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Pakistani Waseem Akram, 27, applies makeup on his face as he prepares himself for a party at a friend's place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. By day, Akram sells mobile phone accessories from an alleyway shop in an old neighborhood of this Pakistani city. But by night, he stands before a mirror, shaving away his beard and picking through mascara and rouge to become Rani, a female wedding party dancer. ìLife is so hard, one job is not enough to help me and my family,î Akram says. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
Pakistani Waseem Akram, 27, applies makeup on his face as he prepares himself for a party at a friend’s place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. By day, Akram sells mobile phone accessories from an alleyway shop in an old neighborhood of this Pakistani city. But by night, he stands before a mirror, shaving away his beard and picking through mascara and rouge to become Rani, a female wedding party dancer. Life is so hard, one job is not enough to help me and my family Akram says. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

By day, 27-year-old Waseem Akram sells mobile phone accessories from an alleyway shop in an old neighborhood of this Pakistani city. But by night, Akram stands before a mirror, shaving away his beard and picking through mascara and rouge to become Rani, a female wedding party dancer.


 

Pakistani Waseem Akram dances during a private party in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. By day, Akram sells mobile phone accessories from an alleyway shop in an old neighborhood of this Pakistani city. But by night, he stands before a mirror, shaving away his beard and picking through mascara and rouge to become Rani, a female wedding party dancer. ìBeing a dancer at weddings, parties and private events ... helps me earn much more money than working in a shop,î Akram said. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
Pakistani Waseem Akram dances during a private party in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Being a dancer at weddings, parties and private events … helps me earn much more money than working in a shop, Akram said. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

“Life is so hard, one job is not enough to help me and my family,” Akram says, the bachelor’s voice taking on Rani’s higher register. “Being a dancer at weddings, parties and private events … helps me to earn much more money than working in a shop.”


 

COMBO - This combination of two images taken between Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 and Monday, Jan. 12, 2015, shows Pakistani Amjad Mahmoud, 44, reflected in a mirror while posing for a picture at his place, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith,the transgendered like Mahmoud face a challenge of balancing two identities. Mahmoud, proudly identifies as transgendered. ìThe only thing I canít do as a woman is conceive babies,î Amjad says. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
This combination of two images shows Pakistani Amjad Mahmoud, 44, reflected in a mirror while posing for a picture at his place, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith,the transgendered like Mahmoud face a challenge of balancing two identities. Mahmoud, proudly identifies as transgender. The only thing I can’t do as a woman is conceive babies, Amjad says. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith, male cross-dressers and the transgendered face a challenge of balancing two identities. Some left their villages for the anonymity of a big city, fearing the reactions of their families while still concealing their identity from neighbors and co-workers.

Male and female roles are clearly defined in Pakistan, and transgender people often face harassment and abuse. One role where they are tolerated is as dancers at weddings and other celebrations at which men and women are strictly segregated. In between the dancing and showers of rupee notes, they must fend off groping from drunken guests.


Pakistani Bakhtawar Ijaz, 43, wears a bra under the light of a lamp due to a power cut, while preparing himself to go out, at his home in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith, male cross-dressers like Ijaz face a challenge of balancing two identities. Some left their villages for the anonymity of a big city, fearing the reactions of their families while still concealing their identity from neighbors and co-workers. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
Pakistani Bakhtawar Ijaz, 43, wears a bra under the light of a lamp due to a power cut, while preparing himself to go out, at his home in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith, male cross-dressers like Ijaz face a challenge of balancing two identities. Some left their villages for the anonymity of a big city, fearing the reactions of their families while still concealing their identity from neighbors and co-workers. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

They can also be seen begging for money in the streets, wearing female dress and makeup. Many earn money by blessing newborn babies, which reflects a widespread belief in Pakistan and other South Asian nations that God answers the prayers of someone born underprivileged.

