In this article, I draw upon my limited personal experiences to try and classify the diaspora in Indian higher education on nature of attitudes towards gender diversity in general and trans women in particular. This in turn can be used to estimate vectors of discrimination and exclusion of trans women at least. I do have some empirical data at my disposal and yes, many of the subjects are known to me – that hopefully means better data reliability.
With regards to my experiences; some professors and researchers have been excellent, some have been reasonable, many have been barely able to cope with the complexity and very few have indulged in blatant trans misogyny, bigotry and deliberate micro-aggressions. Most women are very comfortable with transsexual women and transsexual semantics – which is pretty much consistent with feminist perspectives and studies on behaviour.
At the professional level, I have also faced a few blatantly transphobic reviews of some of my submitted papers from anonymous referees. The reviewers did not even look at the paper before writing vague irrelevant nonsense and indulging in deliberate misgendering. Of course, there is no proper infrastructure to deal with such reviewers. A lot more work is necessary to reform the so-called ‘peer review’ system.
Most accounts of transsexual women in the media and literature have been of women from the west, while Indian accounts have been limited and not every trans woman has a clear understanding of feminist dynamics. Many tend to focus on themselves and so broader pictures fall off from their accounts. Further, the use of umbrella terms including ones for indigenous genders/cultural identities, contributes to alienation and erasure of transsexuals and binary-identified transsexuals. All this extends to academic and FOSS environments, naturally.
The brainwashing caused by the patriarchy/intersectionality/discriminatory order structure even on relatively younger men is often severe. They have many issues in interacting rationally with people not confirming to their hetero-normative, cis sexist, colonial/religious ideals and stereotypes. Skewed ideas of entitlement, misogyny and trans misogyny are part of such brainwashing. While there are plenty of exceptions to these generalities, even supposedly educated men perpetuate evil on the basis of such thinking and vitiate professional environments. Unfortunately we still have gaping holes at the policy level – that can help in rectifying the situation.
Some of my observations are
• People making greater use of vernacular/local languages in all interaction tend to be at a poor stage of development as opposed to those interacting more often in the English language.
• Gender identity is less stressed (as opposed to gender expression) in narratives of queer women (in the state) who interact more often in the vernacular languages. This may also be contributing to the problem.
• For a large set of contexts, belief in misogynistic premises predispose one towards trans misogyny and conversely.
• An interesting belief of some academics including senior ones is that their backward colleagues can never be educated on these matters and that bigotry is god.
• Women learn far better than men on matters of gender and sexuality.
It is very important to teach people about gender diversity, sexuality and tolerance- the lack of it invariably leads to skewed ideas of entitlement to abuse and suppress people of all gender identities and expressions. Prevalent cis-sexist and hetero-normative attitudes shared by many in the academia should be countered with policy and education at all levels. Otherwise scope for rational discourse may continue to remain elusive forever because brainwashed people do not like to reason rationally.
My coming out strategy in 2012-2013 was roughly group-wise and mostly through the Internet. Educating people was not too hard, though difficult at a personal level. Things did not seem to work out too well with primers and other links to online resources on gender, trans-sexuality, feminism and women. So eventually I had to start this blog to get my points across. Some people apparently identifying as men do stick to their bigotry, usually I point them to basics – such people would not even pass a basic course on human sexuality and gender because of their brainwashing and consequent insecurities.
There are other trans women in higher academia in West Bengal. Their struggles and tribulations have forced them to maintain low profiles across far too many spaces — the relevant attitude painted in the despondent “We do not have enough resources to destroy collective idiocy”.
The Family Value Conundrums:
Ideas of family values are deeply entrenched at different levels of bigotry in the Indian society. It makes lot of sense for the lesbian movement to make inroads by way of equality at related social constructs and operations.
I have often had to deal with events, projects and other academic work frequently since mid nineties of the last century. Most related workplaces have been male-dominated.
Pre-transition, I had a butch presentation and my body chemistry was also determined by estriols – was seen by some as being very queer/queer woman. Still I would be part of conversations like the following with senior people in position (I remember more than fifteen of these. Remarks in square braces are mine) :
Are you married?
I have a daughter.
She is doing her undergraduate studies
[Some women like younger women.]
Shall I proceed?
Me: I … I need to think
During transition, there were other similar conversations. But these were more informed ones as I had already been open about my orientation.
After more than a year of HRT, there was this conversation.
I don’t know you.
[- serious version]
Me: OK, I must have seen you at …
I can write a whole monograph (time permitting) on the concept lattices of trans semantics, but I will wait for another day.