Visibility is a crucial factor for bringing to light almost every issue we as humans face in this world. The 2011 national census for the first time counted the population of transgender people in the country and the results suggested that there were as much as 4.9 lakh people who identified as the third gender. While it was a move in the right direction by the government, sadly it does not represent the true number of transgender individuals in the country. The survey took into account only those who identified as the third gender and were open about it.
What does transgender mean?
Transgender is an umbrella term that includes a spectrum of people who do not identify as cis-gendered. There are more than 50 psychological genders that people identify with and the percentage of such people is so small that presenting themselves as who they are becomes a very difficult task. This, of course, leads to misgendering and discrimination by the vast majority of the people. Bringing light to the different identities could help with them being accepted better. And this is where visibility comes in.
Criminalization of the transgender population.
In India, the 2014 NALSA judgement ensured that all these gender identities are categorized legally under the third gender. The colonials had in all their pea brained glory, refused to see past the gender binary and criminalized transgender people by amending a change into the India’s Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. They had been blind to the cultural and traditional importance, the transgender community held in the Indian society. Earlier those who identified as transgender would dedicate their lives to the society in different ways. Some would help maintain temples, teach music and dance, and some spent their lives in harems in sexual servitude. The implemented law enabled the arrest of any transgender and being jailed for up to 2 years along with having to pay a fine just for being who they are. This also reduced their standing to the same as that of thieves and murderers, and with time created a general mistrust among people in the society. That has persisted for almost one and half centuries now. There are transgender individuals breaking into different spheres of the society and making a name for themselves and for the communities they belong to. However, the progress has been gradual. Slower than those affected by the stigma would hope.
Growing acceptance of the transgender community.
The visibility this sort of progress affords, definitely helps with the betterment of their lives. There have been entrepreneurs, academics, Police Sub-Inspectors, show hosts, journalists, musicians, engineers, IT professionals and even mayors who are transgender. This has started creating awareness among the society and even governments have played a crucial role in that. Starting from April 2008 when the Tamil Nadu government pioneered the country’s first transgender welfare board, we have seen a few state governments come forward and implement similar schemes that greatly help transgender people belonging to them. Most recently the Odisha state government became the first in the country to give social welfare benefits to the transgender people living in the state with the same level of benefits as those living Below the Poverty Line (BPL).
Standing out can be a curse.
All these are positive aspects of trans*-visibility and while a person who is just figuring themselves out will look at this as a boon, it ends up being a curse for many transgender individuals. Especially those who would prefer to fade into the society once their transitioning is complete or has reached a level where they can be in public without getting clocked. There are different perspectives to this, though. On one side there are people who believe it is their calling to work for the betterment of transgender folks in the country and they are proudly out to everyone known or unknown, as a transgender. On another side, there are those who believe they have faced a lot just to become themselves and do not need the same kind of attention once they are comfortable with who they are thus preferring to not be outspoken about their transgendered past. Both perspectives are very much on point about their choices. However, there do arise situations in their lives where they have to come out as trans* to those who were not a part of their past. This may lead to mental stress as they are revisiting the past that lay forgotten. But it’s not a bed of roses for even those who are out and proud. Their visibility causes people to shirk away from them and as a result, their personal and romantic lives get affected.
Isolation from other people.
This brings us to another major issue, the limelight that visibility brings. While it helps with societal acceptance, it acts as a constant reminder that the members of a certain minority community, be it trans* or otherwise, are different from the cis-heteronormative majority. This constant reminder about a difference caused by birth simply sets apart such communities from fully ever mingling with society. It causes the majority to have misconceptions about a certain society based on what they observe. It also makes people of a community simply fraternize with others of the same community more often than not, thus removing them from general society even further. We as Indians, have seen it happen in terms of caste, religion, sexuality, and gender identity as well.
There is still a long way to go.
And the battle to eradicate all these differences begins with inculcating humaneness in every person. Teaching and educating them in treating everyone as just the same. The end goal should be to make trans*visibility redundant.
But until then, we have to treat and wield visibility as a double-edged sword.