Transgenderism – What is Transgender? How are they different?
If I ask you what you know about transgender you would most likely associate this term with being a hijra, someone we probably notice while traveling in buses and trains in a group of same kinds of people; those who have masculine voices but dressed up like women. So, clearly they are somewhere in between, that is someone who has characteristics of both male and female (intersex). Well, the concept that You know is just a drop in an ocean. Most people are unfamiliar and unconcerned about the subject matter as they don’t feel the need to get educated. Moreover, there are countless myths that have been circulating around for centuries that lead us to stay unaware. So, let’s begin with the terms that we ought to know in order to reframe our mindset.
The term transgender is defined as a gender identity or expression that does not match a person’s assigned biological sex. It is a superset of other terms like transsexual, intersex (combination of male and female), genderqueer (identification outside being male or a female) or non-binary, bigender (any two gender identities as a behavior – masculine, feminine, agender, androgyne, or other), pangender (being more than one gender), genderfluid (fluctuation of two or more genders within a person) or agender.
Hijra is a cultural community which is legally accepted in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal and is a well-recognized third gender (intersex) group. To enter this group, the members have to first undergo nirwana, meaning castration of their genitalia. It contains a set of protocols that have to be followed by the members and is led by a guru (leader). This group is different than kothi that consists of feminine boys and men, and no one being intersex, plus it has no rules and regulations such as nirwana to enter. Some transsexual folks choose to join hijra community by choice. Therefore, it may not necessarily contain intersex individuals only.
When a child is born, it is always expected to be a male or a female. It is a cultural belief (genderism) that gender is binary and that everyone is supposed to behave either masculine (by males) or feminine (by females). If it is a girl (as per the physical traits during birth), she should have attributes and behavior of a girl child (playing with dolls, for instance) and an adult women (cooking, dressing, applying makeup, etc.) later who has to speak, act, and dress in a way her surroundings expect.
But what if she was born as a girl child yet believes that she should have born in a male’s body. Do not get confused about those women who are less girlish compared to others. They are totally fine with being women, despite not applying much makeup, or wearing high heels. It is an individual’s choice. I am talking about a condition in which a person feels stuck inside the body of the opposite gender. Confused? Since most of us cannot really relate, let’s think in this manner – how would you feel if one fine morning your body changes to that of the opposite sex? Uncomfortable, because you embraced your gender the way it should be as you are quite inclined to the natal sex that was assigned during your birth. It does not happen with each and every one of us, and is pretty conflicting for trans people as they feel this way after reaching a certain age. It could be felt after age of 5 years for one person, or 12 years for another.
For centuries, it has always been believed that a brain of an infant is like a blank slate which its surroundings help to shape up. Therefore, we simply assume the boys and girls to adapt to whatever they see around. This belief system is not true as the surroundings do not always determine the gender roles.
The term “trans woman” is used for a person whose gender identity does not match the sex assigned at birth. What do I mean by this? When a baby was born, it was identified as a male child as per the physical traits it had back then. While growing up, the same ‘male’ started taking attributes of girls because he thinks he ought to be a girl. This is not to be confused with those men who appear ‘less masculine’ yet totally comfortable with being a male. This context refers to the condition in which males are not really males in their mind. Medically, we refer it as Gender Identity Disorder which is also called as transsexual.
Once they find out about themselves they may prefer undergoing sex reassignment surgery or hormone replacement therapy depending on how much extreme their case is. Most trans women prefer to call themselves as MTF or male-to-female transsexual, and trans men being FTM or female-to-male. Some may never go for surgery because of social settings or money factor, or simply because they are comfortable with their current status. If they choose to go for surgery they are recommended for a real-time experience so as to understand the life of that opposite gender they wish to be. It is known as a transition phase.
A lot of scientific researches have been conducted for decades to find out the exact reasons behind the misalignment of the body and mind. There is no specific result till date other than being just a genetic fault. Moreover, there were also studies to compare the (structure and functioning of) brain of a trans woman with that of a cisgender woman (who was always comfortable with her assigned natal sex and grew up well without mental conflicts) as well as with a man. It was noticed that a trans woman’s brain resembles the brain of a cisgender woman, despite being physically male during birth. The same goes for a trans man. His brain structure resembles a cisgender man, but not with a woman despite being born female.
