“‘I Am Not a Hijra’: Gender, Class and the Emergence of Transgender Women in India”

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Liz MOUNT, Nazarbayev University, Kazakhstan
This presentation examines the emergence of the transgender woman identity in India, where there is a large, historically recognized (yet socially marginal) group of gender non-conforming (GNC) people, hijras. Transgender women have emerged in a moment of intense social changed connected to the proliferation of sexual rights NGOs and the liberalization of the Indian economy, discursively symbolized by the figure of the emancipated 'new Indian woman.' Transwomen are eager to emphasize their differences from hijras. The possibility for visibly GNC people to obtain respectable office employment in sexual rights NGO is a key way that transwomen differentiate themselves from hijras, who are largely confined to sex work. Transwomen's desire for upward class mobility via respectable office employment both necessitates and enables them to align their identities with middle class standards of feminine propriety. They are aided in this endeavor by their strategic use of the figure of the disreputable hijra, against who they favorably compare themselves. Through an analysis of 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Bangalore, India with transwomen, hijras and NGO workers as well as a textual analysis of current media representations, I argue that instead of challenging stereotypes of gender non-conformity most evident in the marginalization of hijras, transwomen are at pains to highlight their different from hijras; they employ the figure of the hijra to contain these negative stereotypes, thus allowing transwomen to position their identities in proximity with (middle class) femininity.