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Why Must Trans Rights Be Bestowed By Cis People

Presently, the gaze is rooted in a collective, socialized anxiety about the Other, with much academic debate around the understanding of gender dysphoria and how it originates.

The dominant cis Indian narrative of transness eerily toes the dichotomous line between the medical model of gender dysphoria and the social model of disability, thereby dismissing the human experience of being trans itself. Both transgender people and people with disabilities have been subjected to such ‘model’ ideas constructed from the periphery by the cis, abled other. While the medical model pathologizes disability as something  to cure, the social model presents the case that disability is a product of social constructs and stratification. This is not to compare the lived experiences of transness and disability or appropriate systemic perceptions of people with disabilities, but to illustrate the likeness in how these popular narratives have taken shape.

What is a ‘normal’ body and where do we find one? How do those who are labelled ‘normal’ understand the identities and pleasures of the ‘other’ bodies – consequently, doesn’t this gaze of the ‘normal’ inflict violence upon them? Will the phrase disappear if we commit to disrupting norms surrounding the body? Or just displaced to where it hasn’t been challenged yet? Transgender people have always been around, included, visible; that is not the problem, not in a country where the ‘third gender’ has been pathologized, made religiously ‘divine’ and alienated, and forced into generational professions and societal moulds. Transphobia is not because certain groups of people are not perceived, it is because it is done so without understanding or care.

Both models have their demerits – one has been used to justify the institutionalization of mental illness and the other has, more recently, been seen as a reductive approach to physical impairments. As a result, expressions of gender euphoria and ‘cross-dressing’ are either seen as calls for attention from a diseased mind or as an act of ‘revenge’ against normative body norms as a mere performance. An intersection of the biological and social models in our understanding of the body is needed in a pursuit of justice for trans people. The gaze itself must be humanized if we are to integrate it into our politics.

Presently, the gaze is rooted in a collective, socialized anxiety about the Other, with much academic debate around the understanding of gender dysphoria and how it originates.  In the process, the emotional turmoil of the experience itself has time and again been dismissed. A sudden ‘concern’ with rationality and scientific accuracy emerges when trans people express themselves, and while concerns within the trans community have progressed to those of legal documentation and rights, degrees of ‘outness’, and accessibility, among others, many people are (consciously or not) held back by the irksome question of ‘why.’

The age-old argument of India being a land of freedom in bodily expression and identity before its colonization is convenient as the presence and persistence of caste, class and religion in cis-imagination is not as readily spoken about. Both medical and social models are divorced from the reality of several DBA and Muslim trans individuals being excluded from Brahminical rituals and pandals that act as a means of income and stability. They are doubly forced into socially-outlawed professions of beggary and prostitution. While several surgeries to alter the body are legal in our country, and cross-dressing is encouraged on many traditional occasions and for performances, we are still ostensibly concerned with what is ‘natural’, legislating it based on models. While cis people have taken to putting up their pronouns on internet spaces, the question of how gender ‘works’ itself has somehow conveniently taken a backseat, while simultaneously forced to the forefront of discussions about people who are simply asking for resources and respect due as part of basic human rights.

The lack of empathetic research and ideas about what it really means to be trans has been appropriated, as if every other question about identity and humanhood was fully fleshed out and answered, if even asked. When calls for science are made under the guise of being ‘above’ tradition and culture – and when assumptions of all trans people simply wanting to deviate and rebel against society abound without an understanding of bodily and cultural dysphoria, we must come together and ask this question: if I can see myself as a complex person, why am I assuming that surface information about another is their entire identity? Why is my validation of them the basis of granting them medical assistance and social security?

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Poulomi is a final-year literature major at LSR with an interest in arts and culture journalism. Their by-lines have appeared in Feminism in India and DU Beat among others. Reach out on LinkedIn.
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Poulomi Deb

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