India and Transgenders– A Society that Refuses to Transition

When I visit temples, I see how the idols of gods are clothed with long hair, earrings and a ‘teeka’. They always resemble the way girls are dressed, the way I am dressed. And people find it very easy to accept these idols but not me — a human being, a trans woman“, said Bruna who accepted her identity when the Supreme Court of India read down Section 377 in September last year. Despite the landmark verdict, we see how the acceptance of queer identities and their freedom to openly express their sexuality and gender choices still remain a constant struggle. In a society with rigid social and cultural norms that dictate the lives of the people, it becomes all the more difficult to go against them without being judged, stigmatized and looked down upon.

Irrespective of the judgmental eyes and cold looks, the LGBTQA+ is a thriving, incredibly diverse and inclusive community with one of its sub communities being the Transpersons.
While ‘trans’ is an umbrella term, trans people identify as male, female, genderqueer, nonbinary, agender or somewhere else on the broad spectrum. Some transgender people choose to undergo the sex reassignment surgery while others don’t. But there are many who cannot consider the surgery as an option because of financial, societal and cultural pressures. This often causes a regress in the psychological state of the person who may already be troubled by a plethora of issues like acceptance, harassment and inefficiency of the legal system.

Societal perspectives on transgenders

Often, parents themselves don’t accept their children as sexual beings as in Bruna’s case where her mother found it very difficult to even believe that a person can subscribe to anything else than the gender binary we are all force-fed since birth. The idea of gender roles is cemented into the societal structure by distorted interpretations of religion and so it becomes even more strenuous to be accepted as a trans person with dignity in India. Trans communities like Shivshakti and Aravani may have had limited visibility but are yet to find acceptance into the very fabric of the society.

The people of older generation are homophobic. They can’t accept this at all. All my friends’ parents have thrown them out of their house for something they can’t help, something for which they are not responsible”, said Bruna, indicating the lack of support from families and the restrictions put by them, which is not only debilitating but adds to her struggle. She recounts her own journey, how she first confided in some close family members like her brother and a few close friends, whose support she could count on.

Even if they manage to get some kind of support, people think that accepting the community is a great favour in itself that allows them to take Trans people’s privacy for granted and intrude into their personal lives. On the other hand, some are just curious and see them as objects of wonder. This objectifying gaze then becomes a huge problem when it comes to looking for love as a queer person. Bruna opened up about her experience of dating as a trans woman and told us how most of the men she met were only interested in knowing what it would be like to be with someone like her in purely physical terms while a few even posed offensive questions. It’s obvious that the entitlement of these cis-men , stems from their own lack of effort to learn more about trans people than it any lack of information on the internet. As is often the case, it’s considered to be the duty of the oppressed to educate the oppressor of their oppression.

It is a life of extreme hardships not just for Bruna, but many others who are left strangled within the binaries of the society. A trans person is seen as a deviation from the norm and, as if to punish one for being different, they are deprived of the social capital they would have enjoyed otherwise. When Akshay steps out of the house at night, he is fearless while Bruna, on the other hand, is susceptible to all kinds of danger.

The Transgender Persons Bill

Even the much talked about Transgender Persons Bill which was passed in 2019, fails to provide the sense of security it should have given to the community. The bill appears to mandate a two-step process for legal gender recognition. First, it requires a trans person to apply for a “transgender certificate.” This can be done on the basis of a person’s self-declared identity. Then, a certificate holder can apply for a “change in gender certificate,” which signals to authorities to change their legal gender to male or female. This second step appears to require surgery and then documentation by a medical authority confirming it. It also empowers the district magistrate to judge the “correctness” of the application and decide whether to issue the change in gender certificate but does not give guidelines on how this decision should be made. The bill is also silent on whether a trans person who holds a male or female gender certificate will have access to government welfare schemes and programs meant for transgender people.

Transgender people in India should be able to live with dignity and nondiscrimination, and have equal access to education, employment, and health services”, said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, “To enact a law that meets international standards, it’s critical that parliament fully bring transgender people into the conversation.

A trans person is seen as a potential criminal, due to the duality in the nature of their lives and the bill further reduces them to certificates and documents. For a trans person who does not wish to undergo sex reassignment surgery, it becomes extremely difficult to change their identity with respect to the law. The Indian law and social structures have collectively created a system of organised discrimination for the trans community.

Therefore, it remains imperative to question if we can ever envisage a society where Trans people can lead a life with dignity, without feeling the need to alternate between wardrobes and identities.

Picture Courtesy- The Statesman

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