In a Trans Queen Contest called ‘Solidarity Event’ held on 13th of December in Imphal, the capital of the north eastern state of Manipur, India, several trans queen who were participating in the competition walked the ramp holding placards condemning the verdict of the SC, uphelding the archaic and colonial law viz., section 377 of Indian Penal Code that criminalises ‘unnatural’ sexual acts between consenting adults whereby ‘natural’ is defined and limited to male-female and penile-vaginal sex thereby rendering same-sex sexual act a criminal offence. The event was organised by All Manipur Nupi-Maanbi Association (AMANA) and Solidarity and Action Against the HIV infection in India (SAARHI). The event was supported by Manipur State AIDS Control Society (MACS), American Jewish World Service (AJWS) and Alliance India.
Manipur state has a significant visible presence of male to female (trans-woman) as well as female to male (trans-man) transgenders. Male to female transgenders have a significant cultural presence and recognition as a part of a traditional form of theatre called Sumang Lila in which the female characters in the drama piece are played by men impersonating women while female to male transgenders form a large part of the home-guard as well as constable services in the state police force. All Manipur Nupi-Maanbi Association is a collective of many male to female transgenders across the state. Though sumang lila is still a very vibrant, celebrated and popular form of art and entertainment in the state and has been a source of income, dignity and a social space for many talented trans-woman whereby they are accepted in the way they prefer to be, however it cannot provide such a space to every trans-woman in the community. Also despite the acknowledgement of transgender artist seen in the parts of the culture there, the society is not wholly tolerant and acceptable of such deviance in sexuality and gender construction or identification. The locals refer to transwoman as ‘Homo’ an extraction from the word ‘homosexual’ or ‘homosexuality’. Though the tag ‘homo’ reflects a certain influence from the discourse around homosexuality in the West, however this conflation of transgender with homosexuality reflects a lack of a more nuanced and deeper understanding of both the community and constructions. Although the word ‘homo’ has become a part of the dialect there but the way it is understood or rather the meaning ascribed to it is only reflexive of and limited to a sense of othering or tagging the transgenders as ‘different’. The lives of the homos or nupi-maanbi’s (as the trans-woman would prefer to call themselves) in Manipur is also characterised by similar violence as seen in the lives of transgenders and Queers all over the world viz., public harassments and shaming; indifference towards their ideas and choices and coercion towards becoming a cis-gendered individual from family and in public institutions; no formal job opportunities so on and so forth.
Another popular trend in the lives of male bodied gender queers in the state is their dominance in the industry of beauty services such as bridal make-up, beauty parlours, movie make-ups, etc. The beauty industry is one of the major sources of income for trans-woman as individual and of the community. However there is also another side to this story whereby if one have to come out and identify as a transgender then the society has a tendency to limit one’s potential and ambition only within the beauty industry. Similarly in case of the female to male transgender, there is a societal tendency to limit their job opportunities only in the field of home-guard and constable services. Here I would like to mention that the Winner of the Trans Queen Contest is a student pursuing studies in medicine from Regional Institute of Medical Sciences in the state. One of the intrinsic struggle for people in the trans community and for people and organisations working with trans concerns at Manipur is to facilitate ways in which trans individual will be able to step out of such limited construction of their identity and way of life and to make changes in the general awareness and set up in the society to cater to such a change.
Another thing to be noted is that public harassment towards the trans-man are significantly less – almost negligible compared to the case of a trans-woman, but the indifference to their way of life is still very prominent among the locals. More often a trans-man is treated with respect and fear despite the general indifference towards his way of being. This could be said to reflect a certain bias in the society towards a process of transgressing gender. A male who wants to become a female is more humiliating then a woman wanting to become a man. A trans-woman because of its feminine aspirations is devalued whereas the masculine aspiration in the trans-man faces very little shaming or harassment. The trans males for their sheer identification as women – the so called ‘inferior’ gender, their transgression is perceived as a low aspirations whereas the trans male are treated with respect and feared for their masculine aspirations.
Though this history of queer individuals in the state is changing and will continue to do so. The recent Trans Queen Contest and the way it was received by the public and also Imphal being one of the places where people in large number and from every age group observed the global day of rage protest against 377 provides hope for certain changes in the society of the region whereby people are becoming more and more willing to accept differences and to be able to look at each other from the lens of human rights rather than a limited, narrow and violent lens of patriarchal gender and sexual categorisation.
The photographs in the blog was taken by Nandini Thokchom and Arbind Sorokhaibam, who are human rights activist based in Imphal and one of the prominent voices among the very few individuals and organisation along with the transgenders who is working in the state for equal opportunity and the dignity for the transgenders as any other cis-gendered citizen of the country.
For other/more pictures of the Trans Queen Contest, please visit :