A Non-Binary Love Story

Vidhi Maheshwari

Discussing “I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story” by Fox and Owl Fisher 

Over the years, gender commonly considered in two forms – male and female – is often aligned with the physical sex of the person. However, in reality people can identify as both male and female at one time, as different genders at different times, as no gender at all, or could also dispute the idea of gender altogether. They may also use terms such as genderqueer or non-binary to identify themselves.  

“‘I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story,’ is a feature-length documentary that explores non-binary and transgender issues through the personal accounts of the filmmaker’s Fox and Owl Fisher.”

“I Am They: A Non-Binary Love Story,” is a feature-length documentary that explores non-binary and transgender issues through the personal accounts of the filmmaker’s Fox and Owl Fisher. Through their personal narratives, with their love story as the focus, Fox and Owl voice the struggles of non-binary people who often face rejection from society. In their documentary, they also include the voices of other non-binary folks from across Europe in order to put forward their shared experiences. It explores issues and challenges such as legal recognition, language, health care, and social acceptance.

Non-binary transgender individuals are at a heightened risk of negative mental health outcomes. In the documentary Fox explains: “It’s like always having to prove who we are, always having to prove our identity. We live this day in and day out, and it’s just become this big news about what non-binary is and how threatening it is to society or whatever. What a joke.” This sends out an extremely powerful message and insight into the constant struggles of non-binary people. 

Fox and Owl appeared on a popular morning show Good Morning Britain (GMB) hosted by Piers Morgan. The social media hate and abuse that Fox and Owl were subjected to even before the show reflects how the society views non-binary people. What should have been a few minutes on GMB for questions about Fox and Owl’s story, the conversation about gender turned into race when Piers Morgan asked them if he could choose to identify as a Black woman. What could have been questions to understand them turned into an attack by Piers Morgan. This highlighted how intolerant even “well-educated” people are towards non-binary people and how their rigid mindsets about the binary nature of gender prevent them from seeing beyond it. 

“In another video that Fox and Owl created to talk about their non-binary identities and words to call each other, there were over 7,000 abusive comments in less than 24 hours.”

In another video that Fox and Owl created to talk about their non-binary identities and words they use to refer to each other, there were over 7,000 abusive comments in less than 24 hours. This once again highlights the intensity of hate that is instilled in the minds and hearts of the society towards non-binary folks. This also demonstrates how non-binary people are constantly policed and are under the scrutiny of society. A comment that particularly stood out was from a transgender person that said, “they give transgender a bad name and we already have it rough with people.” 

This shows how non-binary people also face a lack of acceptance from transgender communities. A study conducted by Harrison et. al. showed how individuals who see their gender as hybrid, fluid, and/or rejecting the male-female binary are subject to significant anti-transgender bias and in some cases are at higher risk of discrimination and violence than their transgender counterparts. In an interview, Fox says that “No one makes room for us and we constantly have to try and make our own space.”

“Non-binary people are not recognized legally and socially and are denied basic human rights such as healthcare and marriage. The English language also lacks gender neutral terms and language to describe the experiences and identities of non-binary people.”

Two other challenging socio-political issues faced by non-binary people that Fox and Owl discuss are the barriers in language, marriage rights, and healthcare. Marriage is a beautiful bond of love and commitment. It is something that individuals shouldn’t be denied based on their gender identity. Moreover, while transgender individuals in the UK have access to health care, allowing them to be themselves socially, physically and legally, the same does not apply to non-binary individuals. Non-binary people are not recognized legally and socially and are denied basic human rights such as healthcare and marriage. The English language also lacks gender neutral terms and language to describe the experiences and identities of non-binary people. 

The very definition of the term non-binary means that these individuals fall outside the binary, outside what is culturally deemed appropriate. Since cultures across the world are embedded with the binary boyfriend, girlfriend, husband and wife terminology, non-binary people also have a hard time finding words to describe their partners. Social media too plays a major role in making these problems worse. While on one hand Owl was voted the sexiest “woman” in Iceland, on the other hand, as mentioned above, they received over 7,000 comments of hate for their identity. Thus, by peddling all sorts of misinformation about non-binary individuals, media in the UK facilitates a culture war on trans rights issues, instead of addressing them with evidence-based discussion

Owl and Fox Fisher (MyGenderation)

“Fox and Owl decided to get married in protest of the laws that do not permit non binary people to get married. This wedding was a step to raise awareness about the fact that not everyone can actually get married in the UK. It was an attempt to highlight the lack of gender recognition for non-binary people.”

