When I was in GNDR-G 101 back in 2007, my professor at the time showed us a documentary about the Hijras of India. What fascinated me about the hijras is that it is a different perspective on transsexualism that differs from what we have studied in class this year. Hijras have been considered a third sex that has always existed. It is predominantly thought of as a Hindu practice, but it also recognized in Islam as well. Thus hijras mainly become transsexuals for a religious reason that is, “they are particularly associated with the worship of Bahuchara Mata, a version of the Mother Goddess, for whose sake they undergo emasculation. In return, the Goddess gives them the power to bless people with fertility.” Thus, hijras could be considered a eunuch because they are born men who do not undergo a full sexual reassignment just castration. After their castration, they live as women and most of them take husbands. In my class, we were able to follow the story of a man, his decision to become a hijra, and his subsequent castration and initiation into the society.
Although the hijras aren’t exalted in Indian culture, for the most part they exist fairly peacefully continuing to practice their old ways and rituals. Hijras have been prominently featured in many myths and stories that exist in Hinduism and Islam today. The well-known god, Shiva was recorded in legend as being half man half woman and contains “the female creative power.” Another god is portrayed as becoming a eunuch so that he could hide amongst the ladies of the court and carry out hijra rituals.
However, although hijras are more accepted in society, they still are followed around by hardships and prejudices. Like several other transsexual groups we have studied in depth, the hijras often work as prostitutes and sell their bodies to men for very little money. This leads some people to believe that some men who become hijras don’t just do it to worship the goddess, they also do it so that they can freely express their homosexuality. Thus, this brings up the whole question of just because hijras haven’t had a full sexual reassignment, why are they not considered women by all the people living in India. My opinion is that hijras are mythologized and sexualized all at the same time. That is, they are viewed as these legendary creatures, but are also subjugated by men and not thought of as “true women.”
Hijras are an extremely interesting part of Indian culture and another fascinating example of how different forms of transsexuality and gender variance can be expressed.