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Understanding Transgenders: As Same As Different

Posted on January 5, 2012 in Society

By Indrajit Sinha:

Not every day would you see an entire population of transgenders living so freely, without getting bothered by their curious onlookers. Welcome to the Villupuram district of Tamil Nadu. Not intending to say that it has been transformed to be the Transgender capital of the country, but what is special is the month of Chaitri that sees it all happen. They are here to celebrate the Koovagam festival. A fifteen day long carnival of celebration of their selves, open sex and solicitation of it, seminars, interviews, awareness campaigns, social work, religious festivities and so much more. The best part is, I got to see it all in first person.

Curious as I was, I readily grabbed the first opportunity of a chit chat with Ms. Priya Babu, one of India’s leading transgender activist. Tracing their history has been quite a tough task, with history books having very less of them and religious texts offer interpretations galore. Amidst this search of a past, was established the Koovagam festival. As Ms. Babu puts it, immediately before the war of the Mahabharata, the Pandavas were to sacrifice one amongst them, in order to assure their victory. Prince Aravan, Arjuna’s son was chosen for the same, but he expressed to enjoy a day of marital bliss before he was to be offered to the Gods. Widowhood being an unwelcomed state for women, every father refused to give their daughter for marriage. It was then that the Hindu God, Krishna, transformed himself to a beautiful woman and married Aravan, who was to die the following day. The transgenders in India take this to be the first open acknowledgment of a man turning to a woman. Based on this, Ergo, or the makeshift marriage between a transgender and a man is held every year and as per the myth, their marriage lasts for only a day followed by the widowhood of the bride. With a marriage being the biggest event of a girl’s life in India, even this one night of alliance makes the transgenders feel complete as a woman.

Technically speaking, TRANSGENDER is an umbrella term comprising overlapping identities of cross-dressers, transvestites, androgynies, gender queer, cross-gender dressers like drag kings and drag queens and transsexuals. The Oxford dictionary defines a transsexual as a “Person born with the physical characteristics of one sex who emotionally and psychologically feel that they belong to the opposite sex.” Ignorant of these definitions, most of us assume that transgenders are born with sexual ambiguities. This is untrue because hermaphrodites or the intersex people are born one in a million. Transgenders are born as either biological male or female and post puberty, they begin feeling or dressing up like the opposite sex to become male-to-female or female-to-male transgenders. While women dressed up like men can walk without being subject to public jeers, men dressing up as women are the ones who generally catch our eye. Confusing as this might be, Ms. Priya Babu puts it best as, “We are Woman’s soul trapped in a man’s body and vice versa”, which is the by far the easiest definition to understand.

The transgenders are a community of people who have their own social-cultural milieu that exists outside mainstream society and it is our inability to accept differences that lead us to met atrocities and violence against them. They are misunderstood, hated, and even persecuted all across the modern world, but even more so in the Southern parts of the Asian continent, where traditional values and religious beliefs are still held above civil equality and liberty for all.

Human rights have been defined as ‘basic moral guarantees that people in all countries and cultures allegedly have simply because they are people. Calling these guarantees “rights” suggests that they attach to particular individuals who can invoke them, that they are of high priority, and that compliance with them is mandatory rather than discretionary. These people are denied of their basic human rights. What needs to be done foremost is for us to understand who they are and eventually give them their dignity of life. The entire scandal of young men being kidnapped and castrated in order to grant them the ‘social’ Hijra status to fetch them easy money is in itself a violation of human rights and the actual transgenders are not to be confused with the same. As civilized human beings, the least we can do is give them the space to live and acceptability will follow in soon.

Be supportive towards them:

  • Educate yourself about the transgenders and related issues by reading books, attending conferences, and consulting with transgender experts.
  • Be aware and work towards changing your attitudes concerning people with gender-nonconforming appearance or behavior.
  • Acknowledge the fact that even transgenders are a part of various socio-cultural identity groups (e.g., race, social class, religion, age, disability, etc.) and there is not one universal way to look or be a transgender.
  • Use names and pronouns that are appropriate to the person’s gender presentation and identity; if in doubt, ask.
  • Don’t make assumptions against the transgender’s sexual orientation, desire for hormonal or medical treatment, or other aspects of their identity or transition plans. If you have a reason to know (e.g., you are a physician conducting a necessary physical exam or you are a person who is interested in dating someone that you’ve learned is transgender), ask.
  • Don’t confuse gender nonconformity with being transgender. Not all people who appear androgynous or gender nonconforming identify as transgender or desire gender affirmation treatment.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with the transgender individual in your life.
  • Get support in processing your own reactions. It can take some time to adjust to seeing someone you know well transitioning. Having someone close to you transition will be an adjustment and can be challenging, especially for partners, parents, and children.
  • Seek support in dealing with your feelings. You are not alone. Mental health professionals and support groups for family, friends, and significant others of transgender people can be useful resources.

To remain silent in the face of oppression of our fellows is to condone the worst forms of terror against human beings.