A History of Trans as a Gender

Session Report
Yuvaraj Mandal

An Online International Summer School Program | A five-day immersive online certificate training course on Beyond Binaries: Understanding Sexual Identities and Queer Rights Issues in India was launched by #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC)IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute in honour of pride month.

The session on the history of transgender identity took place on June 22, 2023. The event aimed to discuss the historical representation of transgender individuals and the implications of colonial and post-colonial laws on transgender rights in India.

The session began with a warm welcome from the organizers, expressing their sincere gratitude to all the participants for their presence and engagement. Individuals from diverse backgrounds attended the session to explore the often neglected aspects of transgender history and the challenges faced by transgender communities.

Vikramaditya Sahai, a respected teacher and researcher from the Centre for Law and Policy Research, New Delhi, was the speaker. Sahai’s deep understanding of transgender issues and his critical perspectives on legal frameworks that affect transgender communities made him an ideal choice for this important discussion.

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Sahai’s presentation aimed to challenge the traditional approach to finding evidence of transgender individuals in history. They stressed the need to move beyond the common practice of solely searching for gender nonconformity, cross-dressing, and theatrical practices as historical proof of transgender identities. By doing so, they argued, we perpetuate certain problems faced by transgender individuals in contemporary society, reinforcing stereotypes and reducing their identities to mere performative acts rather than recognizing them as inherent aspects of human diversity.

Reading of the recent judgements

Furthermore, Sahai delved into the connection between colonial laws and the present-day reality of transgender communities. They presented the notion that the Indian transgender movement reveals a continuity between the colonial and post-colonial periods, challenging the perception that the NALSA judgment was a decolonial move. Sahai argued that postcolonial laws, such as the Trans Act, perpetuated a colonial fantasy by exerting control and subjecting individuals to a consent process.

Drawing from a political economy and decolonial perspective, Professor Vibhuti Patel, a distinguished scholar and activist, expanded on Sahai’s discourse. She commended Sahai’s insightful analysis of the colonial discourse and its influence on the Trans Act. Patel highlighted the trajectory of criminalization faced by the transgender community and the concept of citizenship in post-independence India. She questioned the progressive and inclusive nature of citizenship, considering recent developments that exclude not only religious minorities and refugees and gender minorities. Patel’s remarks emphasized the need for a more comprehensive understanding of the implications of citizenship in contemporary society.

Sessions Concluding Remarks

Acknowledging Professor Patel’s comments, Sahai expressed their gratitude for her appreciation and agreed on the importance of studying the antecedents of the Trans Act within the colonial discourse. He acknowledged that the trajectory of criminalization and exclusion extended beyond religious minorities and refugees, encompassing gender minorities as well. Sahai emphasized the urgent need for a deeper understanding of the implications of citizenship in order to address the ongoing struggles faced by transgender communities.

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As the session progressed, a member raised a thought-provoking question regarding the potential empowerment of the transgender community through participation in local governments. Sahai responded by acknowledging the efforts of queer individuals such as Disha, and Pinky Sheikh, who are actively involved in political participation. They stressed that the key lies in understanding the nature of the work involved and the refusal to compromise on essential principles. Sahai highlighted the significance of trans people standing their ground and not bending over backwards for the government. To further explore this topic, he recommended watching YouTube panels on political participation and organizing by trans individuals, where transformative conversations take place.

In conclusion, the session on the history of transgender identity, featuring Vikramaditya Sahai and Professor Vibhuti Patel, provided a platform for critical discussions on the colonial and post-colonial influences on transgender rights in India. The event underscored the importance of recognizing historical biases and promoting inclusivity to foster a more equitable society. It left participants with a heightened understanding of the complexities surrounding transgender identities and the urgent need for advocacy and research to address the ongoing struggles faced by transgender communities.

Read more session reports from Day 2 of Beyond Binaries: Understanding Sexual Identities and Queer Rights Issues in India:

Mobilisation of Queer Community and Intervention with Focus on Rural India 
Healthcare of Transgender and Non-Binary Persons

Anti-caste Theories on Gender