Role of Education in Building Identities: Reflection on My College Days
Gender has been structured as a binary social construct with men and women framed as absolute and unchanging opposites. As the structuring principle of society, the social construct of binary gender identities serves to obscure gender diversity and erase the existence of people who lay claim to an alternate gender identity. However, most people are socialized to adopt gender identities in accordance with one’s assigned sex at birth. The existence of transgender people who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, challenges the very idea of a single-sex/gender identity.
Transgender people face multiple forms of oppression. They are targeted at the schools where they are humiliated and forced to drop out of school, even though educating themselves have been their main objective to sustain themselves in the society. Even if the transgender manages to educate oneself, then she/he may face barriers in securing themselves employment as no employer would be ready to offer jobs. In India, the life of transgender people is a daily battle as there is no acceptance anywhere and they are ostracized from the society. Extreme social exclusion diminishes self-esteem and sense of social responsibility. In this context the objectives of this paper are (a) to determine the educational status of the transgender; (b) to examine the role of education to build identity of the transgender in the modern society, and (c) to understand the extent new identities help transgenders fight social stigma. To fulfill the purpose of this research study both primary and secondary data has been used. To gather primary data from the field, interview method has been used. Therefore, in this paper, the researcher has tried to understand the role that education plays so that the social identity of the transgenders are shaped and transformed within a predominantly hetero-normative society.
Keywords: Transgender, Education, Identity, Gender.
Gender has been structured as a binary social construct with men and women framed as absolute and unchanging opposites. Such constructs reply on stereotypes thereby masking the complicated realities and variety in the realm of social identity. As the structuring principle of society, the social construct of binary gender identities serves to obscure gender diversity and erase the existence of people who lay claim to an alternate gender identity. Gender theorists, such as Judith Butler and Gayle Rubin, have argued that, the very notion that there is an underlying “sex” to a person is socially constructed (Kang, Lessard, Heston, Nordmarken, 2017). This illustrates the difference between, gender assignment, which doctors/society places on infants based on the appearance of genitalia, and gender identity, which one discerns about oneself. However, most people are socialized to adopt gender identities in accordance with one’s assigned sex at birth and this further clarifies and strengthens gender as a social construct. The existence of transgender people, or individuals who do not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, challenges the very idea of a single-sex/gender identity. According to Sanger (2010), gender has been theorized in terms of maleness and femaleness with sexuality tending to be considered within a hetero-normative framework. The construction of gender and sexuality and the study of embodiment and intimacy have become more significant within sociological theory. Work on transgender subjectivities offers the researcher avenues through which one can explore the aspects of self and society.
Transgender studies emerged in the late 1990s as an academic field of study arising from the desire to study trans-genderism with an aim to engage with the diverse voices of trans people in a critique of social norms relating to gender and sexuality. Trans people are organizing themselves collectively so that they can gain a voice to challenge their exclusion from the society and transgender studies provide an exclusive platform for such discourse. It has also been argued that transgender studies have the potential to address emerging problems in the study of gender and sexuality (Sanger 2010).
Transgender people have existed in every culture, race, and class since the story of human life has been recorded. Transgender is not a term-limited to persons whose genitals are intermixed but it is a blanket term of people whose gender expression, identity or behavior differs from the norms expected from their birth sex. The literal meaning of transgender is beyond gender (Rajkumar, 2016). In contemporary usage, “transgender” has become an umbrella term that is used to describe a wide range of identities and experiences, including but not limited to: pre-operative, post-operative and non-operative transsexual people (who strongly identify with the gender opposite to their biological sex); male and female ‘cross-dressers’ (sometimes referred to as “transvestites”, “drag queens”, or “drag kings”); and men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, whose appearance or characteristics are perceived to be gender atypical. A male-to-female transgender person is referred to as ‘transgender woman’ and a female-to-male transgender person, as ‘transgender man’ (UNDP, 2010). Therefore, a transgender means a person who is neither wholly female nor wholly male; or a combination of female or male; or neither female nor male; and whose sense of gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at the time of birth, and includes trans-men and trans-women, persons with intersex variations and gender-queers (Transgender Persons Bill, 2016).