There are many cases of family abandoning their children out of shame and peer pressure from other relatives just because those children are either born in an ‘unexpected way’ or grew up ‘differently’, or chose to change their physique which was opposite to the way they were born. The person is highly likely to get fired from his/her workplace as (s)he returns back with a totally different identity as the organization was familiar with before the surgery. The struggles just don’t end here. There are legal documents that need to be changed in terms of name and gender which is a long process. The surgery helps them to align with their mind more and is a welcome step by many, yet few are no longer able to tolerate the ongoing injustice, leading to loneliness, depression and/or suicides.
This is because a transgender is highly plausible to face bullies in his/her entire lifetime. They usually drop out of school and college because of this and end up being unemployed and homeless. The magnitude of threats can go as far as committing rape and/or murder against the trans persons due to transphobic attitude and continual ignorance. Most (developing) countries show deaf ears towards their rights, and hence, if a trans man or a woman even go to the police station to file a complaint against somebody for mistreatment, the authorities deny and misbehave instead. Moreover, many a time the medical authorities refuse to treat trans people if they are sick or get physically hurt. And finding out a suitable restroom is often terribly disputing.
In general, when we notice a peculiar person coming across the streets we would most definitely label him/her something without considering the possible detailing. For instance, if we see a guy who is nowhere close to being masculine, we would portray him as being gay, which is a completely different story. Sexual orientation determines a person’s romantic interest towards whom he or she may be attracted. It has nothing to do with how they were born. They are basically fine with who they are, yet like the people of the same sex. Moreover, the way they behave may or may not determine if they are homo/trans or hetero/cis.
As mentioned before, the transsexual people are not comfortable with the body they were assigned at birth. A combination of transsexual and homosexual is rare but possible. This can be like this – a person was male during birth but thinks he should be a female, plus finds romantic interest towards females only.
If you are really confused about their gender and orientation, just ask them politely. The pronouns like “he” or “she” are also chosen by these people in a way they feel comfortable, and that can also be asked.
What can be done to end discrimination?
Just like women’s rights are fought in their own household, transgenders too need to be accepted by their families right after the moment they are born. If their own parents abandon them then the world would never treat them fairly either. Secondly, most people need to get educated on the subject. There are a lot of myths being circulated by people which further extend the discrimination.
Currently, most individuals just make a hypothesis in their own head and keep thinking in that pattern without any practical interaction with a real trans person. There are organizations whose key aim is to spread the awareness through newspapers, magazines, short films, blogs, etc. Being aware increases the chances of acceptance. If we keep them aloof from the rest of us, the separation would always exist, and we all know why there are distant.
Provide them with the right to education and employment opportunities. According to the constitution of India, everyone has the authority to seek institutional learning, yet fail to do so because of others’ ingrained mindset to ostracize those who are not ‘one of them’. Therefore, even if a person has a full entitlement towards joining a school or a college, he or she may still be an outcast internally. This is why we don’t often see transgender people around. They are confined within their own group. Once they start representing in the common grounds, we all will be accustomed to what they are. We can also encourage them to show their talent in a common platform where we ourselves involve, such as singing, dancing, acting, art, and so on.
Many parents think that the issue can be “fixed” with some kind of psychiatric counseling and a person, whether being born as a male or a female, should remain be the way he or she is. This worsens the matter as internalizing would result in exploding in different ways. There are very few parents who actually comprehend their children the way they are, that gradually occurs and this shift in their mindset cannot happen overnight. Better late than never!
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.
The government must give them the chance to become an electoral candidate in a small town or a district. It should also include the option of third sex/others in all the important/legal documents where one might want to select as neither male nor female. If somebody has transformed from male to female OR female to male, he or she should be given the right to modify their name and gender in documents such as passport. In India and Nepal, it is already there. We should also encourage many private organizations to recruit people irrespective of their gender, whether it is a big or a small post.
Changes till date
You might have read or heard about the Mughals who would keep transgenders as security guards of their women. The reason behind this was, they were not males and so there wouldn’t be any case of molestation, yet had the strength like men, thereby ensuring that no outsiders would invade the premises. This is one of the indications that the history itself documents the existence of these people with fair treatment.
We can see few famous trans people who acted in television shows (Bobby Darling in the daily soap Kyuki saas bhi kabhi bahu thi), advertisements representing the cause (Vicks Ad portraying a trans mother – Gauri Sawant – who adopted a girl child), films that entirely focus on the troubles they go through (Boys don’t cry, Tomboy, etc.), or the recruitment specifically for transgenders (Kochi metro, Kerala, India).
But there is still a long way to go so that these individuals come out of their shells and become part of the mainstream society. It requires hard work and dedication and is not impossible to achieve.