While there are a multitude of issues faced by non-binary people, other than their inability to get married, the fact remains that everyone should have the same right. Fox and Owl decided to get married in protest of the laws that do not permit non binary people to get married. This wedding was a step to raise awareness about the fact that not everyone can actually get married in the UK. It was an attempt to highlight the lack of gender recognition for non-binary people. 

The results of the study conducted by Liu and Wilkinson in 2017 show that married transgender individuals, especially trans-women, experienced lower levels of perceived discrimination in various life domains than their unmarried counterparts. The lack of research on marital status and perceived discrimination for non-binary people makes it harder to conclusively generalize these results for them. However, given the societal attitudes towards them, their absolute inability to marry and even be recognized as gendered beings in the UK, it can be deduced that the levels of discrimination faced by non-binary people will be higher, if not similar than that faced by their transgender counterparts who share legal and social privileges.

“Fox mentions that the audience for their film was a wide range of people, but they especially wanted to reach out to those people who are confused, unsure and want to know more.”

In their interview with Parsons, Fox mentions that the audience for their film was a wide range of people, but they especially wanted to reach out to those people who are confused, unsure and want to know more. However, it is hard to assess how this documentary would be perceived by the transgender and cisgender communities. The film shows a large proportion of cisgender and transgender people speaking against Topshop’s policy to have gender-neutral changing rooms. In multiple other instances, as seen in the film, both these communities also spoke against the non-binary gender identity. While certain cisgender folks, such as Piers Morgan, lashed out and abused non-binary people, calling them all sorts of names, even transgender people posted comments of hate claiming that non-binary individuals ruin the transgender name. 

“Further, seeing the support offered by people for the hashtag #ThisIsWhatNonBinaryLooksLike, I hope that this film sends out the message that they are not alone in their struggles.”

Thus, it is not surprising that a portion of these communities responded negatively to a documentary  trying to educate people about what it means to be non-binary. However, I hope that cisgender and transgender people are able to open their eyes to educate themselves and empathize with the struggles and challenges faced by non-binary people. Further, seeing the support offered by people for the hashtag #ThisIsWhatNonBinaryLooksLike, I hope that this film sends out the message that they are not alone in their struggles. By hearing the personal accounts of non-binary people, I hope that people are able to get a deeper understanding of the systemic brutality, ignorance and oppression faced by the non-binary community.

My identity as a cisgender female, born and raised in India greatly influenced my desire to learn about the non-binary community. Like many others, I was socialized to consider gender in terms of its binary form – male and female. Even today, discussions with my parents make it evident how this concept is ingrained in their brains like a habit that is hard to change. However, moving to the USA for college, studying in a women’s college followed by wanting to pursue counseling psychology made it increasingly important for me to educate myself about gender. This stems out of a desire to not only be culturally competent but also to be a conscious citizen in the 21st century. This documentary truly made me self-reflect on my privilege as a cisgender woman.

“In Fox’s words: ‘Non-binary people are not here to erase anyone’s identity. On the contrary, it’s more about wanting everyone to be able to be themselves and be respectful of it’.”

“I am They- A Non-Binary Love Story”, by Fox and Owl Fisher takes the step to educate people about the various issues faced by non-binary people with the hope to overcome the outrage and fear-mongering. In Fox’s words: “Non-binary people are not here to erase anyone’s identity. On the contrary, it’s more about wanting everyone to be able to be themselves and be respectful of it”.

Watch the documentary here

Vidhi obtained her undergraduate degree in Psychology and International Studies from Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia. She is currently pursuing her MA in Mental Health Counseling from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York.

