Once in the UK, Hiba met Katey (in green), who took her under her wing (Picture: Hiba Noor)
But when I arrived at five years old, I found the other children had split into rows of boys and girls.
I didn’t know what to do. All I knew was I was more comfortable sitting with the girls, so I did.
‘You haven’t been taught any manners,’ the teacher said, as he hit me with the wooden Quran stand and dragged me to the boys’ row. But in doing so, he saw the henna on my hands.
In South Asian cultures, women decorate their skin with henna on special occasions. It was just a few days after Eid. The teacher was furious. He hit me so much then that I blacked out.
It was as if the roof had fallen on me. I didn’t understand what I had done.
But in the years that followed, I came to understand that this aggression from society was unfortunately the norm. Luckily, there have been some kind souls along the way too.
For as long as I can remember, I felt I was in the wrong body.
In school, the teachers hit me for sitting like a girl. They would mock me and call me transphobic names in front of my schoolmates.
Both my protectors were gone (Picture: Hiba Noor)
At lunch, no one would share food with me. When I touched a desk, the other kids would wipe it ‘clean’ with water. Other people look back at their school days with fondness, but when I remember mine, I cry.
Despite the bullying at school, I persevered with my education. That’s because my brother always used to tell me: ‘The only way to change your life is through education.’
Thankfully, at home, I had love around me – my brother and my mother, as my father had died when I was young.
My family took me to a doctor, who diagnosed me with gender dysphoria. It had to be called an ‘identity disorder’ because being trans isn’t fully recognised in Pakistan, but it paved the way for me to have hormone treatment.
After leaving school, I began to focus on my career as a photographer and film-maker, and tried to hide who I really was. But then some extremists found out, and they decided to target me.
So in 2018, I fled from my home in Islamabad to Karachi, effectively the other side of Pakistan. Unfortunately, the extremists targeted my family as well.
Then in August 2018, I received the devastating news that a mob attacked my brother and killed him. I had lost my best friend.
But that was not enough for the extremists, who continued to threaten me, to the point I could not even attend my mother’s funeral after she died of liver cancer in December 2019. Both my protectors were gone.
Hiba with some friends in the UK (Picture: Hiba Noor)
Alongside that, I was moving from place to place, knowing each day could be my last. I applied for a UK filmmaker visa, but even after I was successful, I received death threats telling me that I’d be shot if I tried to get on a plane.
Luckily, a friend at the airport helped protect me and I boarded the flight successfully.
When I arrived in London in March 2021, I had only the clothes I was wearing, and I was confused, afraid and alone. I walked around the grey streets not knowing what to do, or where to go.
Then I saw a lawyer’s office. I walked in, sat down in front of the solicitor and cried. He said he was going to help me, so he gave me some money for the bus and the names of charities that help refugees, and explained to me about claiming asylum.
Through the support of these charities, I started to make friends. In particular, I met Katey, who was a volunteer for the charity Care4Calais.
The first time I met her, she had come to meet me with an armful of men’s clothes. She realised immediately that I wore women’s clothes, apologised, and said: ‘Let’s go shopping.’
She took me to a retailer and said: ‘Don’t feel shy, we have money – buy how many dresses you want.’ It felt like a miracle. That was the first time I found hope in my life.
I told Katey I didn’t know who I was anymore, and she said: ‘You’re a girl just like me, and we’re going to be sisters.’ Then she took me to meet her parents.
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Platform is the home of Metro.co.uk’s first-person and opinion pieces, devoted to giving a platform to underheard and underrepresented voices in the media.
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They welcomed me into their home, and told me: ‘We have two daughters, but we are blessed today because we have a third one – you.’
Human beings are often very selfish creatures, but if we can share our love, we can change people’s lives. Thanks to Katey, I began to build a proper life in London.
Her family celebrated my birthday and every other important milestone in my life. I feel like, after all the tragedy I’ve suffered, I have been blessed with new parents and a new path of life.
It was Katey who got me involved in filmmaking again. The Home Office had just moved me to new accommodation at short notice – while I was sick too – and Katey invited me to her home to help me cope with the disruption.
When I got there, she told me she had a surprise for me. Her family had a friend from California staying who was an award-winning screenwriter.
At that time, I thought I would never get to be on a film set again. But this writer connected me to the production of Matar, a short film directed by Hassan Akkad about an asylum seeker trying to survive in London.
Being on a film set again was a form of therapy (Picture: Hiba Noor)
I volunteered as an impact artist, making live sketches on the set, which I later converted into a painting. I also attended a workshop run by BAFTA, and co-directed the film about the making of Matar, which was screened in September.
Being on a film set again was a form of therapy. It allowed me to express my talent and creativity, and made my past feel like a bad dream. I decided to focus on my future and become a pioneering trans film-maker in the Muslim world.
Then, this year, I received the letter I had been waiting for – I was officially recognised as a refugee. This decision gave me a new life. I felt like I was a free bird.
Now I have the power to stand up not just for myself, but for all my LGBTQ+ siblings, and anyone who suffers from any kind of violence.
To this day, I don’t understand why people in my home country wanted to hurt me so badly, just because of who I am. What’s really sad is that the Pakistan courts are seemingly enabling the extremists further by claiming that being a trans woman is a sin.
If I look at everything positive in my life today, when I go back to the root, it is the same – Katey and her parents.
To me, this is the real face of British society, one that is kind to refugees and the LGBTQ+ community.
One family shows kindness to one human being. And in that way, I can try to bring my own positive impact to thousands of people’s lives.
Pride and Joy
Pride and Joy is a weekly series spotlighting the first-person positive, affirming and joyful stories of transgender, non-binary, gender fluid and gender non-conforming people. Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected]
I told Katey I didn’t know who I was anymore, and she said: ‘You’re a girl just like me, and we’re going to be sisters.’