On 7th March 2018, the Pakistani Senate, in a landmark move, gave its transgender citizens the right to ‘self-determine’ their gender. While we celebrate this phenomenal move in Pakistan to protect and empower transgender persons in Pakistan, we cast a glance towards the Transgender Persons Bill in our own country. According to a progressive judgment passed by the Supreme Court in 2014, transgender persons were to be given the right to self-determination.
But a recent 2017 amendment overturned this in a regressive move. It laid down a ‘definition’ of and a process of through which persons will be recognized as transgender persons. Defining transgender people as someone who was “partly female or male; or a combination of female and male; or neither female nor male,” it demands of individuals to undergo a “medical examination by a District Screening Committee comprising of a Chief Medical Officer, a psychiatrist, a social worker, and a member of the transgender community,” as an article in The Hindu reports.
While the possible misuse of the law is cited as a reason for such a move it is important for the lawmakers to realize that the way they have laid out the law will do more harm than good. This move only betrays the desire of the State to police and violate citizens to an extent which will discourage an already vulnerable community from coming forward.
Luiza Bialasiewicz in the seminar ‘The Right to Appear – The (Geo)Politics of Visibility in Today’s Europe‘ talks about how a “fetish-like nature” is imposed on Muslim bodies by the Islamophobic European State, a “fetish to be destroyed.” Bialasiewicz goes on to cite an example of a mosque construction in Italy being halted by the state on the grounds that it would stand in “conflict with the Lombard landscape”, it would not fit in.
It is this quality of the fetish that is being currently bestowed on the transgender community. The prevention of right to self-determination is a direct attempt to assimilate transgender persons in the heterosexual Brahmanical state which asks you to be one thing or another and demands proofs of being, which in turn suggests a possibility of these proofs being disproved and denounced if the State deems fit. (Rohit Vemula’s caste being craftily denounced by the State is a huge case in point.) It is through assimilation that we are absorbed into the State machinery, through ‘acceptance’, through a process of being defined, differentiated and divided; transgender persons pose a challenge to this casteist heteronormative logic of definitions, divisions, and order.
“How do we de-potentiate the fetish?” Bialasiewicz asks. She quotes Jacques Ranciere who speaks about the power of artistic performances in disrupting the fetish. Artistic practices, for Ranciere, are “ways of doing and making’ that intervene in the general distribution of ways of doing and making as well as in the relationships they maintain to modes of being and forms of visibility.” Artistic performances help us identify the way in which space is organized by highlighting what is ‘allowed’ and ‘permissible’ and what is not. I wish to argue that the transgender persons, in their being, just by existing, perform this function and more.
Transgender persons disrupt the established status quo of being and seeing and being seen. Borrowing from Benjamin Walter’s idea about reproduction and authenticity of art in a mechanical world, we see how transgender persons question this idea of “authenticity” and of heteronormative definitions of gender/sex being thought as “authentic”. In their ‘reproduction’ of gender, one can say that they question the status quo, it breaks down the idea of gender as fixed, gender as natural, and make it more democratic and accessible. Although Benjamin Walter may argue that the reproduction of things leads to a ‘withering’ of the ‘aura’, we can argue that here, in this reproduction, in this reworking, the idea of the ‘aura’, its ‘authority’ as a testimony to history is itself being questioned. He says, “Since the historical testimony rests on the authenticity, the former, too, is jeopardized by reproduction when substantive duration ceases to matter… And what is jeopardized when the historical testimony is affected is the authority of the object.”
But in this context reproduction becomes a tool of empowerment which democratically breaks down the inflexible definitions of gender/sex and distributes it among the masses for their own use. It is not a perfunctory reproduction, an attempt at replication but a transgressive manner of being in more ways than those prescribed by the Brahminical Nation-State. The Brahminical patriarchal State which determines when an individual is what—not a ‘who’, but a ‘what’, objectifies the individual and compresses them to a definable inflexible thing, an object. The existence of transgender persons (actually even the entire LGBTQ) community questions and weakens in their existence. They do not “fit” and they must not be made to fit.
Transgender rights must be protected by the law, by the State, in a manner which does not seek to assimilate them through dehumanizing language, through its clinical impassioned definitions devoid of revolution, or even simple good will. The old casteist heterosexual language must be done away with and new definitions should be created, new ways of being. The State should take this opportunity to re-examine the language it has adopted, its outdated and fascist character, and create steps to change its flow instead of further aggravating and marginalizing an already marginalized community. It should endeavour towards being earnest.