Design by Simran Mehta 

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Talking Periods Beyond Gender

Kanika Malhotra

Women are not the only ones who menstruate, why it’s important to go beyond gender when talking about periods.

An individual’s gender is not defined by their sex. Sex is a biological concept that, in this context, defines “male” and “female”. Gender is an individual’s identity separate from their biological sex. It is not determined by hormones or chromosomes. So, an individual’s gender identity may be different from the sex they are assigned at birth.  As explained by French theorist and philosopher Simone De Beauvoir in her book “The Second Sex”, one isn’t born a woman, “social discrimination produces in women moral and intellectual effects so profound that they appear to be caused by nature”, rather, one becomes a woman. The behavioural traits that may define men and women are acquired and are not pre-determined by anatomy. Gender is, therefore, not a direct consequence of an individual’s biological sex. 

“Menstruation is highly misunderstood when it comes to trans and non-binary individuals”

Menstruation is a biological function commonly linked to the female sex, however, it is not limited to cisgender women. The term cisgender is used for people whose gender identity matches their assigned sex at birth. It is also important to note that not all women with female reproductive systems menstruate, and that can be due to various medical and non-medical reasons. This assumption that only cisgender women menstruate is reflective of the lack of understanding and ignorance around the subject. Menstruation is highly misunderstood when it comes to transgender and non-binary individuals. Like cisgender women, they also, may or may not menstruate. 

J.K. Rowling’s recent transphobic tweet regarding menstruation, which received backlash and was taken down by Twitter, reflects this ignorance and bias that people have against transgender and non-binary identities. In India, transgender and non-binary people face similar prejudiced and ignorant comments. Speaking to Bol Magazine, Saral, a trans woman, explains that when she came out to one of her close friends they were shocked: “How is it possible? Aren’t trans people by birth?” This statement is reflective of how little people know about gender identities. 

“They are vulnerable to societal exclusion due to rejection of their avowed gender identity. This exclusion leads to violence against people of the transgender community”

The term Transgender is used to describe people whose gender identity does not align with the sex they were assigned, usually at birth and based on their genitals. They are vulnerable to societal exclusion due to rejection of their avowed gender identity. This exclusion leads to violence against people of the transgender community. If they choose to undergo a medical transition to change their primary sex characteristics, for instance, a person assigned male at birth and wishing to change to female, they may seek gender-affirming surgery or “sex change”. That said, they also face difficulties transitioning their sex. Gynaecologists often deny transitioning or charge excessively.  Moreover, there are not enough doctors or clinics providing  transitioning care.

A survey conducted in 2018 by the nonprofit organization Lambda Legal found that 70 percent of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals have faced discrimination in a healthcare setting. The ignorance of gynecologists and general practitioners (GP) has resulted in misery for various individuals wanting to transition. “My worst experience, as a trans man, was when one GP refused to help me transition and said they’d do everything but ‘that’, like transitioning is a disease” says Math Blade, a trans man from the USA. He reflects: “My experience has been bad if I don’t have my beard, or if I am on the phone. Depending upon the clerk I get asked to get my husband on the phone. If they continually insist I throw my voice deeper, which hurts, and finish the transaction.”

“Representation of periods in the mainstream is always about cisgender heterosexual women. It has never been inclusive of any other gender”

Menstruation for cisgender women is a taboo in Indian society, and while periods have been recognised and represented mainstream, the same is not true for transgender individuals. They continuously face the stigma of people not accepting or understanding the fact that they may also menstruate, depending on what part of their transition they are in.

Representation of periods in the mainstream is always about cisgender heterosexual women. It has never been inclusive of any other gender. The education regarding periods is gender-segregated, taught only for cisgender girls by cisgender women in schools and in homes. Not only does this cause alienation but also creates an atmosphere of ignorance about menstruation for other genders. 

Being able to afford menstrual hygiene products such as sanitary pads and menstrual cups is a privilege in India. An article by Deccan Chronicle revealed that a person in India spends 300 Rupees (INR) on pads every month. That is nearly equivalent to 1,40,000 Rupees (INR) spent on pads for their whole life. According to a National Family Health survey only 57% of Indian heterosexual cisgender women in urban areas can afford menstrual pads at MRP (Maximum Retail Price). High costs and taxes associated with menstrual products also make them inaccessible for trans people, who may not be able to afford them. 

