Sutanuka Bhattacharya / Suto and Bindu K. C.
Featured image: ‘Uprooted’ by Archee Roy (she/her), a queer visual artist based in Kolkata. Ink and water colour on paper, 16th October 2022
Seeing Violence, Seeing Gender
Thinking about gender is thinking about “normalcy”. One does not “see” gender if one is comfortable in one’s gender identity. Thus, people who see themselves within the cis-hetero-sexist nexus need not think about gender as a system of power. It is precisely this invisibility of normality that is any powerful system’s route to domination.
Under these circumstances, an event of violence, in a flash, gives us a glimpse into what was always already at play. Like a scanner revealing the inner structure of the body, it allows us access to the violently structured world of power. Thus, it is not surprising then that the everyday of queer and trans* lives marred by violence opens up the process of gendering.
On 22nd July and 1st September 2022, India saw a torrent of social media posts by the queer and trans* community about violence against transgender persons. In both the instances, Aditya and Shyam, two adult trans men from Uttar Pradesh were forced to leave their violent natal homes. They took refuge in shelter homes for transgender persons, run by Non-Governmental Organizations based in Delhi and Gurugram respectively. While Aditya found shelter in Garima Greh, a government-aided shelter home run by the Mitr Trust, Shyam sought shelter in Aasra run by The Transgender Welfare Equity and Empowerment Trust (TWEET) Foundation.
21st July, post mid-night, Aditya was abducted from Garima Greh by the UP Police based on the “missing diary” lodged by his parents. At the same time, on 1st September afternoon, Shyam’s father, who was himself working with the UP Police, barged into Aasra searching for him. However, unable to find Shyam, his father forcefully brought the co-chairperson and the board member at TWEET, who also identify as trans men, to a Gurugram police station. At the police station they were physically assaulted, detained without documents and were threatened while the local police remained silent.
In this piece, we concentrate on the often methodically orchestrated violence leading to forced migration and resulting homelessness of trans* masculine persons. Such violence might be routine for various groups marginalized by gender and sexuality. However, even amongst less documented queer groups, the lived experiences of trans* masculine persons is striking. Their relative epistemic and ontological invisibility makes the world miss them as a category.
Forced Migration and Homelessness
Forced migration and homelessness among trans* masculine persons are often reported to be systematically orchestrated by natal families through physical violence or severe lack of support. For example, in both the cases we discuss, the trans men were forced to leave their natal homes because their family members refused to accept their self-identified gender and unleashed severe violence on them. Aditya was reported to be under house arrest for more than two years because his parents were ashamed of him; while Shyam, in his application for his stay at Aasra mentioned that his family members were planning to kill him or marry him to a cis–man against his consent.
In most cases, family resistance starts when the trans* masculine persons either assert their non-normative gender identities and/or their non-normative sexual desires. Many parents at the initial stage try to hush this up fearing social stigma and the shame stemming from deep rooted trans negativity and homo–negativity. Further, parents and other family members might also take recourse to conversion therapies, performed by modern medical professionals or traditional healers with a hope to “cure and control their unruly daughters”.
Gender–based violence unleashed on trans* masculine persons by their families entail psychological, physical and sexual violence, for example, denying their gender-sexual identities and desires, blackmailing in the name of family honour, house arrest, separating them from their romantic partners, forcing them to marry cis–men, restricting their mobility and access to resources such as food, education, communication, beating and “corrective” rape . There are also reported instances where trans masculine persons, unable to withstand societal and familial pressure, had even been forced to end their lives.
Conclusion: Network of care, community spaces and their challenges
There are glimmers of hope in alternative narratives amidst the deluge of violence against trans* masculine persons. Occasionally, some find acceptance from their natal families. More often, they find safe spaces and care networks among friendships, community members and also within intimate relationships.
Strangely, we find some stories of acceptance to be embedded within patriarchal ideas of gender. In our society, intrinsically steeped with son preference, trans masculine persons—post–medical and legal transitions—taking up traditional masculine gender roles sometimes receive acceptance from natal families. However, most of the time, this acceptance comes at the cost of erasure of their gender-sexual transgressive past and hiding their gender-sexual journey. Moreover, in such cases, migration often becomes not just the trans person’s burden but that of the entire family. There are stories of entire families relocating to different localities, sometimes in the same city.
The emerging shelter homes for queer and trans* persons across the country should be seen as possibilities of safe spaces institutionally. But the stories for existing shelter homes for cis women and children do not give much hope. Till date, friendships and informal networks within the community remain safe spaces for trans migrations. However, such friendships and care networks are still precarious.
To conclude, one can see migration in trans* masculine persons’ lives, forced or otherwise, as stemming from unbearable violence within families and others whom young trans people might interact closely with. Under these circumstances, migration is both a cry for help and at the same time, the indomitable human urge to survive.
Sutanuka Bhattacharya/ Suto (they/ them) is an activist-researcher based in India. They are pursuing a Doctor in Philosophy in Women’s and Gender Studies, Ambedkar University Delhi. Their doctoral thesis, titled ‘Writing Trans Subjectivities: Re-thinking gender-sexuality through identities and relationalities’, revolves around understanding contemporary trans masculine subjectivities in the context of India. At present, they are located in Kolkata and have also been associated with feminist, queer and trans* activist spaces in the city since 2005. Suto identifies as a non-binary queer person.
Dr. Bindu K. C. (she/her) is an Assistant Professor in Gender Studies Programme, Dr B R Ambedkar University Delhi.