hijra femininity

Even though hijras are considered neuter or neither man nor woman, they identify exclusively with the female gender. They take great pride in their femininity and enjoy dressing up in female clothes such as the saree, salwaar-kameez (a long Indian shirt worn with roomy pants) and western clothes. They grow their hair long like women and make use of typical Indian female adornments like earrings, necklaces, bangles, anklets and the bindi (the round, usually red dot that adorns the forehead of Hindu women). My experiences with hijras all over India prove that they are given to exaggerating their femininity. They walk with a swinging gate provocatively swaying their hips, talk and gesticulate more dramatically than genetic females. Nowadays, with beauty parlors mushrooming in every nook of India, it is not uncommon to see hijras getting their eyebrows shaped, legs waxed or a facial done.

Beauty contests are held to help hijras express their femininity and talents. I heard about a transgender beauty contest organized at the Beiga Chandra Open Air Theatre (BOAT) in Manipur from a friend. Apparently, the contest, held on January 17th 2003, had 33 contestants representing different states of North Eastern India. The contestants were judged on the basis of their height, weight, general awareness, talents and other aspects of personality just like in any other beauty contest. According to my friend, the adjudged transgenders were as beautiful, poised and confident as genetic women. The intent of their taking part in the beauty contest was a profound desire to be accepted as ‘normal’ and to show the mainstream society that they are also human beings deserving of equal opportunities and the right to equal participation.

Since the hijras identify with the female gender and use the feminine pronoun to describe themselves, they are attracted to men. Since most hijras are born in male bodies, they may, by default, be put into the ‘homosexual’ category. Article 377 of the Indian constitution refers to homosexuality as “carnal intercourse against the law of nature” and has declared practicing it a punishable crime. The reiteration of article 377 by the highest court of the country may have put some hijras out of business. Even though hijras are primarily ‘homosexual’, there are a few who are known to sleep with women as well.

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