Joe Mirabella

New rights for trans people in Pakistan

Filed By Joe Mirabella | January 04, 2010 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: gender variance, Pakistan, transgender news

Pink News Reports:

The Pakistan Supreme Court has ordered the government to allow trans people the right to a distinct gender.

The court said that trans people, known as hijras, should be able to get national identity cards showing their gender as hijras.

Pakistani hijras, especially those from poor families, are often subject to oppression and harassment and are forced to earn a living through begging and prostitution.

They are often thrown out of their homes by fathers and brothers and face problems when their identity cards show female photos but male genders.

A third gender is a very progressive move. I've always thought the male/female gender binary was too constrictive, but I doubt we will see an opening up of our legal system for alternative genders any time soon. What do you think? Would a third (or more) legal gender(s) be a positive move for the United States?


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It's really a matter of personal choice and the way people are being treated by employers, society, and the government.

If people have the option to select a third gender, and there are laws in place to prevent discrimination against people who are third gender, and these laws are enforced, then this is a positive thing.

On the other hand, if the government requires all trans people to select third gender, and then that information is used by employers, medical professionals, landlords and others in order to identify people who are different so they can discriminate against them, then this is a very bad thing.

A preferable option to me is to remove gender entirely from all national and state ID cards. Name and date of birth are enough.

I think it would be a positive move for the US. Though I'm currently transitioning to male, it's because male feels closer to right than female does, but its still not an exact fit. It sucks to have to decide between two without have the option of another.

It's an interesting question. On the one hand, there are a significant number of transsexuals, probably the vast majority, who firmly see themselves as their presented gender, not as any kind of third sex. On the other, there is also no doubt a significant portion of those who do transition who would be accepting of a third sex identity, particularly if it came with certain legal, cultural, and social advantages.

For myself, I don't know. I've always seen myself as a woman, not an other-than. I think I'd have a hard time emotionally and intellectually accepting a third-sex identity as my own, though I might be willing to do so legally if the incentives were great enough.

Joe... before reading this, I truly hope you take the time to read some of the discussion in Jillian's latest post about dropping the term transgender, since I suspect you're going to get some overflow from that thread. And yes, I need to seriously question yet another non-trans person coming onto Bilerico making statements about trans identities.

It's could be a progressive move by the Indian government and also not. Yes, because Hijras are a horribly oppressed minority who really need some governmental acknowledgement of their unique issues and the focused prejudices against them (as do all trans peoples around the world). How this is going to help them in the daily lives remains to be seen. Just because they can get an ID card with Hijra on it, I don't see how that translates to human rights.

However, much as we always like to posit Hijras as third gender, there are many of them who actually identify as women. They understand being a Hijra is the only safe place they're likely to find within Indian society (this is very much a class issue... there are self-identified woman who are transsexual in India but they're usually in the middle-upper classes and higher castes). For those hijra women, calling them third gender is no more recognition of their identities than calling them men. Just as in the US, Queer activists calling a transsexual woman (or man) "queer" if she doesn't identify that way is no better than referring to them by their assigned birth sex. There are certainly Hijras who identify similarly to DQs or "sissy gay men" in the west as well as those who do genuinely view themselves as third gender (more like two-spirit). It's very much a societally-imposed catchall term, similar to Kathoey in Thailand. My warning about this is the Indian government is doing a forced third-gender assignment, which can be a very dangerous and oppressive act.

How does this translate to the US? Yes, I think it would be lovely if the government acknowledged the gender ID of non-binary-identifying people--on a totally voluntary basis. Not doing so is an over-simplification of the diversity of human gender. For myself, as a woman who is trans and purely identifies myself as a woman, any attempt by the government (or the queer community) to label me as anything other than that is a form of eradication of my womanhood and I would fight it with every ounce of my being.

Just FYI, this new law is in Pakistan, not India. India went M/F/O on voter registration a few months ago, and that's voluntary. Pakistan went M/F/H on national ID's, but it's just a court decision now and hasn't been implemented and I don't think there's an indication as to how they'll decide who's "H." Hopefully it'll be voluntary placement.

And yes, I need to seriously question yet another non-trans person coming onto Bilerico making statements about trans identities.

Of course. Because only trans people should blog about trans issues, but when there's no trans content who will be the first person complaining that the LGB community doesn't respect or cover T issues?

In one thread you're castigating Waymon - on a post about the death of his friend - for not identifying a hate crime victim as you would prefer (as versus how his family identified him, he identified himself, and the community-at-large identified him). In this one, the non-trans guy wrote a whole whopping 4 sentences and asked other reader opinions - and once again it gets turned into a "Look at me! I'm better than you because I'm trans! I'm the only one who can speak on this issue!"

Bullshit. Grow up.

