Social Security and Trans Identity: An Inherent Paradox of Sorts
Social security of transgender individuals is a murky and multi-faceted discourse involving various stakeholders. The author’s reflections on social security are colored by the phenomenology of an urban, metropolitan, English-speaking, upper-class, upper-caste, self-identified trans-feminine Indian citizen. The author does not claim to offer a unifying voice for the multiverse of trans-experiences that center the theme of social security. This article merely encapsulates the author’s observations and perspectives at the current temporal-spatial juncture and is written with a genuine intent of creating discourse and conversations. The author is happy to learn and unlearn from other representative voices.
The ideas of social security and transgender identity seem to run antagonistic to one another in a cis-heteronormative society that is fundamentally trans-exclusionary. Conversely, a gamut of hate, prejudice, and negativity forms an indispensable part of the transgender experience: trans-phobia, unfortunately, constitutes the social norm. There seems to be an "epidemic of violence" against the American transgender community of color as pointed out by the American Medical Association. The situation in India is no better either and what pinches inconsolably is that often violence is carried out by natal families and intimate partners.
An article in Forbes dated 11th November 2020 by Jamie Wareham highlights a rather ominous observation: “Murdered, Suffocated and Burned Alive: 350 Transgender People Killed In 2020”. The article flagged trans-women as the most vulnerable category, accounting for 98 percent of the murders. Imagine how it feels as a trans-feminine person to read this, process it, and internalize that you can be killed for simply existing. No amount of therapeutic support (the therapist’s chamber becomes a trans-person’s second home ironically) can allay such trauma so deeply embedded in social realities.
Trans lives are somehow considered lesser in social value: these are lives that can be dismissed as lacking in authenticity, debated over, accorded frugal rights, represented sparsely and represented often in all the inappropriate ways that incite more hatred than social benevolence. The essence of dismissiveness that looms large over trans lives rings out loud and clear in lack of social justice and often starkly in anti-trans state policies. Perhaps in a utopia, the maxim ‘Trans lives matter’ would not have to be drilled into mass imagination. The onus to create this utopia also disproportionately falls on the trans-victims of state and societal oppression. They are required to build resistance, push for rights and inclusiveness with little social support flowing from the other ends of the table.
The sorry plight of affairs is reinstated in the Indian context by the passing of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act in 2019 despite vehement protests by the transgender community of the country. This Act shamelessly offers a reduced tenure of punishment for sexual offences against transgender persons in comparison to similar offences committed on women (cis-gender): the trivialization is too evident to miss out on. In this Act, the right to self-determination of gender that was recognized by the NALSA Judgement of 2014 is also given a decent burial by instituting diverse strands of gate-keeping. Another glaring instance of anti-trans state initiatives is evidenced by the exclusion of around two thousand transgender individuals from the National Register of Citizens, Assam due to inability to produce citizenship proof before 1971, absence of appropriate category for stating ‘other’ gender and a general lack of trans-inclusivity in the process of documentation. Even the process of registering citizenship is built on a politics of exclusion as it were.
As the world grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic and negotiates with concerns of contagion, disease, and social distancing, the transgender community has to bear the disproportionate burden of delays in gender-affirmative healthcare services and reduced access to peer and community support systems. The situation is particularly dire for transgender elders who are faced with overriding concerns of unsustainable livelihoods as well as sinking health. Moreover, for transgender individuals who are infected with the virus, affirming and barrier-free healthcare is a remote reality. Trans-led organizations across the globe are responding to the crisis in individual capacities and creating examples for effective community-driven interventions. The first-ever shelter home for the transgender community in India has opened doors in Kolkata during the ongoing horror of the pandemic, where an inmate can put up for 6 days maximum and 6 inmates can be housed at once. Distribution of ration was also taken up for community welfare. However, a lot remains to be done.
It is difficult to bring closure to a conversation about social security. I would end with my personal perception of safety as I navigate the streets of Kolkata. It is hard for me to remember a single day when I have not battled with gazes, mock laughter, and jeering, overt or covert jibes at my gender/sexuality. Using public washrooms becomes an ordeal of sorts as I am unwelcome to the binary of the toilet space. I have lost count of the number of instances when I have felt sexually violated in public spaces. The last incident that still haunts me was getting a rape-threat out of nowhere by a random biker in the street as he drove past me at break-neck speed while I was waiting for my Uber to arrive.
Written by - Aritra Chatterjee
Aritra Chatterjee (they/she) is an MPhil Trainee in Clinical Psychology at the Department of Applied Psychology, University of Calcutta, India. Self-identified as trans-feminine and queer, they keenly participate in mental health conversations centering LGBTQIA+ and kothi-hijra-dhurani communities. Their research interest lies in reimagining possibilities of queering mental healthcare systems and unsettling complicit stakeholders.