“accessing public toilets is another challenge, because of the existence of male and female only toilets”

Moreover, accessing public toilets is another challenge, because of the existence of male and female only toilets. Men’s toilets are not conducive spaces for menstrual hygiene and so trans men don’t have a safe space to change pads, or any other period product. There are no dustbins for disposal of pads. In some public toilets for men there are no private stalls. There are also cases of physical, verbal and even sexual abuse behind the doors. In 2016 in India, the highest number of assaults on trans people occurred in public toilets. Trans and non-binary people are denied spaces where they can change clothes, use toilets or change pads. 

Talking about the lack of access to toilets, Sonal, a trans woman, explains this issue: “During the pride parade I wanted to pee but I didn’t know where. Whenever I go out, I don’t drink much water. The biggest issue a transgender or non binary individual faces is where to go for a washroom, where? I have seen that whenever I go to a women’s washroom I have seen some discomfort in some women and we don’t even have the option of gender neutral washrooms, so where should we go?” 

“Menstruation, toilets, uniforms, and changing rooms need to go beyond gender”

Menstruation, toilets, uniforms, and changing rooms need to go beyond gender. Travis Albanza, who identifies as trans feminine, was denied access to a changing room in a TopShop showroom in the UK. They told buzzfeed that they wanted to relax and chill with their friends but instead their entire day became politicised.

Menstruation is a biological function. Creating a safe and accessible space for all humans who menstruate, regardless of their gender, is essential. This can be done by setting up gender neutral washrooms and changing rooms, and incorporating gender neutral language and more representation in the mainstream. School uniforms are gender neutral in Wales, UK. This  means that when a list of clothing items is published by the school, they will not be assigned to a specific gender. This helps non-binary and transgender children to feel included and safe. It prevents the imposition of gender on children. 

“Parents should ensure that they are allowing their children the freedom to figure out their gender identity. This can be done by not restricting their choice of toys, clothing or the colour of their room because of their gender, pointing out and correcting transphobic language, and not misgendering them by using incorrect pronouns”

Parents should ensure that they are allowing their children the freedom to figure out their gender identity. This can be done by not restricting their choice of toys, clothing or the colour of their room because of their gender, pointing out and correcting transphobic language, and not misgendering them by using incorrect pronouns. Always, a brand which sells sanitary products has made a decision to remove “Venus”, a symbol used to represent females, from its packaging in order to be more inclusive of trans men and non-binary individuals. Using words like “menstruators” or “menstrual hygiene” is another way to be inclusive. 

Transphobic minds cannot be changed overnight but everyone deserves a safe place for basic needs like using the toilet and access to menstrual hygiene products. Everyone deserves to be treated equally and with dignity and respect regardless of their gender, and that can be accomplished only through an active effort towards a more inclusive society.

Kanika is currently in high school in 11th standard. She believes in feminism and advocates for inclusivity of the lgbtqia+ community. Writing is a medium through which she expresses her opinions and takes a stand. Her other interests are skating and films.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

No Pride without Black Trans Women

Vidhi Maheshwari

The life of Marsha ‘Pay it No Mind’ Johnson, a pioneer and activist of the gay liberation movement

Marsha P. Johnson was an American activist, a self-identified drag queen, a performer, and a survivor. She was a prominent figure in the Stonewall uprising of 1969. However, for much of her life, Marsha was ostracized from society. Almost thirty years after her death, she is finally getting the much-deserved attention that she was denied when she was alive. The tales of her activism are circulating on social media like never before, bringing attention to her legacy during this Pride month. 