Sometimes it's not about you. Sometimes it's about the grief of someone who's just lost a friend. Sometimes it's about just asking a question that can be answered without having to insinuate there is something bad about someone else for even touching trans issues.

If you want to know why so many LGB people don't engage on trans issues, look in the mirror. It gets old to constantly listen to the "me, me, me" complaints and constant bitching that trans issues don't get enough attention, but when they do it's never good enough unless done by a trans person that you like ('cuz, God forbid, that a trans person you don't like do something either!).

Bah. Ridiculous. But the snotty comments on Waymon's thread really take the cake for the lowest common denominator. Shame.

I think that if a third gender category opens it will quickly become a wastebasket category, including butch Lesbians, effeminate gay men, and women of operative history, all of whom possess a fixed, defined gender with a matched anatomical sex.

Butch Lesbians get harrassed ehough, they do NOT need a catagory outside of the sisterhood of woman for others to toss them into exile within. As far as the Lesbian women of operative history that I know, I doubt that they would wish to be placed into a third gender category when they endured to very much to transition to women.

Cosigned. They should just remove sex markers from public documents, because it doesn't do a hell of a lot of good anyway.

Oh my how progressive! So is the pink triangle you should be wearing proudly at all times, that too would be so so progressive wouldn't it?

Just wanted to correct my post to say Pakistan rather than India... it was a function of poor sleep and not any attempted fusing of the two. :-)

ps. I have to say I totally agree with Radical Bitch, albeit expressed with a little less sarcasm.

On further thought, I'm ok with any who has ever advocated gender deconstruction, including many gay men, immediately having the F or M removed from all ID and replaced with an O for other....

When you have your O, don't bother to try to use a men's or ladies room though....behind the tree or the dumpster is just fine.

I should clarify, I meant it was a progressive move for Pakistan. I wrote a thesis about hijras during my undergrad at the University of Iowa. At the time hijras had absolutely no legal rights or protections, which is still the case in India. I believe it is progress that Pakistan has not only abandoned the gender binary which does not reflect the true human spectrum of gender, but Pakistan has also included legal protections aimed to help the hijras. They are now to be treated equally under the law and the police have been instructed to enforce laws protecting them. For a country like Pakistan, that is progress.

I also want to respectfully address a comment made about a non trans person discussing trans issues. I would hate to be left out of the conversation because I do not fit a certain mold or label. I have been thoughtfully considering issues around sexuality, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, and the cultural expression of those topics for ten years. I am certified in Sexuality Studies by the University of Iowa, and during that time period I explored a full range of possibilities for the human expression of identity with my classmates. Together we questioned each other, learned from each other, expanded each others world view, and encouraged each other to ask questions. I enjoying encouraging and continuing that process through this and other media I produce.

I would hope that as you get to know me better you will come to understand that I am a friend and ally to the full spectrum of humanity. Every day I wake up with one question in my head, how can I serve my community today to make the world a safer place for us all.

With that said, I continue to learn every moment, so bare with me if I stumble clumsily head on into full range of topics. If I make mistakes it is not because I don't love and respect you all.

Gee Joe, pardon my skepticism on your comment because the last gay guy on Bilerico who said something similar then proceeded to blog on who were the real women and proceeded to conclude it was women with penises and not women with vaginas!

You studied hijras, I lived in India as a teenager. I've spoken to hijras, listened to them. Gina's comment about hijras was dead on. And a correction on India's hijras.....they are running for local political positions and winning. hmmmm.

Under Islamic law, women of transsexual history are supposed to be accepted fully as women, not third sexed. This is hardly a progressive move given that.

I would never make such a claim. It is a more than unfair of you to judge all gay men because of the actions of one. Nevertheless, I understand that it will take time to earn your trust, so I will honor that.

Gee Joe, pardon my skepticism on your comment because the last gay guy on Bilerico who said something similar then proceeded to blog on who were the real women and proceeded to conclude it was women with penises and not women with vaginas!

Wait.... who's that?

Joe, I in no way want to write off your study of the Hijra or say you shouldn't comment on them. Yet I can't remove this post from the context of a number of other recent posts on Bilerico which have either dissed transwomen altogether (like Gold's), or 'othered' us as a number of transgender-related posts have. We also had Pedro Julio Serrano dismissing any trans connection to Jorge Lopez Mercado's death. Waymon Hudson (who is a gay man I respect) just posted something about Simmie Williams where William's trans identity was basically erased (even though she died presenting as a woman while doing sexwork). You're posting this in a very damaged environment when it comes to non-trans people discussing trans identities and it kind of feels like anyone with LGBT credentials can go on Bilerico and start telling trans people who we are or should be. (In that regard, this blog doesn't seem especially enlightened from the Gold experience).