Transgender people face multiple forms of oppression. They are the target of unacceptance at the family level, with parents treating reversed gender attitudes with medical attention. Transgender persons are also targeted at the schools where they are humiliated and forced to drop out of school, even though educating themselves have been their main objective to sustain themselves in the society. Even if the transgender has managed to educate oneself, then she/he may face barriers in securing themselves employment as no employer would be ready to offer jobs. In India the life of transgender people is a daily battle as there is no acceptance anywhere and they are ostracized from the society and also ridiculed. They face high levels of stigma in almost every sphere of their life such as health, schools/colleges, employment, social schemes, and entitlement. Extreme social exclusion diminishes self-esteem and sense of social responsibility. The transgender community needs to be included in the mainstream development program of the country and be protected from all forms of abuse and exploitation (Rajkumar, 2016).
Arguments have also been placed by Babbar (2016), where she argues that despite the full rights and protections of citizenship, transgenders are subjected to shaming and assault. They have not only faced exclusion from the rights and privileges of marriage and parenthood, but also in the domains of personhood, education, and employment, which curbs their rights of expression and association. There is absence of schooling which leads to a high drop-out rate, absence of sexual autonomy, along with demeaning stereotypical depictions in the media, harassment in everyday life and marginalization in public spheres and deliberative bodies, all of which are injustices of recognition. (Babbar, 2016).
Unlike the past, when transgenders were considered as the excluded personality, transgenders too have realised their own rights and privileges nowadays. In India, transgenders were looked at as an underprivileged section. Society defines both male gender and female gender but is silent about the third gender i.e, the transgenders, have been constantly struggling to find a meaningful and respectable position for themselves (Sarada, 2016). They have always been portrayed as outsiders and excluded. Throughout India, the life of this transgenders is the same with much humiliating and painful incidents where they were compelled to leave their native place and disguised their body as they wish to live. Thus transgenders lead a life detached from family and society. The contemporary status of transgender is therefore characterized by their traumatic and violent experiences in the society. Individuality and sexual identity are under threat in such a society which imposes focus mainly upon the masculine and feminine gender. Indian society projects the meaningless existence of transgenders who lead a life of emptiness and social isolation. Everything seems a burden to transgenders in society such as family, job, career, education, marriage however hard they had tried, their endeavours are fruitless. Treatment of Indian transgender could be viewed in terms of their marginalized and sub-ordinate position. Therefore, in this paper the researcher has tried to understand the role that education plays so that the social position of the transgenders are shaped and transformed. The transgender community needs to be included in the mainstream development program of the country and be protected from all forms of abuse and exploitation. Lastly the paper also attempts to try map the extent of stigma that they face within a predominantly hetero-normative society.
The main objectives of this paper are:
The study has been conducted among the transgender community who are associated with various NGOs. Also, such transgenders who are not members of any NGO were interviewed. The purpose of this research is to study the transgender community and gain insightful data on them. The current research is based on both primary and secondary data. To study the transgender community interviews have been conducted and for conducting the interview the researcher has taken the help of a schedule. The current study is a case study as it aims to identify the transgender as cases for a broader and sweeping investigation. The nature of the study is such that other methods cannot capture. So case study would be ideal as it is considered a robust research method entailing holistic in-depth investigation and would help focus on a broad area such as the subject’s (transgender person) relationship in a particular group, necessitating that the group (transgender community) also be examined.
For data collection, interviews were set up. The setup of the interviews ranged from private offices to public spaces; from the office room of the contacted NGOs to food court of malls, as per the suitability of the respondent and the researcher. To gain insights on the nature of the education that the transgenders have faced since their young days, which has paved a path to build a new identity, an interview guide was developed. Such an interview guide facilitated the data collection process to a great deal, as it allowed the respondents to talk more about the nature of education facilities that has been made available to them.
