From man into woman

May 21, 2012

By Adnan Abidi

Hardeep Singh, a father of two, leaves his home in west Delhi every day at around 2 p.m. Dressed in a pair of light trousers and a shirt, he reaches a local charity, where he undresses to reveal his female clothes underneath and transforms into Seema.

The 33 year old is a male-to-female transgender, or “hijra”, as they are known in India. Living with two identities, by day, he is a married family man and by night, a hijra sex worker.

With no legal recognition in India, transgenders like Seema have little choice but to turn to prostitution to earn a living, which is something she hides even from her family.

She has been working the streets since the age of 15, as well as with the life-long risks that come with the job, including HIV/AIDS.

She takes anti-retroviral drugs to control the infection – something I got to know while photographing her at her home with her family.

After spending a day with Seema, I asked if I could go out with her to see her working the streets. She agreed and from a safe distance, I photographed her as she took her position under a busy flyover to wait for clients. With my 50mm, I captured a few shots of her negotiating her rates with potential clients. For some, it took a few moments, for others, Seema negotiated for up to 45 minutes before jumping on the back of a motorcycle or hopping into the front seat of a car.

I’ll admit I wasn’t totally prepared for the shoot. Prostitution, like in many other countries, is illegal in India, and photographing sex workers talking with clients was risky. I was worried that someone would spot me or that I would be hit by a car speeding by as I stood on top of the flyover peering down at Seema.

Setting my camera up to the highest ISO level, I managed to capture some unique moments.

It was quite an experience shooting her double life, seeing her at home, playing with her children and doing regular household chores, as well as being able to document her going through her daily transformation from male to female, into her true self.



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An Indian doing about his/her own business (as million others do in India) and I wonder if that’s a news to Abidi. Can’t buy it.

//In one of my favorite photos, I captured three elderly women giving Seema a look of disgust as she talked prices with a client.//

Can’t see the pic. Where is it?

Posted by maGiK | Report as abusive

How does Seema work the streets as a female, when she is physically male? Has he/she had surgery? Do the children at home know the dual identity? These cases are all so very tragic, in that one’s gender is based on the X’s and Y chromosones one is born with. That can never be changed!

Posted by orionciara | Report as abusive

Very poignant. Thank you very much for capturing and sharing this with us.

Posted by icanonlybejm | Report as abusive