Why we need a new outlook towards the transgender

More stories that portray the community as human as “us”, please.

ByVikram Johri
Why we need a new outlook towards the transgender
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Remember the video from last year in which a group of transwomen converged on a traffic signal in Mumbai and gave drivers tips on safety and wearing the seat belt. Or that other video in which another group of transwomen sang the National Anthem, dressed as the professionals they would like to be: lawyers, doctors and teachers.

Well, one of those professions has become a reality. The cheekily titled 6 Pack, an all-trans women’s band, has just released its first video “Hum Hain Happy”, a cover of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”.

It’s a cracker of a video, dripping in fun and joy, combining that naughty spirit for which the transgender are known (and sometimes disparaged) with a catchy tune and neat choreography. Produced by Y Films, the youth-connect division of Yashraj Films, the video is the first of many that the company hopes to produce in partnership with 6 Pack. Coming up is a collaboration with Sonu Nigam.

Started in 2011 with the express aim to make youth-centric cinema, Y Films made such yuppie fare as Mujhse Fraandship Karoge and Mere Dad ki Maruti during its initial run. None of those films worked at the box office, and since last year, the company has changed tack and focused on making issue-driven, web-only series. In September, it released a 4-episode series on YouTube called Man’s World, which reimagined daily life in India for women from a man’s perspective.

The protagonist, a typical male chauvinist, wakes up one morning to a world in which his privileges and those of his sex have been bestowed on women, while he and his ilk must now live under numerous conditions and bear the weight of often invisible prejudice. Over its run, the series tackled such germane issues as harassment of women in public transport, the burden of marital expectations, objectification at work and elsewhere, and so on. Its tongue-in-cheek nature was perfectly suited to making viewers see the gravity of the situation.

With Y Films then, 6 Pack is in good hands. Too often, the transgender are portrayed in the media as either victims of societal apathy or caricatures dumped into the script for laughs. Real stories about their struggles and desires are few and far in between. This is in marked contrast to the very real gains the community has made on the legislative front in the recent past.

2014’s NALSA judgement on the rights of the transgender engendered engaging conversations, both among civil society and the public at large, about this beleaguered community. That ruling paved the way for the Rights of Transgender Persons Bill, which includes a number of emancipatory measures for the community. These address both bread-and-butter issues such as education and employment as well as issues of accommodation aimed at reducing the “otherness” of the community.

Yet, biases persist. In September last year, Vyjayanthi Vasanta Mogli, a Hyderabad-based transgender, was denied entry into the GVK One mall. When she demanded an explanation, the head of security refused to entertain her. This is the tragic outcome of poor representation that reinforced stereotypes about the community. It is shocking that old wives’ tales about, say, the Hijras as snatchers of effeminate children, continue to draw currency even among the educated middle class in this country.

Which is why showing the transgender as doing things other than what they have been traditionally known for is a huge step forward. The point of the National Anthem video was to showcase the professional goals and hopes for a better life that members of the community aspire for. The space for the realisation of those aspirations will, however, require more than legislative diktat. It will have to come from “us”, society that is so quick to box anyone that is different.

The media has a role to play here. More stories and more varied narratives will go some distance in righting matters. In the US, for instance, last year was a landmark in trans right with the very public coming out of Caitlyn Jenner and the success of Transparent, a wonderful, wonderful show about a woman who has lived all her life as a man and decides to transition in her sixties. These stories, by showing how similar all of us are where it matters, help reduce the distance between “them” and “us”.

As with the traffic signal and National Anthem videos, the Hum Hain Happy song builds on a new way of looking at the transgender, in which they are as human as “us”, this “we” that is so protective of its normality, unable to see that all of us are in the same boat, dealing with our own prejudices and struggles. It’s only that some are more striking, more visible, more outwardly discriminatory than the others.

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