Mapping the Experiences of the Transgender
by Swaswati Borkataki & Joyeeta Bhattacharjee
Pride Marches, queer protests, placards and slogans demanding queer rights, our generation has seen it all.
But what lies beyond that?
In our ‘heteronormative’ world, what is the stake of the community that is often referred to as the ‘third gender’?
We were searching for panelists for a webinar that we were planning for a long time on the experiences and struggles of the LGBTQIA+ community when we came across a queer rights activist based in Assam, Rituparna, who has done massive work for the welfare of their community as well as towards educating children to be gender sensitive.
While I approached them I sent a tentative topic for the webinar where I wrote “the experiences of the third gender”, and immediately they replied that it was extremely unfortunate that we were still using terms like ‘third gender’ to refer to the community.
I was immensely ashamed and I immediately assured them that I would correct myself as well as the title of the webinar. I did so accordingly and we held the webinar with Rituparna as a panelist, along with Zayan, a Programme Coordinator in Nazariya Foundation, an NGO based in New Delhi, and Meenakshi, a lawyer and researcher by training and practice.
A wonderful part was played by Naorem Eshika, a PhD Research Scholar in Delhi University on the experiences of her community through a paper that she presented on the issue. That also added some degree of theoretical understanding to the session and was intellectually enriching.
The webinar taught us a number of things that we probably were not aware before, or maybe just chose to ignore. One major issue is the need for more gender neutral washrooms in educational institutes, airports, railway stations, movie halls and all public places!
It struck me when Rituparna metioned that one of their friends actually stopped watching movies as they could not find a gender neutral washroom! Rituparna being a leading activist of the #Nomoreholdingmypee Campaign stressed about the importance of gender neutral washrooms for the LGBTQIA+ community.
In a documentary on Netflix, called “Feminists: what were they thinking?”, few woman express their opinions on gender divide and being a Feminist. One of them, Lily Tomlin, American actress, comedian, singer and producer, talks about her struggles of being gay and being a Feminist – the struggle for being herself and remaining what she was, standing up against the world.
In our society, it is much worse. The Panelists expressed their hearts and told about their experiences in the most poignant manner, at times, reducing us to tears. But at the same time, they exuded immense positivity and optimism. An optimism that many of us indeed lack.
When asked about how he/him managed to remain so calm and poised, one of the panelists, Zayan said that he tried to remain so, and that while it is important to remain calm, anger is also equally important, especially to stand up straight with dignity, in front of the society.
I realized that it does require a lot of courage to be ‘them’ and remain ‘them’, without compromising on who they are. But while some strive on and make a space for themselves, others perish in the rat race of time and the stigma attached by the society, and hence while empowerment is important, sensitization is equally important and so is the creation of an ambience where they can breathe freely, without caring about being judged, without being stared at with disgusting gazes when a trans girl walks into a women’s washroom or a trans man dares to use the man’s lavatory.
At the end of the day while we learnt a lot, something that enveloped me was a sense of deep satisfaction – a satisfaction of being able to hold something like this and provide a podium for the panelists and the participants, many of whom belonged to the LGBTQIA+ community speak their hearts out.
While it was emotionally stimulating, I could not help but wonder that in the era of totalitarian regimes, where governments of all orientations are hell-bent of resorting to the use of force and coercion, what we did and what we intend to do in the future, would be deemed as ‘thought crime’ and even more than that – an offense punishable by fire ordeal or infestation by rats and rodents! I hope not!
We dream of inching towards an open and egalitarian society, if not an equal one, where every step towards breaking gender stereotype counts! All that it requires is a solidarity among like-minded people, who think rationally.
Solidarity would only be possible with people understanding that each individual is different and that no one decides the standards of being ‘normal’ but us, and it is us who can change the norms too, and it is imperative that ‘We’ stand with ‘them’, so that one day the gaps between ‘us’ and ‘them’ would be conquered and the idea of the One and the Other would be gone for good!
(Swaswati Borkataki is a PhD Research Scholar in JNU, New Delhi and Joyeeta Bhattacharjee is an Assistant Professor in Assam Royal Global University)
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