal rights,” she says.
Photograph: Agha Rizwaan Ali
Styling: Ahmer Farooq
Hair and make-up: Madiha Qaiser
On Malik: Lace dress, Rs. 1,277, faux leather heels, Rs. 1,394, mesh earrings, Rs. 204; all Breakout Pakistan