Table 1: Qualification of the Respondents
Number of respondents
1 10% Matric
2 20% Higher secondary
2 20% Graduation
4 40% Post graduate
1 10% Total
[Following the case study, it was revealed that out of the 10 respondents, 2 each of them had passed matric and higher secondary passed, while among the others 4 had completed their graduation and 2 others was postgraduates.]
When questioned those respondents who were members of NGOs, about their educational qualifications, it was known that all of them has passed their higher secondary examinations. But regarding others in their community, it was a doubt because not all got favourable environment to continue their education. This was because once the society labelled them as different; there was a natural tendency of marginalization. But they assured that given the opportunity to educate themselves, the transgender would avail the opportunity. The reason cited by them for being educated at the elementary level was that most of them were not aware of the differences prevalent in their bodies until they were of a certain age. But they were quite conscious that they looked different, had different likings, preferred to dress up like girls, loved dressing up and always saw themselves at the position of the female actress while watching any movie. Very few of the community got the opportunity to study further but they have been able to progress up to the graduation level only.
But on the other hand those respondents who were contacted independently, seem to be educated to a greater level. They cited that it was parental guidance and self-determination that has lead them this far. In their early childhood, they did face social stigma at school, but they managed to face the societal pressure and finish their education. They were of the view that education is the road to all success. If they can educate themselves then the society will not look upon them as weak. With better education, they will be able to secure themselves good jobs and that will help them fight social stigma and gain a position in the society.
Following are a few excerpts of the many interviews conducted which reflect the amount of social stigma along with nature of the education that the transgenders have faced and how they have managed to fight that social stigma and built a whole new self, a new identity, that have helped them gain a position in this hetero-normative society.
Ananya: When I was a young boy studying in class 9, I realized that my body was developing in a different way, not in similarity with other boys in my class. Realizing the abnormalities growing in my body, my parents got worried. They immediately took me to the nearby SSKM hospital. But I could feel that my body was not responding to this treatment. When medicines were not making any impact on my body, what was the point in taking them! In such a way only money was being wasted; “poisa to r gache e fol e na!” My parents were also not that well off in terms of financial conditions. So I stopped taking medicines. I thought that it was time I let my body develop the way it wants. By the time I passed school and took admission in college, I had developed more self-confidence and decided that it was time I took decisions regarding my body, myself. Involving my parents meant adding to their distress. It was best I give time to my body and see how it develops. The recent developments in my body surprised me a lot. Along with developing breasts, which was a considerable size now, I realized that my voice had not cracked and I had not developed body hair. Like other boys in my college, I didn’t have a typical male hoarse voice not did I have hair on my arms. Absence of moustache and beard added to the complications. I became the object of laughter and abuse at the same time. As a result I started to hide myself. Hiding not in the sense that I stopped going out of the house, but that I started to dress myself in such a manner so that the odd developments in my body were less visible. Such practices helped me to face the society and at the same time, it made my parents happy.
Bipasha: From the time I have known who I am, I was in Mumbai. When I came to Mumbai I was a very young. Even though my caretakers introduced me into the begging business, they also sent me to a school. I used to participate in the business only after I returned from school. Once at school I was asked which class I had been last, so that I could go to the next class. But I told them that I don’t remember going to any school in Bangladesh. But sadly I could not complete my education. I have received education till class 8 only. The reason for not being able to complete my education is that, I was packed off from Mumbai and send to Kolkata. At Kolkata, I was never asked whether I want to finish my education or not. Rather I was asked to get to work immediately.
