Trans comedian Anaya Sheikh was heckled and harassed onstage with abusive slurs during her performance by Youtube prankster Shahrik Shah at a comedy night held at a cafe in Johar Town on Sunday.
According to Anaya, she felt uncomfortable with Shahrik coming too close to the stage during her performance, but invited him onstage anyway. Once he was up, Shahrik proceeded to shout abusive and transphobic remarks about Anaya’s physical appearance and her espousal of feminism.
“I wore a top which said ‘We Should All Be Feminists.’ I started with jokes about women empowerment and then I replied to those jokes, which were based on trans people.”
“Then Shahrik Shah, from Lahori Prankstar, and another comedian named Usman made jokes and used the [derogatory terms] khusra and shemale while the whole audience was laughing and enjoying my performance. He came up and kept trying to come onstage,” said Anaya, who is a theater artist, researcher and trains comedians in an improv group.
“I asked him to leave. He kept showing me his [middle] finger and I said even my fingers are not worthy of you, so he kept abusing me. I completed my performance and I was shivering when I left the stage.” After performing again for a brief encore, Anaya immediately left the venue.
The event organizer, has since come out in Anaya’s support, saying, “Abusing someone on the basis of their gender is totally UNACCEPTABLE and we apologize [to Anaya].”
“I love my audience but I can’t go through this stress and shame which I just faced. I have the video but I don’t have the courage to watch it, and the more I think that many people were recording [the incident], the more I feel depressed and angry. I know this will be out and I’m imagining how happy that will make transphobes.”
“I lost my confidence; I thought I’m brave but until when? To what extent? Why can’t this society become brave and fight against such people? Why didn’t anyone stand up at the event and answer him?”
Even though the organiser has apologized, Anaya says, “There were some people who laughed at [Shahrik’s] comments, which made me think that people still find us as a joke. There should’ve been a pin-drop silence.”
“This was not a joke. I was not a joke. I work hard to write stuff to make them laugh to give them good time, even in such stressful times.”
Lahori Prankstar is a YouTube channel run by three pranksters from Lahore — Osama Khan, Asad Ramzan and Shahrik Shah, who abused Anaya onstage. The channel has a history of uploading videos of public pranks involving crude portrayals of marginalized communities and people, including trans and disabled people.
“I was excited obviously [to perform that night]; it was a new audience. I kept thinking I’ll do a different set and the moment I went on stage, I broke the ice and everyone laughed out. They were enjoying the performance so much,” Anaya said.
“I was scared when I was called again onstage [for the encore] but had to do it — audience kept shouting ‘Once more, Anaya’. I took a breath and went back, but I was shivering so had to end it.”
Anaya expressed her distress at Shahrik’s abusive comments and open transphobia, saying, “I was shocked that such people are still existing in this society and people follow them.”
It goes without saying, but it’s clear that it needs to be repeated: It’s wrong to joke at the expense of people who are trans — and we need to make public and community spaces more inclusive for everyone.