The Hijra are a very mixed, diverse community who can't be discussed as monolithic "third gender" except when understanding they, as poor, relatively powerless people, don't have any other choice but to be third gendered. It works for some, while for others it's just what they're given to deal with. Without living in their communities, many if not most of them would be harmed (as trans women are all over the world). Same with the Kathoey in Thailand (who are also often-cited, but can't even change their governmental paperwork) and the communities in Indonesia and the Philippines.

Although some Hijra are getting very politically active of late (an incredible story) most of them don't expect a whole lot of even basic acceptance. While I don't want to project my own identity onto them (although I think many of them are very female identified), nor do I think it's helpful for Queer activists in the West to project their identity onto these communities as some kind of learning tool about queerness and smashing the binary. As was mentioned in Dr. Weiss's thread, re-labeling people without their consent is rarely about their best interests and usually not a great way to win their gratitude or solidarity.

I realized when I posted this news article from the UK based Pink News late last night, that it would be read in the context of recent inflammatory and outrageous posts like Gold's. I also realized that I could be unjustifiably associated with Gold and others who differ from me in their opinions. However, I posted it anyway, because I know my heart is in the right place, and that my intention was pure. I hoped to inspire a healthy discussion. I wish I had seen Jillian's post before I posted this because she is a far more eloquent author on these subjects then I am. Nevertheless, the development in Pakistan is news worthy and I wanted to make sure it was given attention on Bilerico.

When I think about gender expression and all of it's possibilities, biological, mentally, and spiritually, I always come to the same conclusion, the gender binary is false. Pakistan has chosen to address gender politics by creating a third legal gender. Since the politics that affect most of our lives are in the United States it is certainly a worthy question to speculate whether out country should expend it's legal definitions of gender.

I had not considered abandoning all references to gender in our legal code until some of you made comments on this post. I think it seems like the most reasonable political solution because the variances in gender are more than any politician could codify.


@Joe: "Pakistan has chosen to address gender politics by creating a third legal gender."

What Pakistan has chosen to do is to create incredibly rigid legal definitions of gender (of course, based on Islam and native Pakistani cultures), literally to the point of being punishable by death. They have now created, as Maura said, a catch-all category for those who can't seem to follow the rules. Don't for a second believe the legal rights for this "third gender" will in any way be equal to those of the two "real genders". i think that's a more realistic reading of what Pakistan is accomplishing here. You haven't addressed the issue that, in Pakistan, one can't legally change one's gender and that everyone who fits into the outcast category is going to be involuntarily placed into the new category... like it or not. As other participants in this thread have stated, you might as well put a yellow star on their clothing. How is that positive?

I also get nervous when I hear Queer people talk about "Gender Expression" as though that's what it's all about. It's also very much about Gender Identity (and even more at the core of the issue for people who really can't live as their assigned birth gender).

Gender will never be totally abandoned within our legal code due to the needs of women who birth children and how societies like ours always need males (and women, but mostly males) to fight for the power elites' interests. That won't change. It doesn't mean the choice of "other" might not ultimately develop but, even within that, certain social contracts will be imposed upon that category. The question you pose is a good one Joe, but the assumption it's going to make for a happier population doesn't quite cut it.

I think it is factually incorrect to refer to hijras as "transgender". That is a distinctly American-centric way of categorizing them, when their social role is uniquely situated in Pakistani society. There may indeed be some similarities, but I'm not sure that Pakistani hijras see their fight as part of the international GLBTQ movement. It's important not to judge other countries based on our political prism, because the constellation of identities and sexual meanings are different in every place. Definitely an interesting topic to write about, but would like to see a bit more nuance and cultural awareness. Perhaps we could get a Pakistani (or better yet a hijra) on bilerico to blog about what this means to them?

Joe Brokken | January 4, 2010 6:12 PM

Super disappointed by all the angry comments. Nice way to detract from a momentous event for the hijras in Pakistan. I want to congratulate those Pakistani people who are for the first time being recognized by their government, but I am so distracted by Angry Bitch and Becca blathering. You sound like a couple of angry socialists standing together in solidarity with no one. LOL, seriously, lighten up a bit, or even better... Practice writing more positive comments and encouraging people to learn more about trans culture.
Mkay?

trans culture? why would I do that? I'm an "angry bitch" remember?

I'm also a humourless feminist, a Pagan Priestess, a woman. I'm not a "trans-whatever".

And I am surprised calling me an angry bitch is allowed to pass TOS muster, but then I am subject to the double standard here on Bilerico.

Chitown Kev | January 4, 2010 7:31 PM

Joe, you studied the hijras, I studied the "waria" in Indonesia and in both cases (as I wrote on one of Toni's threads) the difficulty actually is doing justice to the hirjas or the waria in the English language or within a Western conceptual framework, whether the commenters here are cis or trans (which seem to me to be typical Western categories within a binary.)