“a Stonewall instigator, Andy Warhol model, drag queen, sex worker, a starving actress, and a Saint”

In the feature-length documentary ‘Pay it No Mind,’ director Michael Kasino (2012) attempts to showcase the life of Marsha, a Stonewall instigator, Andy Warhol model, drag queen, sex worker, a starving actress, and a Saint. When she died at age forty-six, in the summer of 1992, Marsha was mourned by her friends. However, her death did not attract much attention in the mainstream press. Using her final interview from 1992, Kasino highlights the fading story of Marsha – the legendary gay and trans rights activist.  She recounts her life at the forefront of the Stonewall Riots in the 1960s, the creation of S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) with Sylvia Rivera in the 1970s, and a New York City activist through the 1980s and the early 1990s. 

While now being a highly celebrated revolutionary and activist, Marsha’s childhood was shadowed by plight and suffering. At the age of five, Marsha stopped wearing dresses because the boys next door, as she put it: “tried to have sex with me”. She was raped by a thirteen-year-old when she was twelve. This was just the beginning of the challenges that Marsha would face in the future. She was known for being herself and unafraid of the judgement, harassment, and ridicule she would face when dressing up as a woman. The hardships of a transgender individual were not new to Marsha. 

“Marsha was black, queer, gender non-conforming, and poor. Being a racial and gender minority, and the experiences of victimization, discrimination, and stigmatization that she endured possibly enacted as stressors which deteriorated her mental well-being”

For much of her life, Marsha was homeless, living on the streets of New York without any financial or living arrangements. She battled severe mental illness, was in and out of psychiatric institutions, and suffered from HIV towards the end of her life. She was also arrested frequently for long periods, which she termed as “a normal process”. Research shows how expecting rejection is not only a common and salient stressor faced by transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, but it can also compound the negative impact on their mental health. Marsha was black, queer, gender non-conforming, and poor. Being a racial and gender minority, and having had the experiences of victimization, discrimination, and stigmatization that she endured possibly enacted as stressors caused her mental well-being to deteriorate. 

Despite the hard circumstances, Marsha was known for her open and optimistic personality. She could find joy in suffering and channeled it into political action with fierceness and grace. She dressed in flashy, homemade outfits, and decorated her hair with flowers, fruits, and even Christmas lights. In her words: “I may be crazy but that don’t make me wrong”. Her longtime friend Randy Wicker explained: “Friends and many people who knew Marsha called her ‘Saint Marsha’ because she was so generous.” Even after her death, the idealization of Marsha as a ‘good queen’ allowed the police to give trans people the street to mourn Marsha by blocking 7th Avenue. 

“During a time of zero tolerance for trans and black people, Marsha along with her friend Sylvia Rivera led the protests and were at the forefront of the liberation movement”

As soon as she graduated from high school, Marsha came to New York with just a bag of clothes and $15. Moving to New York and being a drag queen is what saved Marsha. Even though Greenwich Village was known to be one of the most tolerant places for the LGBTQ community, police frequently harassed those who didn’t adhere to societal gender norms. According to Tomas Lanigan-Schmidt, a human rights activist: “gay people were scheduled for non-existence, in other words, we were supposed to have no reality called gay, homosexual, except to be in a mental health institution getting shock treatments or getting fired from a job.” This was also a time when gay pride parades excluded transgender people as they feared damaging their reputation because of their presence. During a time of zero tolerance for trans and black people, Marsha along with her friend Sylvia Rivera led the protests and were at the forefront of the liberation movement.

“Being a black trans activist, added to the challenges Marsha faced due to the social and political climate she was situated within”

In Queer Necropolitics, the authors highlight the discourse between whiteness and blackness in the context of LGBTQ identity and rights. They explain Saidiya Hartman’s argument on how the transatlantic slave trade created a notion for blackness and made black people permanently available for the “enjoyment” of white people. This narrative of black people guilty in the eyes of the law and incapable of being violated has taken many forms and persists, even today,  as seen in the murder of George Floyd. In the context of LGBTQ rights, projects like ‘It Gets Better’ by Dan Savage and Terry Miller illustrate how gayness was linked with whiteness, as the campaign aimed to make white sufferings legible and worthy of protection. This essentially created a generalised narrative of escaping homophobia that was out of reach for LGBTQ people of colour. There are several ways in which anti-blackness operates in this discourse.  Being a black trans activist, added to the challenges Marsha faced due to the social and political climate she was situated within. Thus, vocal, persistent, and domineering, Marsha P. Johnson can be attributed to not only as the face of trans rights but also that of black trans rights. 

