‘Call me Caitlyn’

call me caitlynA transgender or a cisgender, is not uncommon to us especially when we come from India where we see transgender people often on the traffic lights beating their hands in a certain way or on the trains or barging in someone’s house when a child is born or on a wedding. In India there is a certain phobia circling these kinds of people; a phobia of sorts. But one thing that is similar among all the feelings that we have for these people is the feeling of fear and apathy. Fear because we think that this community are a special kind and upsetting them might invite wrath of the gods; and apathy because we see them as people who are different.

The ‘Hijra’ or the transgender community has held place in the subcontinent from ancient times. But even now the Hijras have limited opportunities for employment and so can be forced onto a path of high-risk behaviour. The combination of high-risk behaviour with limited prevention alternatives has resulted in the increased vulnerability of Hijras to HIV and sexually transmitted infections. Since time immemorial transgender people face double stigma and discrimination from within the community and outside mainstream society as they are always looked upon as different. They are always seen as men having sex with other men. But certainly this perception is not true. They are just people with the wrong souls in the wrong body.

So when I watched Bruce Jenner transform into Caitlyn Jenner I couldn’t stop myself from thinking about the predicament of scores of transgender and cisgender people back home in India who are not fortunate enough to have that kind of financial leverage that Caitlyn had to successfully transform themselves and fit into our perception of a ‘woman’. They keep on struggling all their lives trying to fit into our perception of how a ‘woman’ should be and should look like. Caitlyn Jenner was as much a woman as she was even before she went through the transformation of outside attributes which would signify her gender. The way she feels now was as much similar to the way she felt before. It’s the same feeling that many transgender and cisgender people all around the world feel about themselves and their sexual preferences. The only difference is the financial strength. While Caitlyn Jenner had the financial power to transform herself many others are not fortunate enough to do that. In fact there are many in India who struggle each day to get life-saving medicines to keep themselves alive due to the various health issues especially HIV-AIDS.

The attitude of people towards the transgender and cisgender people are slowly changing. But we still have a long way to go in bringing about a significant change in our attitudes. Being what they are was not a matter of choice for the transgender folks. The recent appointment of a transgender person as the principal of a college in India is a striking example of the changing times. Somnath Bandopadhyay had loads of first class degrees in his kitty along with impressive oratory skills. But his skills and his degrees couldn’t fetch him the respect he deserved because of his preference of dressing like a woman, putting kohl in his eyes and keeping his hair curly. He was ridiculed and made a laughing stock. It wasn’t his fault when he said “I feel I am a woman trapped in the body of a man. I want to conquer my body. As such people keep saying I am effeminate so I think I will be much better off if I become a woman” in one of his interviews. It wasn’t his fault because he did not make that choice of feeling what he was feeling. He was born in that way. So he changed himself into Manabi Bandopadhyay to spare himself the constant struggle of feeling differently and looking differently. Something similar to what Bruce Jenner did when he transformed himself into Caitlyn Jenner.

The struggles of life that a transgender faces might be greater if not less than what we face. The ridicule, the apathy, the struggle of fitting in to the societal perceptions and social decree is much more in the life of a transgender than us. While some are lucky to have the financial viability for the transformation and successfully fitting themselves in to the slot of our perceptions, there are many who are not fortunate enough. We as a society and as part of the society should start respecting these transgender people in whatever way they are and accept them among us without judging them; and it is for the simple fact that they were born that way and did not have a choice. The more we stop judging them the lesser they can focus on progressing in their life and being successful than meeting our expectations of gender perceptions. Had we been less judgmental on these people then Bruce Jenner and Somnath Bandopadhyay wouldn’t have lost their identity to Caitlyn Jenner and Manabi Bandopadhyay just to meet our gender biased expectations.

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