A 2011 Supreme Court ruling allows the transgendered to get national identity cards recognizing them as neither male nor female and allowing them to vote. Transgendered politicians also have run for office. In Punjabi, they’re known as “hijra.” Estimates suggest thousands of “hijra” live among Pakistan’s 180 million people.


Picyures of Pakistani transgender people are spread on the ground of an apartment shared by a group of dancers in  Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Male and female roles are clearly defined in Pakistan, and the transgendered often face harassment and abuse. One role where they are tolerated is as dancers at weddings and other celebrations at which men and women are strictly segregated. In between the dancing and showers of rupee notes, they must fend off groping from drunken guests. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
Pictures of Pakistani transgender people are spread on the ground of an apartment shared by a group of dancers in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Male and female roles are clearly defined in Pakistan, and the transgendered often face harassment and abuse. One role where they are tolerated is as dancers at weddings and other celebrations at which men and women are strictly segregated. In between the dancing and showers of rupee notes, they must fend off groping from drunken guests. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

For Akram though, being Rani means simply cross-dressing.

“I am not transgendered. I am a man who simply enjoys dancing and need money to have a better life and being a woman is the way,” he tells The Associated Press in Rawalpindi, just outside of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.

Others proudly identify as transgendered, though they can feel people’s stares.

“I am a very shy man. Eyes always follow me when I walk out of the apartment that I share with a few friends who share the same job like mine (as) dancers,” says Bakhtawar Ijaz, 43, preparing to meet clients to design women’s clothes. “Being with them is like being with a family. When I am surrounded by them, I feel safe, respected and empowered.”

Amjad Mahmoud, a 44-year-old tailor, proudly identifies as transgendered.

“The only thing that I can’t do as a woman is conceive babies” Amjad says.

Here are images by AP photographer Muhammed Muheisen of cross-dressing men and the transgendered who dance on while trying to find balance in their lives in conservative Pakistan.


This combination of two images shows Pakistani Arfeen Nasar, 49, posing for a picture at his place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith, male cross-dressers like Nasar face a challenge of balancing two identities. Some left their villages for the anonymity of a big city, fearing the reactions of their families while still concealing their identity from neighbors and co-workers. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
This combination of two images shows Pakistani Arfeen Nasar, 49, posing for a picture at his place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

Pakistani Bakhtawar Ijaz, 43, applies makeup on his face under the light of a lamp due to a power cut, as he prepares himself to go out, at his place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. ìI am a very shy man. Eyes always follow me when I walk out of the apartment that I share with a few friends who share the same job like mine (as) dancers,î says Ijaz. ìBeing with them is like being with a family. When I am surrounded by them, I feel safe, respected and empowered. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
Pakistani Bakhtawar Ijaz, 43, applies makeup on his face under the light of a lamp due to a power cut, as he prepares himself to go out, at his place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. I am a very shy man. Eyes always follow me when I walk out of the apartment that I share with a few friends who share the same job like mine (as) dancers, says Ijaz. Being with them is like being with a family. When I am surrounded by them, I feel safe, respected and empowered. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

This combination of two images taken between Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015 and  Friday, Jan. 9, 2015, shows Pakistani Bakhtawar Ijaz, 43, posing for a picture in an alley of a neighborhood in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. ìI am a very shy man. Eyes always follow me when I walk out of the apartment that I share with a few friends who share the same job like mine (as) dancers,î says Ijaz. ìBeing with them is like being with a family. When I am surrounded by them, I feel safe, respected and empowered.î (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
This combination of two images taken shows Pakistani Bakhtawar Ijaz, 43, posing for a picture in an alley of a neighborhood in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. I am a very shy man. Eyes always follow me when I walk out of the apartment that I share with a few friends who share the same job like mine (as) dancers,î says Ijaz. ìBeing with them is like being with a family. When I am surrounded by them, I feel safe, respected and empowered.î (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

