To begin a conversation on trans-erasure/phobia and invisibility, there are many intersections and the first one starts with the thought that “nobody should be allowed and will never be allowed to describe themselves in a way that ‘I’ wouldn’t agree with”. A number of trans-phobic/erasure conversations are surrounded by this and it kills—a mere thought that then translates into action is now killing people. To place this in context for someone who isn’t trans and reading this; a trans person is living in a world and sharing a space where your individuality and personhood are being put on trial and surveillance because a random person took a look at you and, in their head, decided that you are not behaving according to the traditional aspects laid down by society on how gender roles should be performed. Sounds horrific and oppressive, right? Well, that’s the world we now thrive in.
How does this impact a trans person? How deeply is this affecting their existence—which is an act of rebellion and resistance towards society and its norms?
The joy of trans people seems to emanate from their ‘genuine depth’ and their erasure in medical hospitals, because even nurses are averse to their presence. A lot of this does impact an individual and their mere everyday ways of expressing their fundamental and universal emotions. There is individual erasure and erasures of many other identities. Erasure of certain identities happens even within the trans spectrum, and for me, inclusion of such identities is all about the person’s self-determination and autonomy.
My friend, Shreyas, who is gender-fluid, says: “I have personally stopped expecting some visibility in any space. Even when there’s a dialogue about trans folks around me, I’ve now learnt that they are often binary trans-people. I find it difficult to talk openly even in the queer-friendly spaces about being gender-fluid, especially because I don’t overtly dress in a way that everyone expects me to. I fear everyone involved will forget that I too am a part of the community, and not take my existence seriously.”
I wanted to know what gives Shreyas joy, despite this treatment. He says, “My joy, however, lies closely to non-gendered pronouns like ‘they/them’. And even with the ‘identifying as a man/woman’ jokes that people make, I have found it easy to go along with them, and nobody bats an eyelid because I am playing into the ‘bit’ and I love the muddy waters it creates for everyone.”
Another friend, Ritash, says: “For them, rejection or indifference or erasure as a gender-fluid person means that there is misgendering involved, there is conflation with gender-transitioned folks and being constantly asked the gender ‘I’ identify more with.”
Ritash adds that many gender, sexual minorities and LGBTQIA+ folks also contribute to this erasure. So, there is some intensive labour that goes into explaining and hoping people understand things correctly, at least in terms of existence and acknowledgement.
For transgender, non-binary and other identities, living through the trauma of being marginalised is like it’s encoded in your genes. There are a number of ways in which people cope and sometimes they use humour to do so. But a cisgender person using humour to mock and berate us is not and never okay. As a non-binary person, it always felt traumatic to feel as though my self-worth would be accepted only if I conformed to my expected gender. It was distressing to hide; to not be visible; and, to be cut off from connections and people that made me happy. It’s disturbing to explore yourself in an environment that is a clear threat to your life. Forms of masculinity and femininity can be traumatic, especially to me. This was very real, and yes, I can joke about it. But only because I know what I have endured is real and life-changing. But when you have not endured what I have, and you treat it as a joke, it only tells me that you are a bigoted transphobe; that I do not have to be around you; and, that you carry certain expectations about people in order for them to exist and be valuable in your eyes.
Let’s acknowledge a very crucial component of this trauma, which begins in our own homes and with our parents. They preach unconditional love, until you are someone they are embarrassed of; until you love someone they do not approve of; and, until you become what they never thought you would be. There is a lot of shame involved in how society gives us these mean, remorseful, deviant and disgusting forms of expressions. In fact, they arise from some people who are very preachy about their message of love and inclusion.
Let’s normalise by adding that all trans, non-binary and other identity folks deserve respect for their boundaries and it is time to start acknowledging and respecting these. I think we should value practising empathy more in our everyday lives.
All these intersections are intrinsically interconnected to each other, and many of them are very individually connected to each other. Another intersection we need to explore is around the systematic and structural trans erasure. Even in the most-connected realities and corners of the world, there is an erasure of some magnitude happening. However, a very important aspect of this erasure sometimes is, in fact, enabled by many binary trans folks themselves. Calling non-binary, gender-fluid, gender-queer and gender non-confirming identities fake and unreal shows that there is a lot of internalised trans-misogyny that is prevalent.
Let me quote my friend ‘A’ who, while working for a queer setup witnessed something. ‘A’ told me: “This one trans-woman often kept referring to her social media influencer friend as ‘he’, while their Instagram account was widely used for non-binary advocacy and it also showed that this person used ‘they/them’ pronouns. I did correct the trans-person, but I don’t think she ever took me seriously.”
So what we see here is that, by default, some acts are harming the existence of others—whether intentional or not. A discourse on the future of trans and non-binary people cannot happen when the present circumstances are very punishing for many to exist.
Duha Co-founder, Intersex Human Rights India
(This appeared in the print as 'The Trauma Of Erasure')