Friday, June 30, 2017

I'm Queer, I'm Here

By Ujwala Iyengar
We live in a world where somewhere deep down we are all conformists. We confirm to the standards assigned to us by society and we let them draw the box to our imagination. The freedom of creativity isn’t something that’s merely restricted to piece of paper. It’s beyond the pages of books and paint brush strokes across a canvas. It extends to our very being – our core. We maybe mortals- but we don’t live in boxes or the in-betweens ofthe lines assigned to us. We are far more than numbers and far beyond what we think we were born with.
Transgender model GeenaRocero stated in her coming out speech – “People who are different are often considered a threat to what’s considered acceptable[1]. That’s the power of difference. It goes to the very core of civilization. It has the power to change perception and with time the way civilizations function. Geena’s words resonate even today, when we’re still fighting for basic rights of self-identification. The right to identify your own sex or sexuality has been compromised for most of us. When was the last time that someone came, and told you – “You could be whoever you wanted to be”, and by this they didn’t just give you the freedom to choose your profession but also gave you the freedom to choose the way to express your sexuality?
Unlike what government legislations want you to believe, Transgender Identity Development is not just merely based on surgery and medications but is far more complicated psychological and sociological phenomenon. It requires identity development through balancing a desire for authenticity with demands of necessity—meaning that these individuals would have to weigh their internal gender experience with considerations about their available resources, coping skills, and the consequences of gender transitions.[2] However, this awareness to take a cognizance of your social and economic background can only take place, when the individual is confident that whatever their decision may be – they will still be as loved and accepted as who they were before. This is why, days like “International Days of Transgender Visibility” are important. They are a subtle reminder that amongst us there are those who have the courage to experiment and go beyond the space assigned to them. They cannot be unseen or put in the backdrop of mental illness. Even those who ventured into realm of self-identification were often pulled back by the negative reactions they experienced to their gender atypical behaviours, as well as confusion between their gender identity and sexual orientation. This was further connected to four major problems: the lack of safe environments, poor access to physical health services, inadequate resources to address their mental health concerns, and a lack of continuity of caregiving by their families and communities.[3]
The role of self-identification for an individual and the medical, scientific and sociological connection with it has been researched multiple times by varied of qualified individuals across various fields. But, what we fail to do is to homogenize this sociological phenomenon into a legal right. The freedom to literally choose the way you want to express your sexuality. In India, theNational Legal Services Authority (NALSA) vs. the Union of Indiadid provide legal recognition to transgenders of the country as ‘third genders’. However, the implementation has hardly been realised.The matter got further complicated when in 2016 the Transgender Rights Bill was placed in the LokSabha. Many aspects of the bill ran in complete conflict with the NALSA verdict. While the 2014 verdict gave freedom to everyone to choose a gender identity for themselves, the 2016 Bill lays out clear definitions regarding who can be considered a transgender. Further, it places ‘screening authorities’ to decide whether a person qualifies for a ‘third gender’ ID proof.[4] These have raised serious questions with respect to violation of Article 14 and Article 21 of the Constitution of India. 
The concept of self-identification as legal right has been considered seriously in various states. Countries like Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Denmark, Italy, Ireland and Malta as well as the city of New York in the United States have allowed people to self-identify/declare their gender without medical intervention or the need for a doctor’s certificate. These positions were taken to address the fact that any system, entity or legislation would act as a filter to self-declaration. Such regulations are often used as a way to disenfranchise transgender people and isolate them further.[5]
The right to self-identification has far impeding consequences than clearly visible. When the trans community demanded for safer and healthier environments which included basic facilities like – gender neutral toilets. Legislations shunned their rights and denied them access to even basic facilities.[6] The fight for recognition is far complicated than it appears. It requires a two fold solution – firstly, for governments to fully understand the psychological phenomenon of self-identification and ensure community awareness which aims to reduce gender discrimination and creates a healthy and safe environment of those part of the vulnerable community and secondly, to translate this into a legal right which is not merely based on surgical evidence but also accounts for the fact that most of those who come from this community are at-risk individuals from weak economic background.
It may appear as a fight for an extra cubicle in the toilet which reads “TRANSGENDER”, but this problem is far deep rooted than an extra toilet slot. It goes to the very core of human rights and dignity. Procter and Gamble recently made headline for covering transgender activist GauriSawant’s story. This advert ends with the protagonist Gayatri speaking up for her adoptive mother Gauri and saying - “My Civics book says that everyone is entitled to basic rights. Then why is my mother denied them? That’s why I want to become a lawyer, not a doctor -- for my mother,” [7]
We all need more Gayatri’s and while I continue my search for a Gayatri, I’ll never forget this line I read somewhere – “I guess we are who we are for a lot of reasons. And maybe we'll never know most of them. But even if we don't have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there. We can still do things. And we can try to feel okay about them.” 

[2]Heidi M. Levitt and Maria R. Ippolito, “Being Transgender: The Experience of Transgender Identity Development”, Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 61, 2014.

[3] Arnold H. Grossman and Anthony R. D'augelli, “Transgender Youth”, Journal of Homosexuality, Vol. 51, 2006.
[4]Why Transgender Community is struggling inspite of the NALSA judgment, RamyaJawaharKudekallu,, 03-03-2017.
[6]Why Red States Are Rejecting Anti-Trans Bathroom Bills, Samantha Allen,, 30-03-2017; HB2 repealed, but many unhappy with the reset, Roy Cooper,, 30-03-2017.