India: Why terms like ‘transgender’ don’t work for #India’s ‘third-gender’ communities

Indian society, if we can momentarily suppose such a monolithic entity, is far older than the post-Victorian, normative society that defines the modern cultures of the West. People we might consider transgender have existed across societies for as long as they themselves have existed, but in South Asia they have formed distinct communities with histories and mythologies that go back hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Age-old texts such as the "Mahabharata" and the "Kama Sutra" refer to eunuchs, and there are tales of gods — even the most powerful of them — who change genders on a whim.

That is partly why the term "transgender" is seldom used in the Indian context. In Indian legalese, the term most commonly employed is "third gender" — as when, two Aprils ago, India's "third gender" was acknowledged by the country's Supreme Court, which stated that "it is the right of every human being to choose their gender." Those wishing to can now indicate that status on government-issued identification and other formal documents, but, more importantly, Indian states were directed to afford special considerations through affirmative action and welfare programs.

In everyday usage, however, terms such as "hijra," "kothi," "kinnar," "shiv-shakti" and "aravani" are more common, depending on which region of the country one is in.  Read more via Washington Post