‘Intersex Indians Excluded Even By The Queer Community’: Activist Speaks Out

Posted by Gopi Shankar Madurai in LGBTQ, My Story
December 7, 2016

On November 8, 2016, the day I attended the National LGBTQ Consultation meeting supported by United States Fund at Hotel Eros, I was assaulted by a Hijra and her guru, who asked me to remove my trousers. Why? Because I was the only voice representing the intersex community at the consultation.

I didn’t sleep that whole night, unable to believe this happened at a national level meeting on inclusiveness. It wasn’t a cisgender heterosexual person who assaulted me, but my own community member who identifies with a different gender than I do.

I must convey how the ‘I’ in ‘LGBTQIA+’ is always ignored. Intersex people in India have been invisibilised both inside and outside the queer community, and not many people know of the various forms of marginalisation we face.

It was on the same day of the consultation that I had lodged a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission, to intervene and stop the medical abuse of intersex babies in India who are forced to undergo corrective surgeries. This is done to assign them either the ‘male’ or ‘female’ gender, and it happens because there is no understanding of the definition of and difference between various gender and sex identities.

I believe when they say ‘national’ they should mean national. Mumbai is not Maharashtra, Chennai is not Tamil Nadu, and Delhi is not India. There needs to be space to engage with individuals and activists not affiliated with NGOs or community based organisations, not just the most visible faces of the community like Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, or others. Lastly, a meeting like this must also consider all regional languages, rather than treating Hindi and English as the national languages of India. This is important, because the LGBTQIA+ community has its own dignified regional terms, whether in Tamil or other languages.

Other things about the consultation put me off as well. Queer politics in India is at an important stage today. While engaging with politicians, and others in power, is important, it shouldn’t be an opportunity to politicise and patronise the whole LGBTQIA+ cause in India.

The focus of the meeting seemed to me to be more about money, and pleasing some senior leaders, members of the UN, and the US agency heads, rather than the experiences of those suffering.

The head organiser of the event did not take kindly to me raising these and other issues. Only proving my point about elitism in these spaces, he said I would not be invited to any such national meetings in the future.

Before we speak to people outside the LGBTQ community about these differences, many LGBTQ people themselves need to be educated about the diversity within their own community.

There are many identities in the community and we cannot simply club them all under one label. It would mean only certain identities stand out, while others get erased, and that’s what happened at the consultation.

There was a kind of elitism I felt at the meeting, when they refused to discuss identities like ‘Transgay,’ ‘Translesbian,’ ‘TransBi,’ ‘Asexual,’ or ‘Genderqueer’.

In this meeting, none of them wanted to hear about forced sex selective surgeries on intersex babies, nor did they speak about human rights violation like forced sex work or forced begging within the Hijra Jammat. Last year a trans woman named Anusha from Vizag was burnt to death by her own community. There is a lot of class, caste discrimination happens within the community, but even that was not discussed.

I don’t know how much of an impact such a consultation will create in cities, leave alone on rural LGBTQIA+ youth, when historical facts on the LGBTQIA+ community in India were few and misrepresented. And speaking of representation, there was none from places like the North East, Puducherry, or Andaman Islands, among others.

Instead of receiving the support I needed after being sexually harassed at this national consultation, I was only further excluded from a space I had every right to be in. I don’t celebrate my victimhood, but no one should undergo what I did.