There is a need to create a whole new vocabulary for people who identify themselves outside the gender binary
Gay/Lesbian/Trans*/confused/variable/Woman with a difference/Androgynous/Queer/Person assigned gender female at birth (PAGFB)/Person assigned gender male at birth (PAGMB)/Cisgender and so on and so forth. Are you gender plastic or gender fluid?
So many identities, so many ‘variations’, not ‘conditions’ stress members of LABIA, who have opened the floodgates of discussions around alternative sexualities with the release of a report that tries to understand concerns and realities of queer persons assigned gender female at birth across a spectrum of lived gender identities.
The limitations of language were exposed and nuances put to test while trying to faithfully represent respondents who identified with alternative sexualities. The report, “Breaking the Binary’, that was four years in the making faced several challenges, least of all that of articulation through language.
The people who have firmed up the report – Chayanika Shah, Raj, Shalini Mahajan and Smriti Nevatia – challenge the gender binary and firmly believe that different articulations over gender and sexuality cannot be uniform nor can the identities being chosen.
A whole set of pronouns had to be invented to be faithful to the gender identities that people espoused for themselves. So all those who identified as ‘man’ or ‘woman’ have been referred to by the appropriate gender pronouns: he, him, his; she, her hers. For those respondents who did not identify as either ‘man’ or ‘woman’, the study has used the category ‘others’, and chosen the pronouns ze, hir, hirs.
“Although everyone (with the exception of one respondent who was searching for a new way to speak of hirself) used either the male of female pronouns for themselves, we have used ze, hir, hirs to fill the gaps in a language which recognises only the gender binary. These (provisional) pronouns are also a useful way of indicating the gender location of the respondent in question, rather than having to clarify the point in every instance. In places where gender is not being specified, we have either used ze, hir, hirs or the generic plural they, them, their, theirs,” explains the report.
The term queer also had to be used in a very specific sense, to refer to people who may or may not know or actively use the word for themselves but who defined their own sexuality and/ or gender identity as not heterosexual and/or not cisgender. “It is in this sense that all 50 respondents – like all 11 researchers – are queer PAGFB.”
The term trans* refers to all persons whose own sense of their gender does not match the gender assigned to them at birth. Spelt with an asterisk, trans* is an umbrella term coined within gender studies in order to refer to all non-cisgender gender identities including transsexual, transvestite, genderqueer, genderfluid, genderless, agender, non-gendered, third gender, two-spirit, bigender, MTF (male-to-female), FTM (female-to-male), transwoman, transman, other, man-identified PAGFB, woman-identified PAGMB and (m)any others.
A cisgender person is someone whose own sense of her or his gender matches the gender assigned to her, or to him, at birth. Thus a cisman is a PAGMB who identifies as man, and a ciswoman is a PAGFB who identifies as woman. To be cisgender, then, is to enjoy cisgender privilege, which a trans* person lacks in a world based on the gender binary, explains the report.
The study recognises that human bodies have many variations and these could be at multiple levels. So it is in fact incorrect to talk of an absolute standard of ‘normal’ for the ‘male’ or the ‘female’ body.
“We choose to say persons with intersex ‘variations’ as against intersex ‘conditions’, to emphasise variations in bodies without pathologising them. Intersex variations are congenital differences in reproductive parts and/ or secondary sexual characteristics, and/ or variations invisible to the eye such as chromosomal and/or hormonal differences,” states the report.
The report is path breaking at several levels and has been able to articulate much that was never said before. But the researchers admit to having failed to reach out to a wider range of queer persons belonging to different strata of society, such as those belonging to non-Hindu religions, Dalits, tribals, the disabled, etc.
“We could only reach out to people who knew people through groups,” says a researcher. But this is a failure not of the people who took on the report but of the queer and feminist movements themselves that at some level remain exclusive despite the best intentions.
It is a challenge that the women’s rights movement, the queer feminist LBT collective recognises and is willing to address.