I was touched by the affection and family-feeling among staff, volunteers and visitors when I visited Sahodaran, an LGBT activist group in Chennai. The director, a trans woman, had a powerful and queenly presence in the room. And others, mostly trans women and a few gay men, seemed to be very fond of each other, with lots of hand holding and hugging.
I’m guessing that the feeling was a combination of natural affinity and the hijra culture. Why do I spend much of my time with older lesbians? Because we have a common oppression, a common bond, a tribal sense of community, and we offer each other a “chosen family” regardless of whether we are accepted or not by families and the culture at large.
The level of informality, affection and connectivity at this nonprofit drop-in center was greater than I would expect for other drop-in centers. Perhaps the hijra culture adds another layer of family to this group. Trans women have been a longstanding part of HIndu and rural culture in India. In modern times, however, they experience widespread discrimination, brutality, and lack of opportunity. In order to survive, trans women often are part of a family grouping that lives together. A “guru” heads the household and helps to orient new members and keep the peace.
I wish I had had more time to get to know this group of mission-driven activists. I wanted to know how they feel about the 2014 Supreme Court decision that recognized trans people as a “third gender”. And I wanted to know what they thought of the 2019 national third gender legislation that many activists opposed. This article succinctly outlines objections to the act, which fails to recognize third gender family traditions, the right to self-declare gender, and the lack of affirmative action resources to help trans people get education, jobs and housing.