Sawadee kah. My name is Jojo. I was not always called by this name. This name is the name of my soul I have risked my life to live. You see, I was born in the great nation of Pakistan. My name at birth was Joseph. I was born as a transgender woman even though I didn’t know what that was. The direction of my life has been influenced by this every single day. From the time I was very young, I knew I was different than other girls. My family did not understand who I was and treated me like a son. But in my heart, I knew the truth.
I was born a Christian in a strong Catholic family in Pakistan. In this religious and political construct, I was doubly condemned. I was born Christian and LGBT. As a Christian family, we were targeted. We regularly witnessed and experienced mistreatment, hatred, and threats of violence. But being an obvious woman born into a man’s body was a dynamic that brought about another unique and dangerous complexity for my already persecuted family. I wanted to work in a salon. I was playing with and wearing makeup from a young age. It was difficult for my family to hide who I truly was. If I couldn’t hide it, how could they?
All through my school years, everyone knew me as a trans woman and appeared to accept me, but I was not met with that same support and advocacy when it mattered. I would have relationships with men but quickly learned that it was simply out of their curiosity and nothing more. These relationships never materialized into life together. This left me disappointed and hopeless. And to make matters worse, my family did not understand or accept me. I don’t have words to describe the loneliness!
One fateful day, I met a close friend who told me of a hope I could only dream of. I learned that life for me was possible in a nation called Thailand. I didn’t even know what it would mean but I was fascinated. It was all I could think about. After much thought and prayer I got on a plane to go to a foreign nation I could only dream of. I sat alone on the plane with everything and everyone I’d known behind me, wondering what my life would be like.
When I got off the plane my true life began. I went from a lost orphan alone in the world to an adopted, loved child by a loving motherland, Thailand. Like water on a seed, I soon bloomed into a true life of friends and the hope for a future grew in my heart. For the first time in my life, I not only had people who knew me, but I also had people who would be seen with me. People who cared about me! I was given so many blessings by this land, and my freedom was only one of them.
I learned about my community, the LGBT community. I learned why I was so attracted to them and where I fit in. I learned what a transgender identity is and was able to live with the full awareness of who I am. I learned hair care at Ninrat school of hairdressing in Wong Wain Yai. At first, I hid who I was but quickly came to realize that I was loved for who I am. Every day I felt like I was living my destiny. I felt like I was awaking into a deja vu of some forgotten life that happened before.
Here I also found a safe place to practice my religion. I did not need to hide any aspect of myself. I could go from my hairdressing classes and travel with my makeup on to my Catholic Church where I was accepted and loved.
Not everything was easy, however. I was dependent on Life Raft International and the generosity of many other friends, churches, and organizations. I could not work. I was constantly at risk of being arrested and taken to IDC under the wrong circumstances. But I became confident in myself through these limited resources. I saw how my environmental impact could be limited through being frugal. I saw how I could encourage others to know how to help in these issues by being happy with what I had.
My case was closed but somehow this was a Godsend though. I told them my true identity and I was accepted again into the program and this eventually led to my being accepted for asylum in the great nation of Australia.
My story is a happy one and filled with gratitude! My thankfulness rises to the heavens every day. Because I realize that not every refugee wins in life as I have. Without the kindness of heaven, I could still be stuck back in Pakistan lost, alone, and invalidated. And someday soon I look forward to the next step in my journey – my ascension and adventure in Australia.
This is my story. But together we can help those less fortunate simply by spreading awareness, by calling each other to higher standards and higher ways, so that the generosity that is innate in each of us can be magnified to help those desperately needing to be saved. As I was only eight short years ago.
Listen to Jojo’s full speech: Am I born a refugee?