'You can lift yourself up without putting someone else down' is a common enough phrase but the sentiment, it seems, is lost on many members of the Pakistani entertainment industry. Model turned actor Iman Aly proved this when, in an attempt to laugh off her own insecurities, she ridiculed the transgender community.
On the recent talk show Ghabrana Nahi Hai the Khuda Ke Liye actor opened up about the apprehensions she had regarding her appearance, revealing that she didn't find herself beautiful or attractive despite people reinforcing that she was.
"I don't like the way I look," Aly confessed. "I don't like myself even more, especially because people say I'm so beautiful," she added, saying that she doesn't see what they see. It was all fine till here.
"Even in front of a camera, I feel I need a new one. Everywhere I point, I feel 'ew, khusra, ew, khusra'," she said, bursting into laughter. "When I can't like my face, how can I take a picture and upload it?" she asked, adding that people should understand that she is neither bluffing nor lying, and this is exactly why she is hesitant to take selfies or update her social media accounts regularly.
Aly's words may ring true to herself and might come from a deep seated insecurity — she has been dealing with multiple sclerosis, a condition that has impacted both her appearance and speech over time and might have had a profound impact on the way she looks at herself — but her equating her own perception of unattractiveness with the trans community is not okay.
At a time when trans activists all over the world are struggling to make their voices heard and advocating against the abuse they often face, such casual discrimination and ridicule only adds fuel to the fire and normalises the disenfranchisement of these groups.
A beautiful woman — or anyone for that matter — using a word like 'khusra' to mock her physical appearance invalidates non-binary identities. It makes non-binary people believe that their existence can be used as derogatory reference just because a celebrity wanted to prove a point, that too about how she was uncomfortable in her own skin.
While the public continues to dismiss such instances as "just a joke," it is important to realise that in a country like Pakistan, where transgender people and other marginalised minorities are ostracised and often disowned by their families, using such terms can have a lasting, often violent, impact.
The fact that Aly got away with making such a comment, with the host laughing by her side and an entire production team editing in laughter effects as background noise, is a measure of how deeply people have internalised this discrimination. For them, being transgender is not an identity — it's an insult and scorn-worthy.
Aly's words are disappointing, not because she is a well-known model or celebrity, but because she is a grown woman. A woman who lives and moves around a space where it is fairly easy to spot the differences in the way society treats the trans community. Where a lack of education, insufficient job opportunities and having to face discrimination from society often leaves most of them with no choice but to resort to begging or exploitative sex work to survive.
Using their existence to illustrate her own self-loathing, is unfair, insensitive, intolerant and completely tone deaf. Aly might have consciously meant no harm, but with the multitude of resources available for awareness, it is only fair that public figures who are given space on national television choose their words wisely.
Casually throwing around the word 'khusra' to describe how ugly she feels on the outside disregards the painful history of a community that has long withstood violence, discrimination and ridicule at the hands of society.
It is important, not just as a public figure, but as a decent human being, to realise that these are real people with real emotions, and not just terms celebrities can throw around to make themselves feel better. The trans community deserves better than being made the butt of your jokes.
It's 2021, if you aren't doing something to help the trans community, the least you can do is refrain from mocking them.