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

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 08:45
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 change 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 difference from hijras, enabling them to align themselves with middle class standards of femininity. The possibility for visibly GNC people to obtain respectable office employment in sexual rights NGOs enables transwomen to position themselves in opposition to hijra sex workers. 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. 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, transwoman are at pains to highlight their difference from hijra; 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.