To all the unapologetic transphobic persons

காப்பகங்களிலிருந்து - From the archives

Ojas wasn’t cast as sex starved trans gender… It was just a character. In fact, the doctor character was also shown like that in the movie.. So, are all doctors going to strike? ‘I’ showed people that such a talented transgender exists in real life. Actually, the movie respects them (sic)

I have seen a few opinions like this floating around about the portrayal of a trans woman character in the Tamil film I directed by Shankar. And I can’t take it anymore. These insolent, unapologetic, cis-privileged opinions will only silence the plight and suffering of an average trans* person. These opinions, in fact, are a softer and more potent form of perpetuating the oppression of trans* people.

Dear movie-goers,

I am only a cis-gendered woman, who seldom is a consumer of the entertainment industry, who wants to get this point across. Being a doctor is a profession. Identifying as trans* person is a gender identity. One can’t even think of comparing two such roles. As ridiculous as it might around, I think I should say why such comparisons are not merely nonsensical but are lethal.

In real life, doctors are not being insulted and dehumanized. They are not being abandoned by their parents for being different. They aren’t shunned by their friends or ostracized by strangers. Their plight isn’t being systematically ignored.

Doctors aren’t bullied, starting from their adolescence. They aren’t called ‘ombodhu’, ‘potta’, ‘ali’ and such hateful names. Historically, doctors haven’t had the need to beg or get pushed into sex work, because they had not the worry of dropping out of education or ending up in unemployment.

Doctors aren’t alienated because of who they innately are. No one turns their faces away from doctors due to ingrained revulsion. Doctors do not experience the excruciating realisation of being different from their peers and the strongest will power to accept their identity. Only as recent as last year, trans* people have been given recognition as an official ‘third gender’. 

Even when a doctor needs to seek justice from this flawed institution, he or she need not fear about being ignored, silenced, insulted or worse, sexually assaulted just because of their existence. Doctors are not the butt of every cheap joke in reel and real life.

In the glorious Tamil and Indian movie industry, so many have films shown doctors as noble people, good human beings. Sure, films like Ramanaa and Vasool Raja MBBS also exposed some of the horrors and hypocrisy plaguing the current health care sector. But the ‘good doctor; doctors are noble’ theme prevails, all the same.

Can you think of at least a few movies that treated trans* as normal people, like you and me, with love, disappointments, dreams, anger, frustration, laughter, jealousy and basically as people with their own lives ? (I can think of only Kaanchana; I heard Onnayum Aatukuttiyum was a good one.) Still, the sheer number of trans phobic ‘jokes’/ songs have achieved their target; people instinctive make fun of and laugh at trans* people.

What is the most famous trans* character you can think of in a Tamil movie? 

For me, its Prakash Raaj from that movie starring Prashanth and Theivaiyaani, where the heroine is kidnapped and pushed into the sex industry by the trans* pimp who is violent and cunning and borderline psychotic.

Do we know how much that portrayal affected the trans* community? I’m no movie analyst but in a society where they were already denigrated, I suspect that the fear of them induced even more trans phobia and this spawned even more fear leading to further alienation of them. I’m talking only about the attitude of people I have seen in my life. Nevertheless, you and I know that this trans phobia is widely prevalent.

Sure, any person, cis- or trans-, can be sex starved and villainous; but have trans* people been portrayed anything other than that in mainstream movies?

There lies the crux of problem.

Being casually portrayed as people who always lust after any male available nearby isn’t seen in ‘I’ alone. Off the top of my head, I can think of two songs.

1. ‘Thiruvizzhalanu vandha, iva koyil vara maataa’, from the movie Jeyam. Remember the trans* woman cornering the hero’s (conventionally ‘unattractive’) friends and singing, “Aasa vaccha raasa, naa meesa vaccha rosaa..”?

2. “Unakkum venum, enakkum venum, kattu katta kaasu venum” from the movie Vaanam. A trans* woman pulls VTV Ganesh near, using his angavastram and shakes her hips and bust near his face, and everyone is supposed to laugh at his discomfort. Because, he actually wanted to be teased by the beautiful sex worker, a ‘real’ woman. 

(I’m sure the list of such micro and macro aggressions, if listed, would fill us would with horror and indignity at people who use the trans* community to provide cheap ‘entertainment’)

Now, tell me again that characterisation of trans* people is just a part of the movies and one should only focus on the bigger parts of the work and laugh things away. Because you’re not merely laughing at a trans phobic joke, you’re murdering a part of humanity by your laughter.

This opinion is not complete. It does not talk of the suicides, the rapes, the depression, the poverty and such because I can, in no way, appropriate the voice of trans people. If anything is erroneous in the above piece, please do point it out.