And it’s not Ray Hanania.
It is important to understand that the concept of the Hijra is not transferable to our Western understanding of gender and sex, even with the 27th Wave post-gender Feminism. The BBC articles linked above define Hijras as Eunuchs – individuals who have been born as men but were castrated at an early age for “medical or social reasons.” This is such an oversimplification that my face hurts.
Hijras are an inclusive -not exclusive- group of “male-born” sexually ambiguous but female identifying individuals. Their sexual characteristics vary from castration to underdeveloped male genitalia (and these two are often linked) to biological males who just happen identify with being female (this latter being a more modern phenomenon). They have long been a part of South Asian culture and society. For centuries, hijras held a rather elite role, regulated to the private realm, as a source of either court entertainment as dancers or assistance to the women of the house (since they were seen as essentially asexual and unable to cause penetrative harm!). Today, hijras are still a source of entertainment (at weddings, birthdays, etc) however one which comes with much tokenization and discrimination.
It should be interesting to see the response this receives from the public. In India, the recognition has gone so far as that hijras can specify themselves as an “other” sex when voting while in Pakistan, there has been a legal recognition to guarantee inheritance rights.
And this is all pretty significant, especially in a country like Pakistani which has a very varied flavour of Islam, which, interestingly enough, has it own arguable recognition of a third gender (in some respects). It doesn’t mean that we’re going to see the eventual breakdown of the gender parity, and same-sex marriage will overtake South Asia and everyone will become genderless and thus free love will prosper. No. Calm down, you liberal pinkos. That’s not what this entails. If anything, these legal moves are just part of a long tradition in which the hijras have played a significant role, that was diminished in the colonial and post-colonial contexts. For all the rigidity that exists regarding sex and gender relations in South Asia, there’s some freakiness up in there too that was in full fledge before imperialist patriarchy came in and took a big ol’ crap. In fact, this sort of weird symbiosis between sexual discipline and sexual exhibitionism has existed throughout the Eastern lands to varying degrees.
To continue on my tangent, Iran is another prime example of the aforementioned relationship and its evolution, as illustrated in Afsaneh Najmabadi’s provocative Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity. I didn’t really read it all, but my anthropology seminar professor provided an excellent summary. Something about a third gender, influence of western patriarchal ideals, and the subsequent disciplining of the male and female sexes for purposes of nation-building and modernizing. Or something to that effect. Sounded solid. (I’ll be revisiting this particular topic of sexuality soon in the future.)
Back to Pakistan – my guess is that there most likely will not be any sort of major backlash from the population other than from a few select religious conservative groups. At least, I hope that’s the case. Pakistanis probably should be more preoccupied with the complete instability and steady loss of their country than with the gender construction debate.
Just saying.Filed Under gender, hijras, Pakistan, ray hanania, Sana, sex, Will