Pakistanis who fail to pay up on tax day might find a posse of transgender tax collectors at their door--a form of "enforcement" that relies less on muscle than on local attitudes regarding sexual minorities, attitudes that spell humiliation for scofflaws whom the trans tax collectors target, CNN reported on April 14.
The article told the story of Riffee, a transwoman who works in Karachi. The idea, the story said, was to exploit anti-gay prejudices in the country’s Muslim-dominated society, so that those in arrears would fork over what they owed in order to avoid being publicly hounded--and humiliated.
"Their appearance causes great embarrassment amongst the people," Riffee’s boss, Sajid Hussein Bhatti, told CNN.
The CNN team accompanied Riffee and her cohorts on their rounds one day. The tax collectors warned one shopkeeper that if he didn’t pay his taxes, they would be back the next day. Rather than cracking heads, though, the transwomen were prepared to bust a move: They warned that they would start dancing on the shop’s premises.
Speaking to CNN, Riffee recounted her childhood realization that she was transgender. It is often the case that transgender individuals begin to identify themselves as belonging to the opposite gender early in childhood. Riffee was ten, but it is not unusual for trans children who are much younger to insist on dressing and acting in the manner of the other gender.
The article explained that the trans tax collectors are a measure of desperation in a land that is, in some ways, lawless. Few Pakistanis bother to pay their taxes. The police and the courts either have little interest or little power to force tax deadbeats to pay up.
Enter Riffee and her colleagues.
"When Riffee puts on her morning lipstick," a CNN reporter voices in a video at the CNN site and at YouTube, "she’s not looking to melt hearts. Instead, it’s part of her life as one of the most unusual government employees that Pakistan’s got."
It’s an unusual twist for a group that, as the CNN report notes, are viewed as outcasts in the religious, conservative country. "Frankly, people just don’t want them turning up at their front door," reported CNN correspondent Nick Paton Walsh in the video.
The article noted that in Pakistan, men who undergo castration may be regarded as a "third gender." Riffee and others who live as women--but who have not been castrated--wish to claim that legal third gender status for themselves.
"We’re trying to educate society and show them how we like ourselves, but if your parents don’t understand you or give you respect, how can you expect other people to?" Riffee asked CNN.
The concept of a third gender is not uncommon in some societies. Often, third gender individuals are men who identify as women and are allowed to live among, dress as, and do the traditional work of women.
Tax day in the United States falls on April 18 this year, several days later than the usual April 15 deadline.
Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.