Pakistani Bakhtawar Ijaz, 43, puts on a Shirwal and Kamis preparing himself to go out, at his place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith, those like Bakhtawar face a challenge of balancing two identities. Some left their villages for the anonymity of a big city, fearing the reactions of their families while still concealing identity from neighbors and co-workers. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
Pakistani Bakhtawar Ijaz, 43, puts on a Shirwal and Kamis preparing himself to go out, at his place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

Pakistani Waseem Akram, 27, applies makeup on his face using natural light due to a power cut, as he prepares himself for a party at a friend's place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. By day, Akram sells mobile phone accessories from an alleyway shop in an old neighborhood of this Pakistani city. But by night, Akram stands before a mirror, shaving away his beard and picking through mascara and rouge to become Rani, a female wedding party dancer. (Photo : AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
Waseem Akram,applies makeup on his face using natural light due to a power cut, as he prepares himself for a party at a friend’s place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

 

This combination of two images shows Pakistani Waseem Akram, 27, posing for a picture in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. By day, Akram sells mobile phone accessories from an alleyway shop in an old neighborhood of this Pakistani city. But by night, Akram stands before a mirror, shaving away his beard and picking through mascara and rouge to become Rani, a female wedding party dancer. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
This combination of two images shows Pakistani Waseem Akram, 27, posing for a picture in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

Akram shaves his beard as he prepares himself for a party at a friend's place, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. By day, Akram sells mobile phone accessories from an alleyway shop in an old neighborhood of this Pakistani city. But by night, he stands before a mirror, shaving away his beard and picking through mascara and rouge to become Rani, a female wedding party dancer. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
Akram shaves his beard as he prepares himself for a party at a friend’s place, in Rawalpindi, Pakistan.  (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

Akram stands by the mobile shop where he works at a market in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. By day, Akram sells mobile phone accessories from an alleyway shop in an old neighborhood of this Pakistani city. But by night, he stands before a mirror, shaving away his beard and picking through mascara and rouge to become Rani, a female wedding party dancer. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
Akram stands by the mobile shop where he works at a market in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. By day, Akram sells mobile phone accessories from an alleyway shop in an old neighborhood of this Pakistani city. But by night, he stands before a mirror, shaving away his beard and picking through mascara and rouge to become Rani, a female wedding party dancer. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

Akram plays a game with neighboring workers at a market in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. By day, Akram sells mobile phone accessories from an alleyway shop in an old neighborhood of this Pakistani city. But by night, Akram stands before a mirror, shaving away his beard and picking through mascara and rouge to become Rani, a female wedding party dancer (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
Akram plays a game with neighboring workers at a market in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. By day, Akram sells mobile phone accessories from an alleyway shop in an old neighborhood of this Pakistani city. But by night, Akram stands before a mirror, shaving away his beard and picking through mascara and rouge to become Rani, a female wedding party dancer (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)

This combination of two images shows Pakistani Tahir Abbas, 26, posing for a picture in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith, male cross-dressers like Abbas face a challenge of balancing two identities. Some left their villages for the anonymity of a big city, fearing the reactions of their families while still concealing their identity from neighbors and co-workers. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)
This combination of two images shows Pakistani Tahir Abbas, 26, posing for a picture in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith, male cross-dressers like Abbas face a challenge of balancing two identities. Some left their villages for the anonymity of a big city, fearing the reactions of their families while still concealing their identity from neighbors and co-workers. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

This combination of two images shows Pakistani Riasat Hussain, 19, posing for a picture at a friend's place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith, male cross-dressers and the transgendered face a challenge of balancing two identities. Some left their villages for the anonymity of a big city, fearing the reactions of their families while still concealing their identity from neighbors and co-workers. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)
This combination of two images shows Pakistani Riasat Hussain, 19, posing for a picture at a friend’s place in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Across conservative Pakistan, where Islamic extremists launch near-daily attacks and many follow a strict interpretation of their Muslim faith, male cross-dressers and the transgendered face a challenge of balancing two identities. Some left their villages for the anonymity of a big city, fearing the reactions of their families while still concealing their identity from neighbors and co-workers. (Photo: AP/Muhammed Muheisen)