Friday, 30 November, 2007

Chai and Change: A Day in Kaivalya

31 October 2007
Lajpat Nagar

How much ever I had read up about Hijras, Kothis – the transgender community at large - I was apprehensive about meeting and interacting with them on a one on one basis. Reading up was nothing but theoretical knowledge about them, their lives, but understanding the problems they face from a secondary source was a different thing entirely, in contrast to actually sitting with a kinnar over a cup of tea and discussing these matters.

We reached Milan - an organization in Lajpat Nagar that works with the kinnar community largely by educating them (kinnars that is, who are sex-workers) on having safe and protected sex through counseling amongst other approaches. Wednesday was a day when they all came to Milan, to have fun, sing, dance, discuss, confide, talk and get counseling.

Somehow when I entered the room it didn’t feel that weird. They looked different but otherwise it appeared like any other get together of friends who were sitting relaxed, smiling. I guess it was their warmth which made me feel the least bit awkward. Sneha, our Project Head, introduced me to Pinaki, a kinnar. I don’t know who exactly she was in Milan and she appeared quite busy, nevertheless what I really liked about her was her gentle and polite manner of speaking.

We basically spoke to Rajesh (Rajeshwari), Pankaj and another young boy who was in class 11th. They were guys who identified and comfortably acknowledged that they were gay. Above everything it was fun to talk especially with Pankaj who spoke unbelievably fast. He was a student of pharmacy and I must say one of the very lucky people to have an extremely supportive groupd of both family and friends. They spoke very freely about how some people in college knew about his true identity and how he maintained a dual identity in college and otherwise. In fact, their openness and warmth came across as a pleasant surprise because I wasn’t entirely sure if they would be so free in sharing their problems with us, how unfair laws were, the teasing and harassment that they encounter from other boys in the streets.

Something suddenly struck me when I saw one of them file their nails and I noticed their perfectly lined eyes and how they had threaded their eyebrows, was how much they fit the conventional tag of a ‘woman’. I was dressed like a jhalli - messed short hair, a shirt and jeans and I felt, I don’t know, alienated? That somehow, we (sexually and gender wise identified females) were moving away from the woman that they were portraying. (Not that I’m upset about it, but just a thought.)

It was friendly conversation and by the end of it I realized that I actually liked the whole 45 minutes of interaction with them. The ‘tota-ud’ game and their jokes - they were just like any other group of people we meet in our everyday lives - friends gossiping, sharing inside jokes, the same hospitality that I would probably show towards my guests at home.

But I guess on the whole the approach to identify them as ‘different and so stay away’ comes from people’s efforts to ‘normalize’ things in life. Where we reduce and try put everyone under 2 sexes and 2 genders. But there is a whole world that’s different and its fun to be friends and accept people as they are.

- Suchismita

Editor's Note: Kaivalya is The YP Foundation's newest project that engages young people in research projects, community interaction and participation in intervention based programmes to increase sensitivities and communication on understanding transgender identity and issues in India.


abhishikta said...

Lots of queries, lots to exchange, but I m say it’s a well written article- very thoughtful and straight from the heart. I appreciate the way you end it- I am sure like me it would make the other readers think how liberal have we been to socially accept the gender-variant people and understand that people who don’t have the “assigned gender” have the right fit themselves in the gender role they feel they belong to.

What bothers me is the term “transgender” – term that isolates all those whose gender identity does not fall in the binary gender stereotypes.

I wish to know if they see themselves as existing outside the gender continuum or identify themselves as the “other.” I hope in the future you would write something on androgyny whether it is more physical or psychological or both.

Divya said...

Personal interaction makes a huge difference and is the first step towards shedding our inhibitions. Your real challenge lies in taking this message across to people a d to help bring the kinnar community into close contact with the rest of the world.

Good luck.