The Third Gender

Kaleen Rodriguez ENC 1102 Exploratory Essay The Third Gender What is the role of the third gender in South Asia? How does Asian society identify the third gender? I walked into my best friend Joel’s room this morning extremely excited to have lunch with him after a long four months without seeing him and on my journey to his room I picked up a paper that was lying by his door. I picked it up and the title was “Hijra” as I continued to read this paper, it had me very intrigued, fast. It so happens that earlier that week I was talking to my mom about Pride Fest which is a LGBT festival here in South Florida.
So, my question arose, how do others across the world view what we recognize as the LGBT community (Gay,Lesbian,Bi-sexual, and Transgender)? , and finding this paper only made my thought more concise, what is “The Third Gender”? In the west we have LGBT and we also have drag queens who are men who act as women for a short period of time under certain circumstances and it is acceptable. The definition of gender as a performative (Butler) is defined as how you act in your society. Doing research for this topic was significantly easy; finding various points of views was the harder part.
Looking through scholarly essays I was able to find “With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India” by Reddy, Gayatri and “The Hijras of India. ”  by Nanda, Serena. Two of which were my primary resources for what I am about to explain. In South Asia there is LGBT, but what they consider cross dressers, and transvestites are called Hijra’s which generally is considered a third gender role in India. Hijra’s are males who dress and act as females. There are rites of passage for becoming a Hijra.

