Working with a Transgender Community by B.Jishamol

Trans-genders are the people born with a physical gender which is different from their emotional gender. They are actually of two types, a person born as male but having female emotional gender and similarly born as female but having male emotional gender. We have lot of historical and religious proofs claiming their presence in India during different periods.

Transgender characters such as Sikhandi, Brihanalla and Aravan can be cited from our Epic stories. Apart from this, their presence can be seen through various art forms like Nallathangal, Therukoothu, Aravan Kalabali songs and other arts including drama, theatre, paintings and sculpture.

In spite of all these evidences, misconceptions do surround the transgender people which in turns lead to their continued social isolation. They are also disempowered due to their minority status and are denied basic human rights too.

This isolation issue beginning from their own kith and kin continues to the society thresholds and even in organizations. For example, when this project was finalized, many of my male colleagues were not willing to participate. The reason behind this is the lack of understanding about this people.

In this circumstance I would like to thank our Director M.D.Muthukumaraswamy, who has taken up this challenging project and has been completed it successfully which had also become a milestone in the life of the transgender community.

To me the field work with transgender was an unforgettable experience. I had clearly seen the public discomfort when we as a part of our field work accompanied them to restaurants. Like wise, as per my analisation following are the main doubts that enters the minds of general public:

1. In the first stage, they are confused whether they may be transgenders?

2. Why are we (the field workers) with them?

3. What is the nature of their physical setup?

Let me now explain in detail about the experience we had at the Koovagam Festival. The Koovagam temple is dedicated to Lord Koothandavar. In the month of April the transgender gather in thousands for the lord’s festival with their offerings. As this is a special occasion for them, the general public was comparatively less which in turn lead to harassment to the transgender people by the minority people gathered there. These general public took law in to their own cause by abetting crimes like rape. They even made passing remarks on us but we somehow trespassed from them with the help of our collaborators.

The reasons for such incidents are:

1. As this place is generally known for such sexual harassment, the general public and even the policemen turn a blind eye on them.

2. The Policemen present for security is also comparatively less in number.

3. Lighting is very poor and due to this in the night, the temple premises and the surrounding areas are covered by pitch darkness.

4. The hidden reason behind all this is since the transgenders were not able to express their feminity in various occasions, they try to use this festival at the utmost. So in order to enjoy the admiration of the men, they themselves fall a prey to this.

We can actually handle such situations, if we had a background knowledge about this community.

According to my studies, I am able to analyze following factors:

1. They are thrown out of their family once they are identified as transgenders

2. This isolation is followed by social isolation

3. As organizations are part of society they also shut the doors of opportunities.

4. So for their livelihood, they are compelled to go begging or turn to flesh trade.
5. The society also neglects the entire community as they have a misconception that the transgenders actually fall into the prostitute category.

6. No action is taken by the police when a transgender is harassed by common public.

7. Similarly the police takes law on to their hands, if they face a slight objection from the transgenders. There are many unnoticed cases of custodial deaths too taking place

Few tips on working with the Transgender

1. It is important to be open to someone’s self-identity. Call someone who identifies as male “he” or “him,” or someone who identifies as female “she” or “her.” If you are unsure, it is appropriate to ask how the person would like to be addressed. It is very important to follow this even if you are not in their presence

2. Do not giggle or speak in low voice to your people in front of a transgender.

3. Treat transgender individuals as you would want to be treated. You can show respect by being relaxed and courteous, avoiding negative facial reactions. Give them due respect as if you are with older people or try to be friendly with them and accept them as your own friends.
4. If you are undertaking any projects on them, clearly explain to them the outcome of your project and how in turn it is going to benefit them.

5. Due to their troubled livelihood, they expect monetary benefits from us. So when undertaking projects or any documentary film, it is better to explain them whether we will be in a position to help them financially.

6. Similarly, the major point as noted by me is always approach young transgender people who will surely lead us to older people than having going to directly to older people who due to their bad experiences will not co-operate on our projects.

7. It is also generally inappropriate to ask them questions about their private medical history or treatment. If you do have information about the health care that someone has accessed as part of their transition, you should not freely share it with anyone else unless your transgender co-worker has given you permission to do so.

8. Some transgenders may have a special interest in working on or discussing transgender-related issues, others may not. If you know person to be transgender, make sure that you aren’t expecting them to have all of the answers or to do your research for you.

9. Many transgender people may not be willing to cooperate for study projects due to continued frustration at society and failures of previous projects to bring about any change to the way society treats them. So, expect to receive verbalization of frustration and resulting lack of interest in project participation.

10. Do not sympathize with transgender people. Treat them as normal human beings. Make friendship with them. Show curiosity in the ways they live and never judge them. The last thing you can do is express your judgemental views. Be an observer and never give out your opinions based on social views of what is natural or not. You will most often offend a transgender person by expressing your opinions of trans people. Let them tell you, just question them out of curiosity.

11. Most transgender people are uneducated and may be behave without finesse. Be prepared to tell them what your boundaries are.

Now the transgender people are in a period of slow transition which has changed their attitude and are taking up education along with decent living. The Government of Tamil Nadu has provided a colony for them, where 15 houses are built and 30 to 35 transgenders live. They have been also provided the voters identity card. Many of them are in search of good jobs like press persons, researchers, writers, collaborators and head of organization