Previously thought to be one of the first people to resist the police during the Stonewall riots, Marsha told historian Eric Marcus that she only got to Stonewall after the riots had already started. The colour of her skin, her gender, or her identity as an activist and a leader could have led people to attribute her to be the pioneer of the riots – the first one to throw a shot glass heard around the world or the one to throw the first brick. Regardless, the riots of the Stonewall bar on Christopher Street were the turning point in queer activism. It led to the creation of many anti-racist and queer of colour organizations that brought attention to the heightened police brutality against LGBT people within and beyond the gay community. That same year, Marsha and Rivera founded S.T.AR., which advocated for sexual liberation and pushed to align gay rights with other social movements. 

While primarily documenting the life and challenges of Marsha P. Johnson, ‘Pay it No Mind’ also does a good job of articulating and highlighting the systemic oppression faced by individuals at the intersectionality of the black and the trans communities.  In today’s global and political context, through the documentary, members of the trans community can hear the story of Marsha P. Johnson, a revolutionary figure. The documentary acts as a source of inspiration and empowerment for the trans community. A way to connect with their history with pride, fight fearlessly for their rights, and carry on the legacy of Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. 

“It empowers a deeper understanding of the systemic oppression and brutality that the trans community faces even today”

For everyone else, the documentary is an eye-opener to visualize and empathize with the sufferings of the LGBTQ community. It empowers a deeper understanding of the systemic oppression and brutality that the trans community faces even today. It creates a sense of urgency and teaches compassion towards the cause of trans rights inspiring viewers to take action and march collectively with trans activists. The message is clear – trans rights are human rights. 

Marsha ‘Pay it No Mind’ Johnson was a pioneer and activist of the gay liberation movement. Marsha did not succumb to societal prejudice and political victimization and always fought for what she believed. She symbolizes trans resilience and sends out the message to trans communities to continue fighting till they have their rights not just in America, but across the world. In her words, “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us”. Marsha P. Johnson was truly a hero and today her legacy lives on in the fight for trans rights. 

Watch the 2012 documentary here

Marsha P. Johnson Institute – https://marshap.org/

Vidhi obtained her undergraduate degree in Psychology and International Studies from Bryn Mawr College, Philadelphia. She is currently pursuing her MA in Mental Health Counseling from Teachers College, Columbia University in New York.

Design by Hemashri Dhavala

Trans Rights are Human Rights

Kirti Bhargava

The Golden Hour for a Meaningful Discourse on Transgender Rights in India

The year 1852 in India is painfully remembered for the brutal murder of Bhoorah, a trans woman, in northern India’s Mainpuri district, near present-day Agra. Speculations were rife that her former lover had killed her in a fit of rage. What was striking however was that the British judges didn’t think the case was worthy of a full-fledged investigation. This incident wasn’t merely a standalone wanton case of social exclusion and assault. Rather, it prompted the British Indian government to castigate the community as a whole by categorising them as a ‘criminal tribe’ under the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871. 

The victim’s death in the case was treated as far-reaching evidence for the immorality of the eunuchs and thereon, the British launched an assailing campaign aimed at erasing their public presence moving towards gradual cultural elimination. They were penalised with hefty fines or thrown into prisons for wearing female clothing and ornaments, often looked down upon as sexual deviants and unnatural prostitutes. 

More than a century later, as we acclaim June as Pride Month, this article aims to initiate a meaningful discourse around the recently legislated Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, and what it has to offer today.

The genesis for transgender rights in India was first laid formally by a landmark judgement of the Supreme Court in 2014. In the NALSA V/s Union of India case, the Supreme Court ascertained the community’s rights for self-perceived gender identity and acknowledged the need for a ‘Third Gender category’ in official records. Subsequently, a private members’ bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha in 2014 by Member of Parliament Tiruchi Siva. This bill looked at a range of entitlements for the community,  in areas of health, education, skill development, and employment opportunities as well as protection from abuse and torture. It also proposed a 2% reservation for trans persons in educational institutions and government jobs. This draft bill was received somewhat well by the community but with the dissolution of the 16th Lok Sabha, the bill lapsed.

