THROUGH WINDOWS IN THE SKY – From the Editor’s Desktop
They are known as mak nyah in Malaysia, hijra in India, muxe in Mexico, fa’afafine in Samoa and as the LGBT community all over the world. Yes, there are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in all parts of the globe, in all walks of life, and they have been with us since the beginning of Time. Yet, the majority heterosexual community understands little about them and finds it difficult to accept them.
This month, DEEP takes a look at the LGBT community, with a view to accepting that their sexual inclination is not an aberration but a preference, and sometimes, their sexuality is ordained and not acquired.
Besides biological eunuchs who are born with mixed sex organs, and those who grow up realizing that the gender they are born in does not match their natural inclinations, there are also the ostajnica, or sworn virgins of the Balkans, who are females who adopt a male dress and style out of choice, or by force of circumstance, and take on a male social role as there is a shortage of adult males in the region. The ostajnica remain celibate and unmarried all their lives.
SANGHAMITRA Volume 1 – Issue 3.
INSTANCES OF TRANS-GENDERISM IN THE INDIAN EPIC, MAHABHARATHA
Arjuna is one of the major characters in the ancient Indian epic, Mahabharata. A celestial“ dancer, Urvashi, falls in love with him, but he rejects her overtures. “May you become a eunuch so that you’ll understand what it is to feel like a woman”, she curses. She relents after a while and modifies her curse to “May you become a eunuch for a year.” She also lets him choose the time when the curse was to become operational. Later in the epic story, Arjuna becomes a eunuch for a year and teaches dance and music to a young princess who goes on to marry his son.
In another instance in the same epic, a princess called Amba is re-born, after her death, as a male, Shikandi. But the unfulfilled love of Amba results in Shikandi being born “with a woman’s heart trapped in a man’s body.”
Also in this epic is the poignant tale of Aravanan, a son of Arjuna. Aravanan volunteers to sacrifice his life before a Goddess for the success in a war of the army led by his father. But the code of sacrifice had stipulated that only married men could be offered as sacrifice to the Goddess. Aravanan was unmarried, and no one could be persuaded to marry a person knowing she would become a widow in a day or less. Ultimately, Krishna, a God who had incarnated on earth as Arjuna’s friend and well-wisher, assumes the form of a woman, called Mohini, and marries Aravanan. Aravanan is then sacrificed to the Goddess.
Interestingly, this legend is re-enacted to this day in a south Indian town that has a temple of Aravanan. Those at the helm of the celebrations and all participants in the festival are people of alternate sexuality and sexual orientation. Thousands of them attend the festival every year and all of them assume the name of Mohini for a day and marry the presiding deity of the place, Aravanan. It is all gaiety and fun as a wedding should be. The next day, all of them spend in mourning as Aravanan is sacrificed and all of them have become widows.
The festival extends over 18 days in April-May, and culminates on the full moon day. Known as the Koothandavar Festival, it takes place in a remote town in Tamil Nadu called Koovagam in the Villupuram district.
TOWARDS MAKING TRANSSEXUALITY ACCEPTABLE TO THE MAJORITY
The transsexual person feels that their physical gender is not who they truly are. They choose to physically become a member of the opposite sex through hormone therapy and gender-reassignment surgeries despite the expense and risk involved. A transgender person, on the other hand, identifies with the opposite gender in his emotional and thought process, but does not choose to change the physical attributes they are born with.
Sadly, transsexual persons often suffer exclusion from most straight and gay communities, not to speak of spaces that have been created solely for women. This lack of acceptance from the community at large leaves them with little option but to turn to prostitution for their living.
In 2007, Chudar (Flame), an NGO operating from Madurai, Tamil Nadu, India, organised a film festival called Velicham (Spotlight) to create awareness about the cruelty we perpetrate on fellow human beings simply because they admit to a sexual orientation that does not match their physical attributes.
Besides organizing more such initiatives as has Chudar, it may also help to think of other innovative ways of sensitising the general population to issues that affect trans-gender/ trans-sexual persons.
There appear to be many figures in mythology who would come under the LGBT community. Wikipedia provides a short list of such figures at
Without hurting the religious sentiments of people, and without sensationalising the issue, it can be shown that acceptance of different sexualities and sexual preferences has existed in the days when gods and men were not as distant as they now are.
There have been many television programmes, doucmentary films and popular films that have tran-gender persons as the main character or in an important role . In India, a popular talk show on Vijay TV is hosted by a trans-gender, Rose.
”For the first time, the public is seeing a transgender being articulate, sociable, intelligent and beautiful. My show has paved the way for transgenders to be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve,“ says charming Rose, host of ’Ippadikku Rose‘ in a recent feature by Lakshmy Venkiteswaran in the New Indian Express, Bangalore, India.
More sympathetic articles, films, talk shows and film festivals would certainly go a long way towards breaking the barriers between the general public and the trans-gender population and causing a change in the attitudes of both.