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...
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