Once again, in 2016, a modified version of the same was tabled in Lok Sabha by the Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment. This has today become the embodiment of what we know as the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2019.

At the very onset, this marks the Indian Government’s first such effort to institutionally recognise Transgender people in India. As per the 2011 Census, their official population stands at around 5,00,000 individuals. The act defines a transgender person as “one whose gender does not match the gender assigned at birth. It includes trans men, trans women, persons with intersex variations, genderqueers, and persons with socio-cultural identities, such as kinnar, jogata, aravani and hijra.”

“By clubbing intersex and trans under a common umbrella, the very definition fails to cast a cynosure upon gender fluidity”

This descriptive aspect has been widely criticised by activists and members of the community as vague. By clubbing intersex and trans under a common umbrella, the very definition fails to cast a cynosure upon gender fluidity. Members of the community reject the nomenclature of ‘Transgender’ for the bill and instead suggest a more comprehensive title ‘Gender Identity, Gender Expression and Sex Characteristics (Protection of Rights) Bill,’ elucidating a clear distinction between the terms Intersex and Transgender in an acerbic manner.

Secondly, it prohibits discrimination against transgender people in spheres of education, employment, healthcare, accords them the right to movement, to reside in their households or own property, and so on. The act also nudges the government to undertake welfare measures for the community for their rescue and rehabilitation, vocational training, and create self-employment opportunities. Additionally, it stipulates that the state should arrange for separate HIV surveillance centres and sex reassignment surgeries.

“A lack of enforceability in the anti-discrimination clause renders it rudderless, relying excessively on the moral compass of the wrongdoer”

While it seeks to be progressive in letter, it is arguably truncated in spirit. A lack of enforceability in the anti-discrimination clause renders it rudderless, relying excessively on the moral compass of the wrongdoer. A recently collated study by the NHRC suggests that 99% of transgender people have suffered social rejection on more than one occasion, even by their own families. 96% have been denied jobs and thus are forced to take to vulnerable livelihood choices such as sex work or begging. Around 60% have never attended school, and those who did faced major discrimination. 

Extrapolating these figures to their lived experiences necessitates the need for better enforceability of laws. Other welfare measures settle perhaps as a post-dated cheque at the disposal of the state. With a meagre budgetary allocation of Rs. 1,00,00,000, it remains to be seen how the implementation of the other welfare measures unfolds. 

“The very need for certifying one’s identity places an implied external authority and onus of proof on the individual, defeating the premise of self-determination”

The act also enlists provisions for obtaining a certificate of Trans identity from the District Magistrate (DM). A revised certificate must also be obtained in case of a sex reassignment surgery. The very need for certifying one’s identity places an implied external authority and onus of proof on the individual, defeating the premise of self-determination. In doing so, it also leaves scope for bureaucratic misuse and harassment, as there exists no window for appeal against an arbitrary order of the DM. What is also noteworthy is that it fails to concede to the problematic reality of forcible sex reassignment surgeries, specifically on minors. The recent Madras High Court judgement banning such medical procedures on intersex infants (aimed at empowering the individual’s consent) must be paid heed to here.

Furthermore, there is also a clause for setting up a National Council for Transgender Persons (NCT) comprising a representation of five members from the community. The council offers some ray of hope, however, the transgender representatives remain in minority and it will augur well for their voices to be sufficiently amplified through this forum. It remains to be seen how far this end will be achieved.  

“This conundrum of Trans abuse cases gets further complicated in a system where the community already faces systematic exclusion, discrimination, and sidelining within the legal and judicial recourse”

Finally, another positive step is identifying offences against the community and affixing penalties for the same, ranging from six months to two years imprisonment, along with a fine. Four such categories of offences have been identified: Denial of use of public places, forced or bonded labor, forced eviction from household as well as physical, emotional, sexual or economic abuse. However, not only are the safeguards offered inadequate, but the community has also expressed grief over the lighter sentences being facile, that may fail to create much on ground deterrence. This conundrum of Trans abuse cases gets further complicated in a system where the community already faces systematic exclusion, discrimination, and sidelining within the legal and judicial recourse. 

