All our misconceptions, stereotypical judgements and false assumptions emerge from our cultural background, common familial discourses – and even, to some extent, the popular culture we passionately feed on. Some of these conceptions are rectified with time – and if not, we make space for yet another idea to look at it in a different way.
But there are certain inhibitions that are so strongly embedded in our minds that it becomes difficult to root them out from our conscience. One such inhibition that my cultural background impinged upon me was transphobia (‘false fear’ towards transgender people). I grew up with this fear, and it took me really long to get rid of it. The process of realisation, however, was quite difficult because of the strong hold of these misconceptions and false stories, which the media, popular culture and the society had imposed upon me.
Right from the beginning, I was fearful towards transgender people. I always used to hide myself whenever I saw them in parks, trains and stations. I used to get scared of their gestures and heavy baritone voices when I watched them in films.
I remember an incident when a group of transgender people barged into our house early in the morning, because they had misread our address and thought there was a new-born child at our place. Unaware of my family’s false dispositions towards them, they came inside to say a friendly ‘hello’. But my family did not respond in a friendly manner. Three of them were almost thrashed out of our house and were scolded for trying to be friendly. I was petrified and stunned to see them for the first time. All dressed up in heavy make-up and colourful clothes – they appeared quite unusual to me. I was scared of them and wanted them to leave my place as early as possible.
This hatred and abhorrence only intensified with time – and eventually, the ‘clap sounds’ became the most horrific thing for me. My environment played a major part in intensifying this false fear.
I grew up watching ‘exaggerated’ and ‘manufactured’ news stories about transgender people assaulting men and women, stealing money and mistreating people at public places. I saw them scaring other people in the films or serials I watched. I was unable to erase the horrific image which had been etched in my mind.
The image of Lajja Shankar in “Sangharsh” continued to haunt me for several years. The director perhaps knew this fear psychosis of ours and played well with it. The fact that he made that character look like a transgender person in one of Bollywood’s most haunting scenes alludes to the fact that for the viewers, transgender people are mostly (if not only) used to incite fear.
Popular culture – soap operas, films, comedy shows, etc. – have contributed largely in imbibing this fear without us being aware of it. I haven’t watched a single mainstream Bollywood film that has dealt with the trials and tribulations of transgender characters in their truest sense. They are either shown as comic fillers or as somebody you should despise for no reason at all. There have been many such instances (in films, television shows, news stories, etc.) and these only worsened my understanding of transgender people for a long time.
However, my recent encounter with hard-hitting poetry and anecdotes by transgender people coming from different communities in India and abroad, has helped me evade the false assumptions that had coiled inside my head for so many years. Unlike popular culture, which instills fear within people like me, the literary world has been quite welcoming of transgender people who have expressed their individual stories unabashedly – mostly through autobiographical novels, short stories and poems.
Here are some excerpts from a couple of poems I read, which have left a deep mark on my conscience.
“If you gave him a chance you’d see he’s real nice.
His heart is so warm, not cold as ice.
He loves with his heart, is caring and tender.
Look deep within, he is only transgender.”
– Karen Wyld
“I was the mystery of an anatomy,
a question asked but not answered,
tightroping between awkward boy and apologetic girl, …”
– Lee Mokobe (TED fellow)
In one of her poems published in her anthology titled “Manada Kunnu (The eye of the mind)”, the transgender poet Chandini writes, “The god who made me, does not recognise me.”
Apart from this, influential, mainstream writers like Arundhati Roy (in “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”) have also tried to sketch unconventional pictures of the transgender community to let the world know about their daily struggles with the ‘self’ and the ‘society’. However, “The Ministry of Utmost happiness” eventually gets trapped in the political contours that the author struggles to stick to – and thus, the issue of identity and its representation falters in the process.
On the other hand, autobiographical novels authored by transgender people (like Laxmi Narayan Tripathi’s “Red Lipstick: The Men in My Life” or Manobi Bandopadhyay’s “A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi”) brings to you true and non-filtered stories of their painful life journeys – from societal rejection to objectification, and later to self-realisation.
Reading all these stories made me think of all the misconceptions I had and the things I did over all these years – about my hatred towards them, my reluctance to see them in films, hiding behind trees whenever I saw them in real life and what not. The stories made me feel the pain of being alienated by your loved ones. Hence, I sat down to let the world know that our judgements towards them only emanates from what our individual social backgrounds are and what popular culture makes us believe. And it is time that we reject such false representations and turn to the true stories narrated by transgender people themselves.
There is still a lot that I need to know. There is still a large chunk of literature which needs to be read – and there are many stories which are gasping in closed rooms, looking for ways to come out. I believe that the only way to let these stories breathe freely in public spaces is by eliminating the inherent fear we have towards the community which has been struggling hard to be acknowledged as human beings in our society. If I can come out of it after so many years, I am sure you can too!
Featured image used for representative purposes only.