Lahore, Pakistan - In her twenties, Jannat Ali dreamt of walking outside as a woman. Society, however, wanted her to live in one of two gender boxes. But she never fully identified with either.
"I always felt uncomfortable sitting with boys," she says, describing her experience while in school. Ali, who now identifies as a transgender woman, would save pocket money to take dance classes, telling her family she was attending yoga. "When I was dancing, I was free - wherever I was," she told Al Jazeera.
Her dance performances have been broadcast on Pakistani TV networks, attracting publicity and, at times, drawing the concern of her family.
"What would people say," her family members would say, fearful of inviting societal disapproval. Although Ali is among the few transgenders who retains family support, it was not always this way. At one point, Ali's sibling accused her of tarnishing the family name and contributing nothing to the family, even though she was their primary breadwinner.
"I have been earning for seven years," Ali recalled telling her family. "I did not save anything for myself."
While the term "transgender" gained widespread usage in the West during the 1970s, in South Asia the term usually refers to a more specific, and older, group of individuals known as hijras, some of whom prefer to be known by other designations such as khawaja sira.
Historically, hijras' blurring of traditional gender boundaries was seen as granting them mystical powers, such as the ability to cast alternately auspicious or pernicious invocations over newborns or at weddings. Hijra communities form around guru-chela relationships, similar to the master-disciple relationships of Sufism, providing a source of protection and support for individuals cast out by their families.