Riyaan: At school, when I grew a bit older, say for class 9 or class 10, I started developing likes towards girls. I found this quite weird, as why would I being a girl, love girls!! In fact I should be developing feelings for boys, just like other girls in my class! My feelings for girls went so far that I even had a crush on one of my seniors. Though I never had the courage to go and speak to her or even talk about it with my friends, I made sure that I kept marked this incident in my diary. Questions of who I am, never left my mind. Even when I was in class 11 and class 12, I had likings towards girls, but I never had the courage to express myself entirely. Soon I finished school and I joined engineering. During my time at Engineering College I stay in hostel. During my college days I was careful enough not to reveal my actual identity. I was never of that kind who would be wearing saree or salwar to college. I loved jeans. To make sure that people were not suspicious of my identity and also at the same time I can maintain my likes and dislikes, I started wearing the normal straight cut jeans to college. I used to team up such jeans with a kurti or t-shirts. I had developed an attitude that, ‘amar ja bhalo laage, at ami baki lokjon der bujhte debo na. Ami keno bujhte debo? Ora ki amake bujhbe?’Engineering studies demanded much concentration and effort that I was left with hardly any time to concentrate on mind. I started paying less attention to the development of my other self. Thus the first few years at college all my attention was focused in studies. Things started to change in the later years of my college life when I started liking a particular teacher of a call. The lady teacher was on strikingly beautiful and at the same time her classes were very interesting. She also took extra effort in making the class understand her paper. Her method of teaching was so unique that during her classes I was entranced most of the time. I could see that’s my masculine self was taking control of me once again. I could not let that happen. Parallel thought also started to occur, that my father would be retiring soon and I had to shoulder family responsibilities. My aim was that I had to finish Engineering with a good grade and then secure myself with a job. A good job therefore became my first priority. In a few more months the course got over, I should mention that our college follow the semester system and one course was for 1 semester only. In the next semester and make sure that I do not opt for any course of that particular female teacher as that would divert my attention once again. I have to focus myself on my studies. In the next semester one particular course demanded extra attention. Most of my friends joined a local tuition where the tutor would guide us through that course. I to join the same tuition. But they say, problems never cease to exist. That was also the case for me. At tuition there was this attractive girl who caught my attention. Soon we started talking to each other and we became the best of friends. But I was careful enough not to engage myself deeply. I still do not know what I actually want. I still had to figure out whether I prefer hanging out with girls or boys. You see girl or boys as friends are different. What I mean here is a partner for life, with whom I can share everything, from one of the opposite sex. But I myself was confused of my identity I still did not know whether I am a boy or a girl. Soon we became so engrossed with our studies that the feelings of likeness for each other disappeared from our life.
Rahul: In school, I started liking a girl of my class and other boys started to create problems. For them I was not behaving normally and quite often commented, ‘mey hoye mey der sathe prem korche’! But I got deeply involved with this girl in my class and we expressed our love for each other. Then my class as well as those senior to me bullied me and embarrassed me both in the school as well as outside school. By the time I finished school and was deciding how to go about next my father passed away leaving me alone to take all my decisions. I could not handle the extensive amount of societal pressure as well as family pressure that was being created around me that I started taking sleeping pills to tackle the amount of depression. I said to myself that “if the society does not want him to live, I shall not live. But at the same time I will not allow the society to live either”. Amidst this tension, I finished my college but never could give away with the long list of female followers. That I always had girlfriend around me made my friends envious of me. They always try to harm me subject me to humiliation and harassment. This is when I realised that I have to fight and make my ground strong enough to answer the society back. I decided to cut myself off all relationships and devote myself to religion. I got myself blessed under Ramkrishna Mission, Belur Math and took time to try and understand myself, what I want, what I want to believe in and how I want to portray myself. Meanwhile I got myself work. I engaged myself under a doctor to learn physiotherapy strategies.
