November 14-20 is Transgender Awareness Week, an opportune time to share the stories of transgender, non-binary, and other gender-expansive individuals. The Quint is reposting this article from its archives which was initially published on August 17, 2016
The transgender community is one of the most misrepresented community in our country. Most transgender people are usually stereotyped as sex workers, beggars or criminals.
Being openly transgender is a very brave thing to do in our society, because it’s not easy. Hence, most transgender people live in what they call a “Stealth Mode” post their gender transition. This is usually accomplished by moving to a different city and by cutting off all their contacts with their old extended family and friends. Some stay in contact with their immediate family like parents and sibling, other choose to cut off completely. This is again a difficult thing to do and leaves the person very lonely.
The social stigma and the need to form new social contacts in an unfamiliar city pushes the person further into stealth mode.
Hence, most trans people choose to keep their transgender status private and live in society in their preferred gender role, just like any other girl or boy.
Due to the stigma attached with being different, most trans people in the past have opted to live in the stealth mode, to be able to live the life they want. On the flip side, however, this reduces their visibility, pushing them even further into the fringes of society. Since the Hijra community is the only one willing to openly express itself, it becomes the most visible form of Transgender identity in India. And a lot of stereotyping begins there.
In India, due to lack of awareness, people often call anyone who is a little effeminate hijra. Even gay people have often been called Hijra in our country. Most of the times, it is done with a negative intention. It’s not wrong to be Hijra, it’s just very very wrong to stereotype all transgender people as Hijra and burden them with cultural identities he or she does not identify with.
“Just Because I am South Indian, I need not be from Madras or be fluent in Tamil. Similarly, just because I am a transgender person, I need not be forced to identify with any cultural or religious identities,” says Kavitha (Name changed to protect privacy), a post-op Transsexual women. Kavitha has been living away from her family and working in a small company to collect money for a sex re-assignment surgery.
It is very important to make people aware that Hijra is not a literal Hindi translation of the word transgender, the word Hijra remains Hijra even if it has to be spoken in English, It is name of a cultural Identity and doesn’t change with language, like other Indian cultural names don’t change when spoken in English, ex: A Agarwal is Agarwal in English too. Hijra is a Noun whereas Transgender is an Adjective that describes something about the person.Jeevika (name changed to protect privacy)
Jeevika is a pre-op transgender women from Delhi, working in a call centre, trying hard to gather money for her big surgery and life ahead.
I am transitioning to live my life as a women, not to be a transgender person. I cannot deny the fact that transgender will be one of the adjectives that may be used to define my identity and me, but it cannot be my IDENTITY.Elizabeth (name changed to protect privacy)
This debate is well delayed in India, Hijra is just one of the identities under the transgender Umbrella, and does not represent the entire transgender community in India. It’s sad that none of the transgender activists in India ever bothered to clarify this to the country in the past 10 or more years...it’s time we look beyond the Hijra community.Neysara Rai, Founder of Transgenderindia.com
We respect the Hijra community and their culture, but being transgender is not just being a Hijra person. We as a society have to learn that there is much more to this. Transgender is an umbrella term used for people who belong to various gender identities like trans men, trans women, transsexuals, Gender queer, Hijra, Gender Fluid etc.
Here are a few Trans people (men, women and gender queer) speaking to you from their stealth mode, to break the stereotypes associated with gender and life as a whole.
(Disclaimer: This article is not against the hijra community, we do respect them and their cultural belief system. This is just an effort to open up the transgender umbrella in India.)