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Monday, Aug 26, 2019

The transgender bill is unwilling to mess with gender norms

Identity is felt in one’s head and heart. Policies must reflect that

editorials Updated: Jul 22, 2019 20:02 IST

Hindustan Times
The idea that one may not undergo surgery and still identify with a gender that was not assigned to them at birth, requires us to revisit our existing assumptions about gender
The idea that one may not undergo surgery and still identify with a gender that was not assigned to them at birth, requires us to revisit our existing assumptions about gender(PTI)
         

At the heart of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) bill 2019 lies an unwillingness to mess with gender. It’s ironical, as the bill seeks to rectify historical wrongs, including a big one — invisibilisation — and even devotes an entire section to transgender identity cards that any district magistrate could issue. To be sure, the latest version drops a much contested provision that was present in earlier iterations of the bill. Transgender persons will no longer be required to undergo physical screening by a district screening committee. However, they will need to undergo surgery if they wish to identify in the binary genders of man or woman. What drives the bill to demand invasive and costly interventions on people’s bodies before they could qualify as man or woman?

The idea that one may not undergo surgery and still identify with a gender that was not assigned to them at birth, requires us to revisit our existing assumptions about gender. According to the bill, to be a man or a woman is strictly biological business, and thus requires equally strict rules of entry. Is this possibly why the bill is silent about the sexuality of trans persons? What then of civil rights like marriage, divorce, property transfer, and inheritance?

Not only does such an understanding of gender, one which confuses it with biological sex, fly in the face of what is now globally accepted — identity is felt primarily in one’s head and heart — it also opens the door to further discriminatory practices. A case in point is what athletes like Dutee Chand and Caster Semenya have faced, when the International Association of Athletics Federations sought to bar them from participating in certain international sporting categories on account of the naturally-occurring Testosterone (a sex hormone) levels in their bodies being higher than the permissible limits for women. Like the international sporting authority, the bill too, seeks to define the boundaries of what it means to be a woman or a man. Like the rules that were challenged in an international court of law, the bill too suggests medical intervention for bodies that lie outside these constructed boundaries, if they wished to fit in.

Of course, one doesn’t have to undergo surgery if one doesn’t want, you would say. And you wouldn’t be wrong — the top court of the country too, had said in 2014 that any governmental insistence on proof of having undergone surgery to establish one’s gender is both, “illegal and immoral”.

If gender is multifarious and subjectively experienced, biological sex is variant and non-binary. The two are not the same, but are interlinked. More importantly, it is not the job of a bill to categorise and define either. Just as the government heeded the trans communities’ demands to do away with the indignity of physical screening, so too must it recognise the dignity of self identification, even as man or woman. Not everyone wishes to transition, not everyone can afford to. Not every identifies as transgender, though they fall within the umbrella term. But everyone is a citizen and has due equal rights.

First Published: Jul 22, 2019 20:02 IST

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