Raja: In school, I always loved the company of girls more than boys. In fact many boys did not talk to me as I preferred hanging out with girls rather than boys. When young I always had my own group of friends who always supported me and stood by me. Many even did not say anything when they came to know that I was different. But the case was different with my seniors at school. They never left any chance of teasing me or harassing me. Support was also received from teachers at my school; especially the Geography teacher who when noticed that I was developing different sexual attitude and behaviour made me understand that I am not similar two other girls or boys. Not knowing how to deal with the differences being reflected in my body and behaviour at that time I was well confused and often asked my teachers as why I was such. It was when I grew a bit older, the time when I was in class 10 to be more precise, that I started to realize that I am different. My likes, dislikes, preferences and behaviour was not like it should have been, similar to other boys of my age. But rather more girlish. Since this feeling was new to me, I could not myself identify what was happening to me, but I could sense that things were not normal. Much later when I had passed class 12, I experienced very different attitude of boys around me. There have been many instances when I was sexually harassed. The fact that I was also of that age made me quite accessible to other boys of my age. It can be said that people used me to their benefits, ‘jake bole lokjon amar sujog niyeche’.
Shefali never said much about her school days. She remembers her first day of school in the first grade. She was being led around the school yard by two girls, one on each side, each holding one of her hands. She felt a warm, pleasant sensation. Now she realizes those were sexual feelings. The next day she searched the school yard for the two girls, but they were no-where to be found and she never saw them again. Since her mother had raised her alone, she spent of the time alone, trying to understand herself and try new and different things to discover which way she felt best.
Tista: I never liked going to school much. The school that I went was a boys’ school and I had not much friends. I never liked playing with other boys or hanging out with them. Most of the days I used to spend alone, be it school or home. At school when my feminine behaviour and attitude started to get noticed, I had a tough time. Since I went to boys’ school, my actions became their stock of laughter and they used to refer to me as, “Oi dekh ladies jachche!!” Such comments used to disturb me a lot and this was one of the reasons that lead to my dropout from school. At that time my teachers did not provide me with adequate knowledge as to what were the changes that were going on within me. In fact the teachers added to the stock of laughter. I could find no reason to go to school anymore as my friends had decreased to a negligible number. There was a time when I did expect support from my teachers as I thought that as teachers they will be able to provide me with guidance. There were times when no one used to talk to me; neither the students who had identified as my friends nor the teachers who I thought would empathize with my situation. It was during this time of growing that I found no one at school by my side. Since I showed different traits of growing, none of my friends accepted me as their friend. And my teachers themselves avoided me, leave alone making attempts to make my friends understand that they should also empathize with me. Such was the trauma experienced at school that later I never could manage up enough courage to finish my education. During my school days that is around 20 to 25 years back the notions of transgender lesbian and gay was not widely used. Teachers at school openly accepted that they are anti-gay and anti-transgender. Developing differently caused anxiety among my school friends and this was enough to make me feel exploited. As a result I never gave thought about going to college and getting myself educated.
Thus it can be said that the transgenders are a minority and hence they are ridiculed and exploited and have not been given fair chances of education. Radical activism has resulted in them being able to bring about social transformation so that they are not excluded from participating in social and cultural life. The transgender community is of the view that the only way people are going to be more open and accepting them is through education; education is the biggest key to anything. It has been seen that the transgenders has since a long time suffered a lot at the hands of the society in India, even though others in various parts of the world have lived a better life. It is now the duty of the society to take a stand for them, make life easier for them, so that they face fewer problems in the society. They too have the same rights and duties as citizens of India, the difference being that their gender orientation is different from other males and females. Just the way we humans seek to achieve higher positions and status in the society, in same way, the road to their achievement of a position should be made easier. If the extent of marginalization is reduced and their position in the society is made better, then a lot many problems that they are facing will be solved. When in one state of the country a transgender has been able to fight the problems that lay in her way and move a step ahead to achieve a better position in the society, it has paved the way for other such transgenders to break through the problems and live a life of dignity, “where the mind is without fear and the head is held high; where knowledge is free; where the world has not been broken up into fragments; by narrow domestic walls…..”.
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