Imagine you wake up one morning and find yourself in the body of the other sex and you will have to live the rest of your life as that gender. How would you feel? Some transgenders who are wealthy, take hormones to alter their sex or undergo sex reassignment surgery. Their purpose is to get rid of the miserable feelings they have to deal in their lives. It is a relief for them to get their sex changed through surgery or by taking hormone pills. But, what about those not financially able to buy hormone pills or undergo surgery?
Sexual orientation is largely by genetics and not choice, a groundbreaking 2014 study in the Journal Psychological Medicine published by Cambridge University Press stated.
This undermines the major argument against lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and intersex (LBGTI) community claims its members are choosing to live “unnaturally.” Regardless of genetic preference, genes are only a factor in the larger picture, taking into account social and cultural pressures that can affect an individual’s sexual lifestyle.
The attributes, opportunities and relationships associated with being male and female are socially constructed. As such, responsibilities assigned and activities undertaken are different and unequal for men and women. Most transgenders rejected by their biological parents, lack formal education and therefore, they fail to find a job. As a result, many have to beg and some do sex work for their livelihoods.
Effort to lift the marginalised from despair
One year ago, a group of Indian transgenders headed by transgender activist Vijayaraja Mallika started work on a project aiming to build a school for school- dropout transgenders to lift their community from despair. Their dream became a reality. The learning center for school-dropout transgenders received immense support from state politicians after being inspired by a landmark judgment in 2015 given by the Supreme Court of India, recognising the transsexual community as a “third gender” in 2015. The judgment legally recognised the transgender community that had been abandoned by society for a long time. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill was also brought in 2016 by the Ministry of Social Justice & Empowerment, Government of India, for the inclusion of the transgender community in society.
Indian transgender activist Kalki Subramanium and other distinguished guests are pictured at the Sahaj International School’s inauguration in Kochi.
Opening of India’s first transgender school
Encouraged by the developments, ‘Sahaj International School’ -India’s first residential school for transgenders opened on December 30, 2016 in Kochi, Kerala. The inauguration ceremony was held at Jyothis Bhavan in Kakkanad, Kochi under the patronage of the District Collector of Ernakulam K. Mohammed Y. Safirulla and present was prominent Indian transgender activist and artist Kalki Subramanium. Delivering her speech, Ms. Kalki Subramanium said the most important tool for any marginalised community to stand tall in society is education, because it gives light, knowledge and confidence leading to a beautiful life. Ms. Subramanium said the opening of the school would be an example to other Indian states to support the transgender community by creating a social status for them through education.
Meanwhile, Vijayaraja Mallika clarified the school would initially accommodate 10 transgenders between 25 and 50 years old who had dropped out of school. “Their studies will be done under the National Open School system. In addition, they will be given training in life skills and personality development. Their teachers also belong to the transgender community,” she said.
Vijayaraja Mallika who mooted the idea for the school pictured with transwomen Maya Menon and Faisal CK
India, not the first country adopted policy for transgenders
According to a survey carried out by Department of Social Justice and Empowerment, which comes under the Social Justice and Empowerment Ministry, India there are more than 25, 000 transgenders in Kerala state. The survey has found that of the 25,000 transgender people in Kerala, 58% could not complete school education because of sexuality identity difficulties.
Kerala became the first Indian state to adopt a policy for transgenders. The initiative for the school for education of transgenders will encourage the country and the world to consider giving equal rights to not only transgenders but also the entire LGBTI people. However, India was not the first country to legally recognise a third gender. Nepal recognised a third gender in 2007 and Bangladesh in 2013.
Trans-sexual people’s rights not protected by existing Sri Lankan laws: HRW
When it comes to Sri Lanka, a country with a patriarchal social system, gender equality, though controversial, is a goal for which Sri Lankan LGBTI people are fighting. Sri Lankan law provides no clear path to changing one’s gender legally, but gender recognition procedure is currently under consideration. A report issued by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) last year on violence and discrimination experienced by Sri Lankan transgender people also reaffirmed it.
The report based on interviews that HRW conducted between October 2015 and January 2016 in four Sri Lankan cities with 61 LGBTI people states transsexual people’s rights are not protected by existing Sri Lankan laws. The report calls for the Sri Lankan Parliament to repeal Sections 365 and 365A of the Sri Lankan Penal Code, which criminalises same-sex relations between consenting adults, and the Vagrants’ Ordinance, which could be used to criminalise transgender people and sex workers. It also recommends to pass comprehensive, anti-discrimination legislation prohibiting discrimination, including on grounds of gender identity and sexual orientation, and enacting effective measures to identify, respond and prevent such discrimination.
Giving equal rights to them is a victory for good governance: Dr. Mahim Mendis
Even though HRW and other international human rights organisations recommend new regulations to be implemented for the welfare of Sri Lankan LGBTI people, especially transgenders, will this be possible? The question arises as a considerable number of Sri Lankans believe that women and men should look and act according to “normal” sexual identities.
Discussing this controversial topic, former the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of the Open University of Sri Lanka and Senior Lecturer Dr. Mahim Mendis said that it was time that Sri Lanka had legislation safeguarding LGBTI people’s rights in Sri Lanka.
“It is time this country moves swiftly towards progressive legislation eliminating all forms of discrimination.
“It is the obligation of the State to ensure that all categories of people are treated equally and this obviously includes transgenders. Human ignorance should not be allowed to play havoc in the lives of people. Furthermore, the young and the old should be educated on these issues as they haven’t got the capacity to empathise with people who are not like them. These include those in high positions, due to our bankrupt education system. It will be a victory for good governance to see more and more LGBTI people given their rightful places,” he said.
Faisal: female trapped in male body
Faisal who is from Thrissur, Kerala was born a male, but when he became a teenager, he realised he has feminine characterists. He started wearing jewelry, letting his hair grown, using makeup and wearing colorful feminine clothes. He wanted him to be treated as a woman trapped in a male body.
Though he tried to ‘hide’ his masculine features, he was identified as a male by society. He was subjected to discrimination by his own family members and at school. He was told by his family members as he had been born a man, he should live as one.
“After I started living as a woman, my family rejected me. My siblings said I was no longer their brother,” Faisal said. Because of ‘unbearable’ discrimination at school, he stopped his education at class 5.
He was finally thrown by family at age 14 and lived on the street. He had no option, but earn a living as a sex worker.
"After I started living as a woman, my family rejected me. My siblings said I was no longer their brother,” Faisal said. Because of ‘unbearable’ discrimination at school, he stopped her education at class 5. He was finally thrown by family at age 14 and lived on the street. He had no option, but earn a living as a sex worker. "
He said he felt he would commit suicide as his life was miserable. However, he met many other transgender women. Until then, he was not even aware of a community called transgenders. “Meeting them made a great impact on my life. I too joined them to work for the rights of people like me. The goal of my life is to work not only for transgenders but also every part of the community deprived of their rights,” he said. Faisal is an inspirational personality engaged in social activism against human rights violations. “I want to give my contribution to make a better India,” he said.
He said as he became a known personality in the country as a gender activist, his family had contacted him and expressed their willingness to renew their relations. Describing the status of transgenders’ status in society in most South Asian countries, he said the topic is a social taboo. But, he added their expectations have been raised that the steps taken by the Indian government and the judiciary to uphold the rights of the transgender community.