>A week ago, when I was struggling with story ideas and their relentless stay in my nightmares, I read a book review of The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story by A. Revathi that was published in the Zeitgeist edition of The New Indian Express. That set my contemplative mode in action.
I thought of interviewing Ms. Revathi and perhaps get a story idea. Discussing this with a friend, I got her contact number from the journalist who wrote the book review. I called Ms. Revathi asking for a time slot, so that we could have a chat. However, my hopes were quashed when my faculty members dismissed the story as a feature story rather than a hard news one.
*this seems to be something I realize only after having spent more than enough time on a particular (feature) story idea*
Disappointment is an essential part of this profession (actually…any profession, for that matter. So, let’s not generalize)
Transgenders and hijras are increasingly in the news, for good reason(s) thankfully. While my enthusiasm was high to do the interview for the first hijra of our country who has penned her autobiography, I did a fair bit of reading about the history of transsexuals, transgenders and the hijra community in India, in general and in Karnataka, in particular.
I found out that Ms. Revathi is a part of Sangama, “a sexuality minority’s human rights organization for individuals oppressed due to their sexual preference,” as mentioned in the website. The link to the same is as follows: http://sangama.org
While researching on this sensitive topic called ‘alternative sexualities’, one of the first elementary problem and confusion I faced, was that of the vocabulary. Most of us, I presume, do not know the basic difference between, say, a trans-gender and a transsexual. In fact, most of us might be under the impression that both probably mean the same. The reality is, that while it may sound and seem similar, it is technically not so. So, let’s look into the definition first, in brief:
Transgender (TG): It is a broad term for all people who do not identify with or choose not to conform to the gender roles assigned to them by society based on their biological sex. (A male-to-female transgendered person is referred to as ‘transgender woman’ and a female-to-male transgendered person is referred to as ‘transgender man’).
Transsexual (TS) (n, adj): Transsexuals strongly dis-identify with the sex assigned to them at birth and wishes to utilize hormones and/or sex reassignment surgery as a way to align their physical body (hormones, genitals, and other sex characteristics) with their internal gender identity. Transsexuals may or may not have had yet Sex Reassignment Surgery and thus could be ‘pre-operative’ transsexual or ‘post-operative’ transsexual. Others choose not to undergo SRS or cannot for medical or financial reasons, thus being ‘non-operative’ transsexual.
The above link is useful for getting complete information on the queer lingo which includes terms such as gay, homosexuality, hijra, lesbian, kothi, bisexual, et al
Due to confusion and problems that still exist over the above two definitions, I think I need to make the difference between the two words more clear. The information below has been edited and taken from here
1. Transgender is a state which the apparent gender (determined at birth) of a person do not match the subjective gender.
2. A person is identified as a transsexual if that person was born with congenital neurological inter-sex condition.
3. Transsexuals believe that if one has to be a true transsexual then one should have to go for surgery and change sex. Transgender persons do not think it to be necessary.
As I said, transgenders have been in the news in the past few weeks. Revathi made news when she laid bare her life as a hijra in India, while penning her experience in the form of an autobiography–the first of its kind, in this genre, in our country. The book is already being hailed as a path breaking one that talks about the history and social stigma associated with the hijra community in India. Personally, I haven’t been able to get hold of the book and hence will not be able to provide my review.
Recently, the Chief Minister of Karnataka, Mr. B. S. Yeddyurappa has agreed to provide honorarium to transgenders in the State and has also promised to look into other demands which include issuance of BPL cards, job opportunities, pension schemes etc.
Bangalore University has become one of the first universities to have introduced a separate category of ‘Transgender’ in its admission forms, increasing the option of Sex into three: Male (M)/Female (F)/Tansgender (T)
Tamil Nadu is already being appreciated by liberals for being the first State in India for having issued Ration Cards (or Identity Cards?…I need to check on that) to transgenders in the State.
Oppression and discrimination on the basis of sexuality gradually seems to be changing….
Talks on alternative sexualities always bring back memories of a very interesting and informative seminar that I attended two years ago in my college Miranda House, New Delhi. I do not exactly remember the topic but the talk was focused on homosexuality pertaining to Section 377 of the Indian penal Code (IPC). It was chaired by Mr. Ashley Tellis, one of the premier gay voices in our country for homosexual rights. He was also a temporary professor in the English Department of our college at that time. He taught us Dickens and Mill, to our disappointment. And he was horribly boring, in my opinion. However, he is a great orator when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality, something I realized that day.
Before beginning the talk, he asked the audience how many of them were heterosexuals? Almost everybody raised their hands (not surprisingly). He then handed out a questionnaire for all these “self-proclaimed heterosexuals”, as he put it, which had some of the most mind boggling questions that could shake the very foundation of one’s staunch belief in one’s sexuality and/or sexual orientation.
The idea behind the whole exercise was to make one think. And think hard enough about societal conventions. Why is there such a clear demarcation between the two? Why is there a social stigma associated only with homosexuals and not heterosexuals? What is the history, fear, insecurity behind it?
It was quite an informatory session, to put it mildly.
I would like to end this post by a reference to one of the questions I still remember distinctly. I possibly cannot forget it, for reasons you will come to know in a short while.
The question was directed at heterosexuals. So if you are not one, this one is not for you.
The question was as follows:
“If you have not slept with someone of the same sex, how can you be so sure that you will not like it?”
Can you answer this?
EDIT: For those interested, here is a link to the questionnaire that was circulated: