Michaela Stone Cross
September 12, 2019
Tanvi Raj was a few months into her male-to-female transition when she bumped into someone at an LGBT party. The person was hijra — a member of India’s third-gender community — and she was saying something Raj couldn’t understand. After a few attempts, the hijra gave up, merely smiling mysteriously, giving Raj a peck on her cheek.
“She was asking where you ‘pan,’’’ translated one of Raj’s friends later, a crossdresser familiar with the community. “You know. Where you do ‘business.’” In other words, sex work. The hijra had been speaking in a secret language known only to other hijras. Raj, a motion designer at one of Bombay’s biggest production houses, hadn’t realized it: “I thought she was asking where I got my makeup.”
While trans men and women in the West are fighting to be part of the mainstream, trans women of South Asia face an entirely different task: replacing centuries-old classifications. Throughout the country, the terms ‘hijra’ and ‘transgender’ are used synonymously, leading to confusion both on a social and legislative level. Just recently a new transgender bill was introduced to Parliament, one that would force many trans people into the “traditional” third gender category: “T.G.”