@Chitown, the issue so often is not just the different culture you're dealing with, but also who within that culture is doing the defining (and the person studying them who's doing the interviewing). The reality is, so many studies of these "gender variant" subcultures are defined by how the larger society they live in views them and not necessarily how they view themselves in the light of their own lives. Until very recently, that's much how trans people in the US were viewed as well. We're now seeing a considerable amount of political activity by these groups in India, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia (which was really, one of the biggest "T" stories of 2009 and wasn't mentioned on this site or on any LGBT blog). In the past several years, these social groupings are starting to define themselves and break out of their societies' traditional cages and some of the language which is coming out isn't sounding incredibly different than the various trans-related communities in the west. As we study them, please let's realize we're largely not talking about people who got to define or write about their own identities and whose direct words haven't been reported by foreign media without extreme filtering by the power structures within those societies.

This would be a pretty terrible move in the US. Just getting rid of the gender marker on licenses/BC's would do more to erase the binary than adding another category would. A trinary isn't that much more descriptive of the real world than a binary.

A system like Pakistan's, "M/F/H," would make little sense in the US, and an "M/F/O" system, even if voluntary (although the current "M/F" system isn't voluntary, and I wouldn't imagine the authoritarians in the US would like to allow people to choose their gender), would probably get ignored as the vast majority of people identify as male or female, and the other category would just become an underclass. It's a great informal system, but until the binary gets deconstructed culturally, the law would just make the situation worse.

Alex, there probably are GQ/genderfluid/two-spirit people who would like an "O" on their license, but you're right, that "O" doesn't really get much closer to defining what their identities are. They still deserve that option. The big issue is how involuntary it would become. As you very rightly stated, gender markers aren't voluntary in this country and no one should expect "O" would be either. There are people who would step into a DMV, automatically be assigned "O" (because of their appearance or manner) and then have to prove otherwise. Moreover, there are many clerks and bureaucrats who will NOT voluntarily assign someone with an "F" but would gladly assign them an "O" (which would become a substitute for "it"). I understand Joe's impulse to break down binary designations, but I don't think he understands the practice of how this would impact most trans people's lives in the US nor the actually repressive nature of it in Pakistan.

As someone who's had to go through all the pain, humiliation expense (about $1500 for the legalities alone!) and lost time getting all my ID and sex markers changed, I can state how hard the system bucks back when you go against their assignment, even when there are laws providing for it.

Personally I find the concept of a 'third' gender to be dangerous grounds. It is a easy opening to limit services from the entire group and to deny the validity of their identity.

I am a trans *girl*, but for most of my life it more clear to simply say girl. I would never want to simply be a trans >.>....


Hello to all,

jus a brief history about myself i m originally from Pakistan but hav been living in london from the last 3 years for my studies.
i jus read joe's thought which i m quoting at the end in which he was talkin about the islamic law relating genders so i jus wanted to say offcourse its a islamic state and we have to follow the rules accordingly not how USA or England make their rules for hijras. and offcourse the reasons why transexuals are not accepted in our part of the world and what the problems are also in Quran which u should study before u post some thing on a public page u need to see what deases they face in life and the side effects. am not a student of this hijra subject but if ur quoting islamic rules here u need to do a proper research what islam says and why .
Secondly you asked how its a positive move? well according to the western world Pakistan being a third world and developing country and havin a image about it that its a strict islamic state where its jus desert with no buildings and u see all women wearng veils and if they dont wear them they get killed and all what you see in the western media so called bbc and cnn is not always true if they take their cameras wid a reporter to a desert and say this is what Pakistan is than dude u need to visit the place. and comparing it with India which you consider more liberal than Pakistan if this rule has been ordered by the supreame court i m sure its a big positive move and 1 should appreacite it. dont compare it wid USA laws and the Christian Laws its a different society and if we are trying to get rid of the feudral system its gona be step by step and not in a night but also according to the islam teachings and for all those islam teachings we are given specific reasons which we muslims know and you need to read before you comment.

i jus wanted to say lets keep the discussion to hijras and not the religions here . hope i havnt hurt any ones feelings :).

thanks for hearing me out .

Cheers!!


@Joe: "Pakistan has chosen to address gender politics by creating a third legal gender."

What Pakistan has chosen to do is to create incredibly rigid legal definitions of gender (of course, based on Islam and native Pakistani cultures), literally to the point of being punishable by death. They have now created, as Maura said, a catch-all category for those who can't seem to follow the rules. Don't for a second believe the legal rights for this "third gender" will in any way be equal to those of the two "real genders". i think that's a more realistic reading of what Pakistan is accomplishing here.