This rite of passage includes the act of removing the genitals and burying them in the ground which basically show they’re devotement to the Hijra life style, but less than 10% actually commit to eliminating their genitals (Gueste0d1c4). Hijra’s adopt female aspects and behavior. Some Hijra’s are sex workers and some are performers and that is how they earn a living, which causes them to live outside of the city in their own communities. The ones that live in the community and are sex workers live in worse conditions then those who are performers (Reddy, Gayatri ).
By performer’s I mean Hijra’s do performances at weddings and festivals. All of their performances are focused and essentially done for Bahuchara Mata (Mother Goddesses), who is worshipped all over India. Mother Goddess is said to have given the Hijra’s a special place in Indian society, so because of this, all Hijra’s devote themselves to her. Overall besides the relationship with the Mother Goddess, the relationship that is most important in the Hijra community is the one with the Guru which is a master/teacher and also a Chela which is a disciple (Gueste0d1c4).
Therefore, when a person wants join the Hijra community they are taken to a city called Bombay and become acquainted with one of the major Gurus, in total there are seven. (Reddy, Gayatri) Being on the outside looking in. What gives the Hijra’s power also eliminates their power in society because they emasculate themselves to prove they’re actually Hijra’s, but in that sense they could never be accepted in society because they could never be a man to produce children, which essentially is the role of a man.
At times most Hijra’s are maltreated because of this. Hijra’s have rules under their own domain. The most prominent cultural aspect of the Hijra is the asexual description, although many Hijra’s are said to be homosexual (Nanda, Serena). They identify themselves as neither a man nor woman, being perfectly imperfect. As a Hijra, there are many times you might encounter a discourteous crowd and the way they show their response towards this is to lift their skirts or dresses and show their maimed genitals (Nanda, Serena).
Taking a few moments in my day to question what the Hijra’s really feel do they feel that they are in the wrong body as many trans gender’s claim or do they just wish to be of the opposite sex? I wanted to see Hijra’s what they looked like, their gestures and all. I decided to YouTube a video on them and I was able to find it and many different answers to my question above. It came to my attention that more than half of the Hijra’s documented have been attracted to men from a very young age, or so they say.
The first Hijra in this YouTube video began her story by saying that she always admired the woman lifestyle, wearing the gem in the middle of their eyebrows the clothing attire also known as a saree and as she grew up her walk became more feminine and the way she spoke only followed, basically insisting that she was born in the wrong body. Although, the other small percent in this video mostly agreed that as they grew up and were raised as a male, they just wanted to be like a woman but they are clear on the fact that they were or are men (Ambujablue’s Channel).
Becoming more engaged in the Hijra lifestyle I googled as a form of research and I simply typed in “Hijra Culture” the first thing that arose was a link to a slide show done in 2007. Here I found the history of Hijra’s regarding the Karma Sutra (an ancient Indian text), which is said to have mentioned a third gender (Gueste0d1c4). This to Hijra’s must mean the world, mostly because it somewhat proves that they’re not just getting the transgender idea from the western culture, but that it has existed in the Indian culture long before.
Being a Hijra was said to be a disturbing view to the South Asian society, but after India gained their independence the anti-Hijra law was removed. In many different places where I tried to find a statistic of how many Hijras there are, I could not find an accurate number but there is said to be somewhere between 50,000 to 500,000 Hijras in South Asia (Gueste0d1c4). There are two significant theory’s about Hijra’s, one is that every Hijra’s starts as a sex worker, then performer. The second theory is that they are always separate, either a sex worker or a performer never both.
Rules only exist within their society, and once outside of the Hijra community these rules don’t exist; they are simply seen as a transgender person. The Hijra’s are very prone to being infected with HIV/AIDS because of being sex workers. Truth be told, that is how they make a living even though their living is not anywhere near a good standing. It is very difficult for a Hijra to be invited to perform in a wedding or a child’s birth, so being sex workers is their best option. Hijra’s are not only maltreated emotionally but also physically.
Those who are completely against the Hijra culture abuse them, brutally. They beat them in their own homes, along the streets, in markets, even in police stations (Gueste0d1c4). Knowing this reminds me that this is something most transgender societies have in common, they are abused mostly verbally on the Western side but the physical abuse is still taking action. As I continued my research I attempted to find various points of view on the Hijra, little did I realize there are really only three; for, against, or nonchalant.
I thought to myself well, most people in the Western society have altered their point of view to for or nonchalant on the transgender topic and are disclosing being against it. Meanwhile, maybe not as rapid but slowly, those on the other side of the world are adapting to this view or “Third Gender” as well. What I did as another form of research was conduct a survey in order to get a general outlook on what others believe or think about the Hijra. I surveyed a total of twenty people. Ten of which were my family and friends and ten who were complete strangers.
The response I generally received was “whatever makes them happy” basically proving that the outlook is shifting drastically in comparison to a few years prior. I only received three responses out of twenty that were completely against the Hijra, and I also realized that those three people were all around the same age range which was 57-62. I believe that says something only because it is common that the older generations in our society are more likely to be against this “new” LGBT “trend” as they say. Only enforcing that as the generations increase it is becoming more accepted.
All of this research has shown me that there is more to being a Hijra then what many of us know or think we know. It is something one must truly want and it is a decision you have to stick with no matter how challenging times may get. Works Cited: Ambujablue’s Channel, . “Documentary . ” Youtube . N. p. , 2008. Web. 19 Mar 2012. <http://www. youtube. com/watch? v=QntUgXwzZH0>. Chisel, Jasmonae. “The Hijras of India”. Xavier University. Voice Lab no. 9. WorldPress. com Gueste0d1c4, India. N. p. , 2009. Web. 19 Mar 2012. <http://www. lideshare. net/gueste0d1c4/hijra-culture>. Meena Balaji and Ruth Lor Malloy. “Hijras: who we are” Think Asia, 1997. 32 pgs. Print. Nanda, Serena. “The Hijras of India. ” Journal of Homosexuality (1986): 35-54. Web. Reddy, Gayatri. “With Respect to Sex: Negotiating Hijra Identity in South India”. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 2005. 78-98. Print. Reddy, Gayatri. ‘Men’ Who Would Be Kings: Celibacy, Emasculation, and the Re-Production of Hijras in Contemporary Indian Politics. Social Research; Spring2003, Vol. 70 Issue 1. Print.

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