“The word “hij” refers to a holy soul and the body in which the holy soul resides is “hijra”, hence they say the soul is hijra – and I can also go beyond.” writes Laxmi Narayan Tripathi in her second book, Red Lipstick: The men in my life. The Hijras, the T in LGBTQ+, the trans community, the third gender is essentially “the other” in modern discourse. They are important shades of the marginal tails of the normal curve that peaks at the conventions of gender binary. Years after Lili Elbe, when science has successfully accomplished gender reassignment surgeries and techniques, it is quite ironical that it isn’t gender identities that experience dysphoria, but rather our narrow understanding of gender. The larger section of the society is still intimidated by the difference, the uniqueness of the colors that stands out from the normative black and white.
Trans community and the legislature
The legal background around the trans community has appalling foundations during the British era. The Criminal Tribes Act,(1871, 1897) was one of the earliest laws that required transgender people to register under criminal tribes which barred them from adopting or becoming a guardian to children, dancing or dressing in the way they pleased, all on the grounds of a prejudice that regarded trans people as antisocial.
The post independent India, posits to be a confusing blend of attitudes towards those who dare to be different. Though the post independent legislations were far more sensitive, it was definitely far from being sensible. This was primarily due to a lack of awareness regarding the issues faced by transgender communities. For instance the sections 290 and 294 of IPC which concerns behavior that is annoying to the general public are often imposed on people of the trans community. Similarly, under anti begging acts, such as the Bombay prevention of begging act, 1959, many people of the community have been arrested. The problem with such legislation and charges is the poorly informed background for these policies. These acts fail to recognize the conditions of the underprivileged sections. These laws failed for people of the trans community precisely because they were focused on consequences when they ought to have understood the intentions.
In 2014, the Supreme Court recognised the rights of the transgender community and the Court allowed the them to identify their gender as male or female or third gender. The court urged the government to ensure equal opportunities and appropriate safeguards such as reservation for the transgender community. In 2018, the Delhi high court declared that transgenders can file complaints of sexual harassment under Section 354 (a) of the Indian Penal Code. But the latest legislation, The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019, passed by the Lok Sabha, though claims to protect transgenders, was found derogatory in its attempt to certify gender and received a lot of flak from different sections of the society.
The socioeconomic implications for transgenders
In India, transgenders are met with double standards. They endure a cultural patronizing where on one end they are worshipped and compared to Ardhanaareeshwara or Mohini. Their dance is auspicious, their songs bring fortune and their blessings revered. Yet they are neglected, humiliated and ostracized. Historically the role of transgenders have undergone a lot of transitions. In the Mughal empire trans women were chambermaids to the Kings consorts. During the colonial period the condition of transgenders were lamentable, the leftovers resound an ugly echo of human rights violations even into the modern times. Throughout the time it is notable that transwomen, were perceived less as human beings and more as sexual objects, which is a clear indication of a flawed, yet deep-rooted understanding of gender and sexuality. It is also notable that the tales of transmen is less predominant in Indian history. The difference extends to the modern society were FTM (Female to Men) transgender people were found to be more educated and better employed than MTF transgender people.(Clements-Nolle, Marx, Guzman, and Katz, 2001). It has also been noted that transgender people were often pressurised to quit jobs or are often harassed by coworkers or employers or else forced to give a convincing feminine representation, especially during their transition phase (Gagne and Tewksbury, 1996, 1998).
Even in modern times, personal anecdotes from gharanas indicate how the socioeconomic status infiltrates even the internal circles within the minorities. Several transgender people claim that within their own gharanas, caste/class based discrimination is prevalent with respect to the rituals and rites. Apart from these, poverty, discrimination and exploitation hinders progress of people within the community.
The Report on Fifth Annual Employment – Unemployment Survey 2015-16, indicates that nearly 45 % of transgenders in India are self employed while around 32% are casual laborers. Only a small fraction of less than 25 percent work as wage earners and contract workers. This indicates the uncertainty and lack of options with respect to employment for transgender people. A popular misinformed generalization that all transgender people are sex workers has contributed to the discriminatory attitude towards this community ( Chakrapani, Babu & Ebenezer, 2004). Owing to the poor back ground and low literacy rates, 46 % among transgender community as against the national rate of 74 % (Census,2011), the employment opportunities for transgender people is minimal often pushing them into livelihoods made out of begging and sex work.
Though no reliable data is available for transgender communities, various studies indicate high prevalence and seroprevalence of sexually transmitted diseases among transgender people. ( Chakrapani, 2010).
The low literacy has huge implications in the lives of these people. Nearly 87% of transgenders in Tamil Nadu, for instance, reported that they were not able to avail free government seats in colleges, primarily because they were not able to complete secondary education or due to poor awareness (Mithra & Vijayalakshmi, 2019). Findings such as these point to the fact that the socioeconomic issues within the transgender community is intricately woven into their psychosocial spheres and calls for interventions that will ripple out from the grassroot level.
Trans community and mental health
Mental health care and support have come a long way with respect to queer mental health. The Diagnostic and Statistical manual that once considered homosexuality and queer gender identities pathological has grown out of the erroneous notions, thanks to pioneers like Evelyn Hooker. Today, mental health is becoming more inclusive and holds a more broader perspective regarding the gender spectrum. The Diagnostic criteria is more refined with sensitive diagnoses such as gender dysphoria that carefully distinguish transgenders from the diagnoses. Gender dysphoria essentially is the confusion with respect to one’s gender identity which clearly states that being a transgender is in no way making an individual gender dysphoric.
However, though the original intentions of the APA were to depathologize gender identity-related issues by shifting the diagnostic lexicon from Gender Identity Disorder to Gender Dysphoria, the intended effect is still not fully achieved. A review by Davy and Toze (2018) suggests that the intended improvements in gender dysphoria, such as to shift the focus from gender identity to the distress during the transition period, was seldom put to practice. The academic literature has a confused stand towards gender dysphoria such that it repeats the controversies of GID in a new name. Also the etiology and the description of symptoms lack clarity and consensus across DSM 5 and ICD 10.
Apart from the diagnostic and theoretical difficulties in forming concrete conceptualizations regarding mental health of transgender people, practical difficulties such as unavailability of reliable data and lack of sufficient research about transgender people curtail the efforts to reach out to the community. With the available data, experts assume that this community is severely marginalized, not only from a sociopolitical standpoint, but also on a more intimate, biopsychosocial dimension. The transgender community is at risk for several STIs, malnourishment, abuse and a wide range of mental health issues. Several studies report that there’s a high prevalence of alcohol and other substance use among transgender people (Chakrapani,2010). The worse irony here, is that this vulnerable group has the least access to good health care facilities, thereby aggravating their condition.
Another incessant debate is around the gender identity and the choice of pronouns. Studies indicate that transgender people reported better mental health when most of their personal documents such as driving license had used pronouns of the gender they identify with. However, this fact has been politically weaponized for controlling free speech as in the case of the C-16 bill row with Canadian Psychologist, Professor Jordan Peterson who defied the language imposition in the pretext of transgender inclusivity. All this implies that there exist a confusion regarding the gender identity of people in the transgender community founded in a lack of awareness. But in spite of our limitations, empirical evidence points to the fact that love and acceptance in the form of support from friends and family acted as a buffer to the personal and political hurdles faced by people in the transgender community. This points to the timeless wisdom of love and unconditional regard. Interventions must begin at the grassroot level and that is precisely by sensitizing and encouraging families to accept their children as they are and loving them unconditionally. This is a clear sign board for us to redirect our journey towards creating a more equitable society for our children.