A few years back I was relaxing at the MGM beach resort near Chennai during my business travel to India. There were a few families with kids enjoying the view, sitting next to me in the restaurant patio. A waiter came up to me and said, “madam, shall I ask you something and I hope you won’t take it in the wrong sense ?”. I was pretty sure they were going to ask me to leave. Feeling a bit nervous, I replied, “sure, please go ahead”.
He smiled and said, “madam I have been noticing, you are look different but nice”. I quickly replied in a way that he would understand, “I am a hijra”. His face turned red and he was angry. “Please don’t say that, those are people who are begging in the street and having sex. You are educated and you live in U.S”.
I was surprised by his lack of understanding and quick judgement. I said “the only difference between those hijras and me is that they had the courage to come out, sacrificing their family, society and education to be who they are. But I did not. I was too sacred and ashamed to come out. I thought my parents would kick me out. I have come out after forty years and I want to help them live a dignified and respectable life in the society”. He nodded his head in agreement.
He enthusiastically went into the kitchen and brought a few of his colleagues. He shared about me to with them and they all took a pic with me. I pleaded with them to be nice to the hijra folks in their community.
Though the world has a positive view about the third gender in India, such stigma still exists in the Indian society toward the transgender community. Hijras are traditional transgender folks who lived centuries ago following religious and cultural practices based on hindu traditions. There are folks who are non traditional, not religious and do not identify with the Hijra community. They are millions of transgender folks who are still living in the closet and are afraid to come out.
We cannot change the society but small deeds of allyship and kindness can make a huge difference in this world. We need to build allies.
I humorously added,” if you don’t want to call me a hijra, you call me American hijra” We laughed. I had a memorable evening.