Friday, May 6, 2011

Cross Cultural Look at Being Transgender - India and Pakistan

The hijra in India and Pakistan are individuals that dress in female clothing and take of female roles but generally do not identify as being neither male nor female. While some do identify as female or androgynous they still cannot be easily compared to trans women in the west (although some definitely do identify as the being transgender). Instead, the hijra are considered members of a true third gender in their culture. An important fact to point out is that this holds true not only from a cultural standpoint, but since both India and Pakistan recognizance them legalally as a third gender, it holds true in a legal sense as well.

Culturally the hijra are considered to be their own caste and there is a bit of Hindu mythology that surrounds them (and transgender behavior in general). Lastly, the Goddess Bahuchara Mata is seen as the patron goddess of the hijra and many make a pilgrimage to her temple in Gujarat, India.

Despite their legal recognition and the fact that Hindu religion has a place for them, there is still wide spread discrimination (the term "hijra" itself is often used in a derogatory sense) and many of these individuals can not find work other then prostitution and begging. One additional source of income is that they often dance and preform religious rituals at weddings and child births. People allow this because they fear that the hijra will curse the couple or child with infertility. Families often pay for these rituals even if they (the hijra) were uninvited as to avoid being cursed.

In closing, I know this was a very basic overview but I hope this sheds a bit of light on how yet another culture sees gender in a different way then we do in the west. It is unfortunate that despite the fact that some cultures (such as what we have discussed here) have ancient roots in their acceptance (for lack of a better term) of their transgender populations, one constant seems to hold true no matter what culture you are talking about... Discrimination. Hopefully time and education will change this!

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