Today is International Women's Day and the world is celebrating and paying homage to the struggles women have faced over the past decades, highlighting the various movements that erupted en route the path ridden with challenges like patriarchy and misogyny to name a few.
Speaking of women, it is essential to throw light on what it is like to be a transwoman in India in the year 2020. For some this could be considered as hypocrisy, given the fact that transwomen have always been demanding to be included, but an exclusive article on them only nullifies one of the predominant things they have always wanted. In view of the fact that even today this umbrella term stands misunderstood by many, it only compels one to bring to the forefront what is it like to be a transwoman in the 21st century.
To exactly understand the existing situation, three transwomen from different walks of life were interviewed.
Understanding the concept
For starters, it is imperative to understand what the term transwoman factually means. It refers to someone who self-identifies as a woman, but is not assigned as a female at birth. Hence, a transgender is anyone who does not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. However, a transwoman is equally a woman as a cisgender (popularly referred to as cis) woman is. For the unversed, a cis woman is someone who was assigned as a female at birth and continues to identify as one. It is the exclusion of transwomen from the category of 'women' in general, that makes their struggle tougher and invalidates their entire purpose of living as a women.
Do sufficient rights exist for the betterment of transwomen in India?
Vidya (name changed to protect identity), an academic researcher, is of the opinion that, "Not just in our country but in the world in general, there is still a long way to go for trans people to have the same rights as everyone else. What we are seeing in the last few years is simply an acknowledgment by at least some societies, governments and institutions that trans people exist and deserve equal rights…"
With no laws existing to protect the trans-people from discrimination faced in their daily lives, for instance at their workplace, it is self-explanatory that transwomen are not even remotely getting what they rightly deserve.
According to the revised Trans Bill, the right to self-determination of gender is redacted, with one being forced to undergo a dangerous and expensive medical procedure only to be identified as a woman. Even when it comes to the basics, like changing the name or gender on a government document, for a transwoman it is no less than an uphill task.
Is the Indian government lacking in any way to provide support?
A major positive step that was taken in this direction a few years ago was the NALSA verdict by the Supreme Court in 2014 and a bill on Trans rights presented by Mr. Tiruchi Siva and passed in the Rajya Sabha in 2015. However, with the government making changes in the bill, the outcome was the bill being regressive and in fact the changes made it even more difficult for the transwomen.
To this, Anamika, who is working as a Data Scientist at a US-based bank, adds, "By passing the Transgender protection of rights act, the government has done the exact opposite of this by reducing us to 2nd class citizens, who need to prove their identity to an authority before they can be recognized as the gender they identify as and against whom committing the same crime attracts a lesser punishment compared to cis-women."
What is Indian society's perspective towards transwomen?
Indian society seems to still be ridden with misconceptions when it comes transwomen. For starters, transwomen are not a 'third gender', they are women like all other cis women. The most basic thing most of them ask for is all their IDs to have 'female' written alongside their gender. It is increasingly difficult for some to comprehend that transwomen are not invading anyone's gender, in fact they are fighting their own battles- physical dysphoria, patriarchy and misogyny.
"... I have felt countless times in my surrounding society - workplace, friends, etc - the added pressure to be a "proper" woman, because I chose to be one - as if my femaleness was something granted to me, and not something I had all the rights on. The amount of gatekeeping is sometimes tremendously exhausting. There's also unspoken biases against trans women in relationships where they often end up having little power and few options…", adds Anubhuti, Manager-Analytics for M&S and Lead- LGBTQ Employee Resources, Tata Steel.
Does a transwoman enjoy access to basic things like any other cis woman does?
In practice, even for a transwoman who has undergone complete medical and physical transition, blending into the mainstream society as any other 'woman' is undoubtedly a task, for most transwomen, if not for all of them. The risk of transphobia and the unnecessary hatred at times causes irrational fear among the transwomen.
According to Anamika, accessibility and exercise of the existing rights are far from reality. Ever since the Trans Rights bill was passed by the Rajya Sabha, transwomen have been reduced to second class citizens.
“...Trans women are afforded a pittance as yet, compared to cis women. An idea of this would the fact that the maximum punishment against sexual violence against Trans women is 2 years, compared to a minimum of 6 years for the same against a cis woman (according to the provisions of the Trans Bill 2019). It's almost a human rights violation to have passed a law that is so discriminatory. Another place of discrimination is the access to quality healthcare, which is near non-existent for Trans women in this country”, Anubhuti adds.
Support and acceptance
Firstly, for an individual to actually come out and accept themselves is not an easy thing to do. But, when the family is supportive and the individual has a supportive environment at school/college/workplace and has accepting friends, one does not have to deal with emotional trauma, hatred and abuse.
For some, lack of acceptance can lead to poor mental health, leading to increased stress, anxiety and depression. In a nutshell, increased awareness, education and confidence makes their journey easier and ultimately they can take pride in the choices they make.
Vidya believes that until transwomen are not free, no one really is. She is of the opinion that the struggle of transwoman or transpeople in general does not take place in isolation, but is a part of a wider struggle in society, which aims at becoming rid of all kinds of discrimination.
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