The Voice of The Different
For me, it began with the lady outside the taxi.
The sudden rapping of knuckles against the transparent window of the cab- which separated me from the cacophony of roaring engines and noisy humans, and the carbon-infused air -broke my reverie post an exciting shopping spree. I observed that the hand in question was dark-skinned, and perhaps, that was when the ugly seeds of discomfort had been sown, soaked in an antediluvian sea of racism which humans had chosen to bathe in, and planted in muddy fields which had witnessed the growth of ideas of oppression and hierarchy. Of course, not all of their kind are swarthy- I later came to know -but as the old saying goes: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression”. That ebony-complexioned hand had left a permanent imprint on my brain cells, which, like a defective television, would continue to play the same image every time I attempted to visualize them, or whenever their mention would find its way into conversations.
I am not ashamed to say this. I have no compunctions about admitting my initial reactions towards the third gender, because it would be hypocrisy to say that I had been born with a divine understanding of the incomprehensible mechanisms of this absurd planet and its dwellers. In the end, a pure white moonflower blossoms only in the most atramentous night. Humans are born and brought up with a certain set of ideas and beliefs, and only after they have undergone several experiences and developed a certain cognizance of the ways of the world do they form their own set of opinions regarding what is good and bad, black and white. We have been inured to certain stereotypes, and despite recent liberal notions of how clichés influence parochial attitudes, the ideal world without conventions which these intellectuals claim to defend is a chimera. Stereotypes serve the purpose of unseen foundations for tall skyscrapers of unbigoted ideologies; they are a source of perceiving certain things so that one-day people can draw their own conclusions regarding such matters. One would never be able to understand the transgender community without having known the traditional characteristics which differentiates a man from a woman. One cannot deny the importance- good or bad -these stereotypes play in our daily lives.
A single glance at the tall person’s pink attire, and my callow mind had already deduced that it was a lady, due to which I rolled the window downwards. My stomach churned at the sight of the individual’s face, because to me, it seemed wrong, that a man’s face was caked with makeup, his head was covered with long hair, and when he spoke, it was with the false cadence of a feminine voice. Looking back, I realize that during the years which followed, I had never hated the members of the community, because for one to hate, one needs to love first, and I had never even given them a second thought. What I simply felt was apathy and blind discomfort towards people who did not meet my criteria of ideal human beings. If I have something to blame, then it is the environment in which I have been conditioned in, which has taught us all that there has always been a yin and a yang, a king and a queen, a god and a goddess, an Adam and an Eve. We fail to notice that when there are black and white hues on a palette, the colours are bound to mix and form grey someday.
Instantly, I was asked to roll up the window, and the taxi drove on, but I noticed two or three more, tapping on the windows of cars and asking for money. They were no different from beggars in alleys, at least in what they were doing, but to me, it had seemed like a new alien species had invaded the planet without my knowledge. During the next few years, I continued to see them in many places, from roads to railway stations; the colloquial terms they were branded with, the jokes made on their appearances and their idiosyncrasies- like clicking their tongues and clapping their hands -the tales of their supposed aggressiveness, would frequently enter discussions. There was discomfort present, sure, but sometimes even fear or hatred. Then again, they were not global terrorists for people to be perpetually worried about. It is hard to picture how our culture has denounced them as margins of society, when we have grown up listening to the glorious tales of eunuchs like Shikhandi and Brihannala who fought on the side of the righteous.
One day, while spring-cleaning the house, my father discovered a peculiar pen with a blue barrel and a black cap, but with a cartridge filled with red ink, and complained about how confusing and annoying it was to own such pens when it would be so much easier to have those which had parts with the same colour as the ink. Yet, he did not throw it away, and later on, I found him writing with it. This incident had a huge impact on my mind; I felt like my eyeballs had been gouged out and replaced with new ones, and suddenly, I began to view the world in a different light. Realization came in the size of a tiny spark, but as my curiosity urged me to research more on the topic, it soon became a raging inferno of massive proportions.
The concept of transgenderism went way beyond the borders of the country, belonging to a vast spectrum where it coexists, and often commingles with hues of homosexuality and intersectionality, going as far as to determining a person’s very identity. They were not as uncommon a sight as I thought they were; rather, one could find them in colleges, offices, and even in government posts. Sometimes you would not even realize that they were transgenders at all. The internet was flooded with stories of their struggles, the discrimination they faced, the pain and fear they felt of not being able to come out. The waters of empathy rushed into the parched desert of my mind, and I wondered how it felt to just be different, to dare to be different, and as result, be reduced in status, meekly observing accusing fingers being pointed at me, doors being shut in my face, car windows being rolled up as I looked on, hoping for a single coin to land in my palm when I was deprived of the basic right to work; exploited, abused, left blind and helpless in a haze of sexual confusion, questioning the very reason of my existence. Society is changing and evolving, and slowly, people are becoming more open; laws are being passed and calls of support are echoing across the globe, but with a population of seven billion, how much is being done for this community?
Disturbing events have occurred recently, like when homophobes and transphobes launched Operation Pridefall and flooded the internet with vicious memes and commentary to disrupt celebrations, in a time period where most of the LGBTQ+ community had taken refuge in the virtual world, some having decided to come out, and others who posted in support of them. The transgender community had been widely ignored when it came to distributing essential commodities and masks, with reports surfacing about how most were suffering due to poverty, starvation, and had to occasionally resort to sex work to earn some income. Difficulties in accessing hormone interventions and essential surgeries have had severe mental health implications on the marginalized people. The lack of medical support and denial of health services has resulted in grave psychological and physical distress for them. While there is a pandemic at large, the least we can do is curb the mushrooming of another plague… the plague of hatred.
Author J.K. Rowling made it to the headlines for all the wrong reasons when she broke the hearts of her fans- transgender or no –and irked quite a lot of people from activists, to authors who quit her agency, following her objectionable comments on the community. It was truly heartwarming to see several people, including cast members from the Harry Potter movies raise their voices opposing Rowling’s views, but what I found unnerving was how one of the most critically acclaimed writers of all time could assert such opinions laced with latent transphobia, when she herself championed the cause for respecting differences via her layered characters and remarkable plots… when she herself created an infamous antagonist whose Kryptonite was love. I do not wish to delve into the debates which have ensued ever since this controversy arose, but as a popular quote goes: “If Harry Potter taught us anything, it’s that no one deserves to live in the closet.”
It is not about gender identity, or rights, or becoming unprejudiced; it is not about embracing every single transgender person and welcoming them with open arms. They are humans, and not all humans can love each other. Despite his previous views regarding werewolves, Ronald Weasley easily befriended Professor Lupin, however it did not mean that he would shake hands with every being he met, especially the ones who were Voldemort’s cronies. But they are humans, and the least they deserve is acknowledgement and respect, if not love. They exist, and they exist for a reason just like every other human, and it is pointless to question or deny that. These are baby steps, tough and small, but as time flies by, those steps will quicken into a sprint.
It is hard for me admit that I have completely gotten over the earlier indifference I felt for transgenders, because every time I come across one, it takes effort to maintain an impassive expression, especially with a beating heart and a mind too conditioned to completely relent to quixotic ideas of acceptance and equality. My stride is slow, but I hope to change my pace rapidly.
And for me, it all began with a lady outside a taxi. By - Gokul Nair Graphic By - Rozanne Jojo