To sum up, essentially the concerns with the act need to be looked through a prism holding multiple perspectives. The first of these is the legal-constitutional validity of the act. The features appear violative of Article 14 (right to equality), 15 (prohibition of discrimination on grounds of sex), 16 (equality of opportunity in matters of public employment) and 21 (right to a dignified life and right to livelihood encapsulated in the right to life and personal liberty) of the constitution. 

For instance, while the Act penalises organised begging (badhai tradition at weddings and childbirth is a long-standing cultural practice amongst the Hijras), it does not provide for any alternative and meaningful avenues for greater inclusivity in public employment opportunities. The demand for affirmative action, which the 2014 Bill catered to, has been left unacknowledged in the 2019 act. The Supreme Court, recently taking cognisance of these loopholes to the law, has issued a notice to the Centre against a plea challenging the constitutionality of the Transgender Persons Act.

“At the very onset, the definitional component fails to appreciate the distinctions of gender, sex, and sexual orientation”

A second viewpoint offers a theoretical and feminist critique wherein the hierarchy of genders finds itself penetrating pieces of legislation. At the very onset, the definitional component fails to appreciate the distinctions of gender, sex, and sexual orientation. The mandatory provision of placing trans individuals in rehabilitation centres, as they are left dejected by their families, needs a rethink. It renders them devoid of any agency whatsoever, treating them as ‘subjects of care,’ at the hands of the state. Confining them to such centres also paves the road towards ghettoisation of the community. Under the garb of such differential treatment (in contrast to the treatment of cis men and women), it fails the NALSA judgement’s assertion for self-determination and accords transgenders a lesser status as citizens in society.

The third and final standpoint places a moral-ethical burden on us, as members of a just and humane society. In measuring the transgender identity on a scale as opposed to the binary male and female identity and placing the former at the mercy of the state machinery is violative of the individual’s dignity. The compulsion and hassles of obtaining paperwork for ascertaining a very personal component of our lives are pedantic, dehumanising, and largely dystopic.

For these very reasons, the passage of the act has been vociferously opposed by the community. The 12th annual Pride Parade 2019 in Delhi witnessed widespread protest and agitation against what was collectively deemed to be a ‘Regressive and half-hearted piece of legislation.’ The international NGO, Human Rights Watch, condemns it as failing the community on grounds of fundamental rights for self-identity and urges the Indian government to amend it in line with international standards. The World Medical Association’s as well as the United Nation’s standards for transgender rights mandate the separation of medical and legal processes for reassignment of gender identities.

“But as citizens, we must also realise that a meaningful discourse on LGBTQ rights in India goes beyond this benchmark limit and needs to be more far-reaching for fruitful gains”

While the legislation remains within the radar of SC hearings, for now, it may be pointed out that the court proceedings will gain limelight simply for determining whether the legislation passes the minimum legal-judicial cut off for being held valid. It will only deal with the first category of our concerns. But as citizens, we must also realise that a meaningful discourse on LGBTQ rights in India goes beyond this benchmark limit and needs to be more far-reaching for fruitful gains. 

We seek to stand miles away today from a state-sponsored attack on the community in British India and aim to step towards a more liberal and inclusive ethos. The focus should be on facilitating more dignified and equitable opportunities to ensure a more central role for the community. Better education and employment opportunities, gender sensitisation of law implementation bodies, extending legal, medical, psycho-social aid when needed, and involving trans voices in policy framing can help build more nuanced visibility for the community within the public spheres. Suffice it to say, the golden hour has ripened after a long wait for a state-led intention for the upliftment of the transgender community. It should be progressively assiduous for it to tailor-fit to their needs better.

Kirti is a graduate in Sociology from Lady Shri Ram College. A passionate learner, dancer and writer (in that order), she aspires to make an impact by widely articulating her views on socially relevant issues. She also occasionally takes breaks from her routine to mentally rejuvenate by trekking the Himalayas. 

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