Transgender Persons: Creating Space in a Heteronormative World

    • By,
      Aishwarya Bansal – Student, Kautilya


“I am who I am, so I accept who I am.”
– Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Self-expression’ is a vital and fundamental aspect of human existence. Transgender individuals face a multitude of challenges and struggles that affect different aspects of their lives when they express their gender identities. They experience widespread discrimination, prejudice, and rejection due to social stigma from their family members and society at large. Several studies, in India, have documented the physical and sexual violence faced by them. In a study by Swasti, a Health Resource Center, conducted in different parts of India, it was revealed that 4 out of 10 transgender individuals had experienced sexual abuse before the age of 18 and the trauma had impacted them beyond their childhood. Another study by National Human Rights Commission, in 2018, found that only 6% of transgender persons are employed in the private sector. The study further reported 96% of transgender persons to face denial of jobs forcing a significant number of transgenders into begging and sex work. Around 23% of the transgender population is forced to engage in sex work which puts them at a higher health risk of living with HIV compared to the general population.

There has been some progress to address the challenges faced by transgender people. There is support from the Government and Judiciary who have taken certain progressive steps in advancing trans rights like recognizing transgender persons as ‘third gender’, decriminalization of Sec 377 of IPC; Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019; Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020; and Garima Greh – a comprehensive social scheme that provides shelter to transgender persons. Certain state governments such as Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, and Kerala have put in place State Policies for Transgender Persons to ensure the social integration and welfare of the transgender community. The Maharashtra Government has announced free sex-reassignment surgeries for transgender people. The one percent reservation by the Karnataka Government in public jobs is a welcome step towards the empowerment of the Transgender community. Another stride towards the recognition of Transgender persons has been the inclusion of ‘transgender’ as a separate category for gender in application forms for public jobs and competitive exams.

In the private sector, few Indian companies have taken crucial measures towards ‘trans-inclusivity’ in the workplace by hiring more trans people. Godrej Conglomerate has come up with a ‘Transgender Manifesto’ that assures numerous empowerment measures prompted by the company such as the provision of mental health consultation for addressing ‘gender dysphoria’, financial support for ‘gender affirmation’ procedures as part of medical insurance coverage and provision of gender-neutral restrooms.

Thus, there is progress compared to previous years. But there are still miles to go. Many transgender people begin facing hardships in their early life such as gender dysphoria, rejection, anxiety, depression, bullying, and homelessness without family support. They are even forced to run away from home or turn suicidal. Even educational institutions esp. schools which are considered key/grassroots solutions to spread awareness and educate individuals about issues related to the transgender community have, unfortunately, often been a failure in providing an enabling environment and ensuring that every transgender student feels safe, supported, and valued, regardless of the gender identity. A study by the National Human Rights Commission has highlighted that 52% transgenders are harassed by their classmates and 15% by teachers leading them to drop out of school. Of those who attend schools, the CBSE data (2020) reveals a significant deterioration in the pass percentage of transgender children – a decrease of 15.79%(class 10) and by 16.66% (class 12 ). The consequence is the mental well-being of transgender being negatively affected rendering them traumatized for a lifetime. Thus, It is very important to secure the future of transgender children and transgender youth – so that they thrive and do not lose several precious years of struggling to survive.

There are some impressive role model efforts in this direction that needs replication and further expansion. Sahaj International (2016), a residential school for transgender persons, in Kerala is a welcoming example that has been opened to help out adults who are school drop-outs finish their education. An NGO, SPACE (Society for Peoples’ Awareness, Care and Empowerment) has conducted workshops for education and sensitization of students, teachers, and principals, in 35 government and private Delhi schools and enabled their campuses to become ‘transgender friendly’. Also, some transgender persons have become an inspiration for many transgender children and youth by breaking or transcending barriers of prejudice and social dogma and making a mark in their careers and lives. The Ministry of Culture, Government of India, for the first time, appointed a transgender person- Oorvasi Gandhi, as the Member of the Council and Executive Committee of the National Culture Fund. Manjamma Jogathi became the first transgender person to receive the Padma Shri and K. Prithika Yashini, became the first transgender Sub-Inspector of Police in Tamil Nadu. In another instance, initiatives like Project Red Wall document testimonials and stories of transgender individuals to help spread awareness about their plight and also encourage other transgender to come out of hiding and self-express their gender identity and life story with pride and without fear.

The aspiration for gender equality is a long fight and significant efforts, to enable transgender people’s journey from being marginalized to being mainstream, would require not just legal reforms but also, deep penetration of awareness, empathy, and sensitization in parallel. Family support is extremely crucial for the holistic well-being of transgender persons, and educative counseling of parents of transgender individuals, along with financial support, can go a long way in ensuring that they feel, accepted, supported, and loved. Discrimination within the transgender community also needs addressing. It requires a collaborative effort from policymakers, social activists, and communities to create a safe and inclusive society that is free from discrimination and prejudice.

*The Kautilya School of Public Policy (KSPP) takes no institutional positions. The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author(s) and do not reflect the views or positions of KSPP.