I. Introduction: a very brief histories of transgender people in india, theorizing gender and review of literature
In India transgender community consists of many communities including Hijras, Kothis, Aravanis, Jogappas, Nupi Manbis etc. The paper deals with transgender subjects within the discourse of education in India. Regardless of the differences in lived experiences and local experiences of transgender lives pertaining to the fraction in regional variations, the authors strongly believe in the many similarities of struggles, aspiration and challenges across transgender lives. By focusing on memories of childhood and experiences of school, the authors mine and theorize experiences of transgender people. Following the sociological theory of gender social construction, the authors unravel modernities categorization of gender into strict compartments while studying experiences of transgender persons in schools.
Within the socially constructed school of thought, gender is a social construct. Masculinity and femininity keep changing in time and space. Society polices the person to fit into one of the two gender expression (masculine and feminine). Here the person is seen to performs gender. This performance (through mannerism, clothing and appearance) comes together to construct one’s gender identity. Gender expression helps ‘others’ to assume one’s sex. Also, one’s gender expression is assumed to be the ones’ gender identity. The authors also somehow accept that gender is a spectrum.
There are a few researches related to the field of transgender persons in India which reaches mainstream society. As the authors try to fill the gap of transgender studies in India, they believe that narrative accounts humanize the experiences of transgender people. This research is an attempt to bring a voice to the voiceless. By speaking with transgender women, marginalized communities are brought from the periphery to the centre.
In Gurumayum’s earlier work (Gurumayum, 2018; 2019), he looked into the process of transgender discrimination in school education. His work is important to review mainly for three reasons: (i) his study address that, even in the transgender community those who were marked as OBC/ST/SC had a higher disadvantage in terms of access to education; (ii) the Nupi Manbi — a local transgender variant of Manipur — an understudied population even among the transgender community in India has been studied and (iii) in teaching and caretaking transgender girls in school self-determination of identity, by not trying to police people onto boxes of gender remains the need for the hour (Gurumayum, 2019).
Here, the limitations of this article are that the Authors have not stressed upon the vernacular politics of translating transgender: their specific reality and lived experiences. However, by keeping local realities close to their hearts and minds, the authors have humbly tried to navigate generalizable stories of transgender persons across regional and linguistic variations in India.
II. Methods in narrative and orality: question design and interviewing lived experiences of rose, daisy and lily
The three transgender persons are name Rose, Daisy and Lily. Each of the interviews lasted at least for about six hours. There was not a proper format for what was asked while taking the interviews. A semi-structured interview was conducted. It was more of a comfortable talk. Semi-structured interviews do not have a formalized way of asking questions. They were more of an open-ended question.
The narratives consisted of three transgender persons. The first part of every interview was mainly based on their childhood experiences and it goes in memories of their school and college experience. Their memories slip in different genres as Rose and Daisy talked about their love lives and stories of how they are attracted to men. They also talked about bullying, harassment and violence they received in their lives.
Rose: ‘We all have seen, at various points in our lives, some Hijras, some Kinnars on the street lights, traffic signals: begging. So, then, I didn’t have the vocabulary of being transgender. But I can tell you that I use to cross-dressed regularly I was around 5/6 years of age. I was more comfortable when wearing a frock than pants. Eventually, I went to Chennai and joined a private school. This was my 8th standard. Things started changing. Many people bullied me. I wanted to learn Bharatnatyam classical dance. My mom was very uncomfortable with me trying to learn classical dancing especially Bharatnatyam. And then by the time I reached 11 and 12, I was going to start my teacher training in Bharatnatyam.
In my childhood, I was shifted to a public school. I had an episode in 10th, it was very crucial in my gender identity of being trans. I was in depression. My trans identity was settled deeper inside my head. I was not very upfront with it. I was shifted to a public school called Kendriya Vidyalaya, which was near Chennai Airport. There also, I started facing bullying a lot. At the end of the 12th, I started my trans journey.’
Daisy: ‘My school life was very depressing. Before our school had unisex washrooms. All boys and girls would use the same washroom.
