Vote 2020 graphic
Everything you need to know about and expect during
the most important election of our lifetimes

Cross-dresser: "I Don't Want To Be A Woman,"

Illustration for article titled Cross-dresser: I Dont Want To Be A Woman,

An interview with a gender-bending filmmaker is a window into the state of Indian conceptions of gender.

Advertisement

"I DON'T WANT TO BECOME A WOMAN," the Telegraph article is titled, and this point is driven home: although our reaction might be something along the lines of, "yeah, we didn't assume you did," it's clear that in India, filmmaker Rituparno Ghosh's cross-dressing requires the explanation.

In general, Indian LGBT rights are at a crossroads. On the one hand, it's a country that for thousands of years has laid claim to the transsexual Hijra caste; but this is a group that's consistently marginalized and abused. And while gay-rights organizations are growing in strength and number, the 19th Century colonial Indian Penal Code until last year described a same-sex relationship as an "unnatural offence."

Advertisement

Perhaps it's the presence of the largely-transsexual Hijras that forces Ghosh to clarify a status that, here, might fall under the elastic label of "genderqueer." He also makes the point that fluidity is an intrinsic part of Indian culture, and that binaries are largely a colonial construct.

I consider myself privileged because of my gender fluidity, the fact that I am in between. I don't consider myself a woman and I don't want to become a woman. I can wear kurta pyjama and direct a film; I can also wear kajal and jewellery and attend a social do.... The concept of unisex has been monopolised by women. Women can wear men's clothes. The problem arises when men wear women's clothes. Whatever I wear has always been worn by men. Wearing things like earrings and necklaces has always been a part of our sartorial history and tradition. These were tagged as feminine frills during colonial rule and I don't see anything wrong in reinstating it. My point is why shouldn't I celebrate my sexuality?

In a conservative film culture, his turn in the gay-themed Aarekti Premer Galpo ("Just Another Love Story") is also boundary-breaking. And the film, he says, "is set in a very specific cultural context - the tradition of performing femininity." His hopes for the film — the story of a relationship between two men of differing gender identity — are ambitious and heartening.

I can say that the audience will go through an emotional journey that will set them thinking anew about homosexuality. Because the film is also about the heart and the mind. What annoys me is that the moment we say homosexuality the first image that comes up is of two bodies in bed. Why don't we think of, for instance, two men or two women chatting in a coffee shop or watching TV together?...Even people who are homo-empathic look upon homosexuals as hapless victims of circumstances. I think it is an absolutely wrong notion, which leads homosexuals to believe that they are so. I think they are extremely privileged the way they are. The problem lies with how society looks at them; and not with them. Society can't accept people who are not normative.

Advertisement

These are bold words in a country where most homosexual relationships are forced underground, lesbians are frequently turned out by their families and, according to a 2009 survey "73% Indians feel homosexuality should be considered illegal while 83% felt that homosexuality is not part of Indian culture and 90% of Indians won't give their house on rent to a gay or lesbian couple." But it wouldn't be the first time film has been an engine of change.

I DON'T WANT TO BECOME A WOMAN [Telegraph]

Fear And Loathing In Gay India [BBC]
India's Transgendered - The Hijras [New Statesman]

Share This Story

Get our newsletter

DISCUSSION

divinelioness
divinelioness

Hmmm...I'm trying to think of why the bit of the quote about the "concept of unisex" being "monopolized by women" bothers me.

I think it's because, although we women are more allowed to play with androgyny, (and even then, not completely) it is because of our assumed inferiority.

Of course women would WANT to act like/be like men, as masculinity is considered more positive...Hence we have a whole culture of women who claim to not have female friends, and consider it positive to be a 'guy's girl", or a 'tomboy', or not be into 'girly things', all with an air of superiority. This makes sense, as masculinity is the dominant, and desirable to live up to. This is why we get song lyrics like "He's pro'lly buying her some fruity little drink 'cause she can't shoot whiskey." The implication is that fruity drinks are less 'cool' than whiskey, which is more manly than a cocktail, and that a woman who drinks those 'girly' drinks is also, by extension, inferior.

The dominant system would then punish men for not wanting to 'be like' IT. Thus, of course men would be penalized for wanting to participate in things considered feminine or associated with women....That is like wanting to be associated with something inferior. It would make you inferior in even a worse way than women, since it would be seen as though someone 'chose' that association. "Women can't help being women, but boys and men CAN help wanting to wear make-up...etc" -quote from my youth pastor about the original sin of women being less 'bad' than homosexuality.

Sorry I'm so long winded....What I meant to say was...YAY groundbreaking film!