Making Homes
July 7, 2017 4:07 AM   Subscribe

A photo essay by Shahria Sharmin about the dual lives of hijras in Bangladesh.
posted by bardophile (10 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
 
Dang, these are gorgeous.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:33 AM on July 7


These photos are so beautiful. I remember learning about hijras as a young queer person and what it meant to me to see other people like me and my friends in other cultures, other parts of the world, that larger sense of connection. Thanks so much for posting this.
posted by bile and syntax at 7:36 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


These are lovely and sensitive to complexity of these folks' lives. Thanks for sharing.
posted by janell at 9:04 AM on July 7 [1 favorite]


Those are some eloquent photographs, and what a wonderful project. Thanks for posting this!
posted by mixedmetaphors at 11:23 AM on July 7


there's a myth that "third genders" are somehow accepted in non-western cultures but I've talked to an anthropology researcher about it and she says it's mostly bullshit. Instead, they're trans women who have no legal or societal pathway to fully transition. They get hormones on the black market and although almost all would prefer to live as women, the discrimination is such that this concept of"third gender" was invented. This concept is often dragged out to prove the validity of non-binary identities in the West.

I'm not saying non-binary genders are invalid, but I don't believe the majority of the two-spirit, fa'afafine, hijra, Māhū, kathoey etc. are non-binary, because they just refer to themselves as women; my friend refers to these titles as "cissexist inventions." Furthermore, she tells me that in Pakistan, hijra is a slur; the polite word for a hijra is a khwaja sira. The "X" designation on identification is decried as erasure by khwaja sira who are women. This balkanizes and marginalizes transgender people.

Further, my friend says that this "third gender" idea almost always only applies to transfeminine people; transmasculine people in Pakistan are married young and forced to be mothers. They're at greater risk than khwaja sira to be victims of honor killings.

Anyway, I don't have direct experience with non-Western trans cultures, so I'm repeating the person who's doing her dissertation on this, but it's definitely something I'm interested in. There's no such thing as a "transgender paradise" where society is just cool with it.
posted by AFABulous at 1:02 PM on July 7 [8 favorites]


For those who are interested in trans* jargon as it is used in Pakistan, this is a useful primer that was published by an English daily last year (full disclosure: the interviewee is a personal acquaintance/friend/ally). They discuss the use of both khwajasara and hijra, amongst other things.

Please do remember that Bangladesh =/= Pakistan, and Bangla =/= Urdu, so things aren't necessarily the same in both places.

Also, there's currently a bill on protecting the rights of transgender persons being debated by the Senate in Pakistan, an amended form of a bill presented earlier this year. The amended version has been drafted after a tremendous amount of grassroots work by trans* rights activists, and with direct input from them on the text. No, there are no trans* havens, but it's really heartening to me to see a societal shift towards acceptance and protection.
posted by bardophile at 2:50 PM on July 7 [2 favorites]


I don't believe the majority of the two-spirit, fa'afafine, hijra, Māhū, kathoey etc. are non-binary, because they just refer to themselves as women

I've definitely run into AFAB two-spirit folks who would describe themselves as nonbinary, but as someone outside the culture I don't have enough knowledge about this to make generalizations.
posted by bile and syntax at 3:25 PM on July 7


Anyway, I don't have direct experience with non-Western trans cultures, so I'm repeating the person who's doing her dissertation on this, but it's definitely something I'm interested in. There's no such thing as a "transgender paradise" where society is just cool with it.

Social and Cultural Anthropology: A Very Short Introduction has a lesser-known example that might be of interest--it's based on direct observation by one of the authors:
[T]he Dou Donggo recognize most people as being either male, mone, or female, siwe. Some individuals, however, who in our society would probably be called transgendered [sic], are regarded as persons who were intended to become one gender but ended up being born in the body of a person of the opposite gender. They are men who are ‘sara siwe’, who ‘missed at becoming female’, or women who are ‘sara mone’, who ‘missed at becoming male’. Being sara siwe or sara mone is regarded as neither shameful or perverse, it is simply an aspect of an individual's self, a product of birth like eye colour or stature. For such individuals the usual sexual division of labour observed by the Dou Donggo is ignored: one sara siwe in Doro Ntika became a noted weaver, an occupation ordinarily the exclusive domain of women; this person also dressed as a young woman and joined the young women of the village in harvesting rice. In another instance a sara mone decided to accompany the men of the village when they went off to do the heavy labour of clearing the fields in which the village would plant their swidden rice that year. The men made no objection, although they seemed to find it amusing that the sara mone would want to take on such an arduous task. But at the end of the day, when they were returning to the village all of them stopped at a bathing pool in the river reserved for men. When the sara mone began to disrobe to bathe with them, the men drew the line and refused to permit it.
I don't think that contradicts your point. In fact, it reconfirms that these particular categories (sara siwe / sara mone) are based on a cis POV and that there are limits to what's accepted. I also don't doubt that being shut out of that bathing pool was a painful experience, and I'd hate to minimize that. So I don't know if it's reasonable to imagine this based on so little evidence and no way to measure it, but in view of how routine this example makes some things sound, I wonder if it would be meaningful to think in terms of different degrees of acceptance worldwide.
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:46 PM on July 7


bardophile, I didn't intend to conflate Bangladesh and Pakistan, even though they share a historical event I'm aware they're different countries and cultures. I hope I didn't cause offense. I was just relating what I'd heard about the khwajasara and linking to a larger point.
posted by AFABulous at 7:24 AM on July 8


No offense taken. Just clarifying the differences, since a lot of people aren't aware of them.
posted by bardophile at 12:02 PM on July 8


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