Things changed when I started my 9th grade. From then onwards, there was a division of boys and girls in the washrooms. That is where I realized that I felt very uncomfortable. High school was horrible. It was the worst.
You know, here is a clear line of separation between male and female. There is a fine line between masculinity and femininity. If you try to cross the line, you will be in trouble. Also, the teachers were very sexist.
If I were to become a principal I will abolish the uniform system for sure. The uniform is okay, I understand because some kids may come in a very fancy dress and from poor background people. However, I feel it is very wrong to force a male dress code on me when I was a child.’
Lily: ‘It was at a Christian school, a co-ed school. When I joined kindergarten, around that age, boys would be separated, and girls would also be separated even during playtime. So, I had a problem because most of my friends were girls and the teacher would always pull me out from the group and made me sit with the boys. I would cry hysterically. The problem started from there. There were these annual functions where we had to dress up. The girls were allowed to put on some makeup, and I would be with girls and I wanted to apply makeup too, but I wasn’t allowed to be around with the girls. So, I learn to be with the boys.
Class 1,2 and 3 the teachers would push me to be around boys and conform to that. Then, I would find my way during playtime and I would eat lunch with the girls. There was a lot of bullying. There came a point where even my parents were called. They were told to my parents that your child needs to behave in certain ways. Otherwise, your child will face a lot of problems.
They started counselling me and asking me to fix my gender. When I reached 5/6, I started conforming, but it was very disturbing.
In college, was when I visibly transition, I started to wear gender non-conforming clothes and that’s when I was picked out also from the boys’ toilet, But even the women’s toilet was not allowed for me. In college, if I needed to pee, I would then do it during classes so that nobody can see which toilet I go to. This way I would miss my classes.
My classmates were pretty opened because they are from psychology. There were only a few boys and girls. They didn’t say much about my gender, but the teachers would mention a certain dress code. A few boys would see me in the washroom, and they would have a problem with it.
The bullying and everything was not overt in college. It was subtle, they put in here and there. It is very subtle from the teachers too.’
III. Conclusion: framing experiences with queer feminism
All three case studies — dwelling on their memories — have so many similarities in their experiences of childhood about the problems and discrimination transgender persons faced due to their gender expression. Beyond the snippets of stories the authors have provided, their overall experiences of childhood stories were pretty rough. The pressure from the family, peers, schools and so on. All three have struggled with their identity.
In another theme, school experiences, all of the three are facing similar issues with their peers, teaches and washroom. Here, the washroom is seen as a strict marker of gender divide. It can also be seen as a symbolic space of heterosexual exclusivity. Here, the normativity of gender is religiously policed, enforced and maintained. In colleges, because of the nature of its urban location like New Delhi for the respondents, gender discrimination did not completely disappear yet exist in the nooks and crannies of educational institutions.
It is to be noted that in all the interviews, all three subjects have gender dysphoria. Gender dysphoria is a condition where a person experiences discomfort or distress because there is a mismatch between their biological sex and gender identity. Also at some points in their lives that have experienced depression, anxiety and stress.
In listening and trying to framed memories, the authors encounter many frameworks that they could use in highlighting the sexist ways in which educational institutes treats/treated these three transgender persons. In light of the many theories, a queer feminist theory seems fitting to uncover these lost voices. In articulating queer feminism the auhtors mean that both feminist theory and queer theory should be brought together and tied into conversation with each other. The meeting of both the theories provide a useful framework for studying transgender experiences in India. Hence the authors propose queer feminism as a lens to read transgender lives and memories about education. With much hope, the authors believe that queer feminism will be a useful theoretical framework in bridging the gap to theorize transgender lives and education in India.
- Bendl, R., Fleischmann, A., & Hofmann, R. (2009). ‘Queer theory and diversity management: Reading codes of conduct from a queer perspective’. Journal of Management & Organization, 15, 625-638
- Gurumayum, Sunny. (2019) “Stories of Survival from Nupi Maanbi: Notes to Teachers/ Caretakers in Relation to Transgender School Going Girls in Manipur.” Women’s Link. 25:2, 40-44.