Yesterday I attended the release of a book “Chasing numbers, betraying people” by a sexual minority group.
What was particularly interesting about the release was that the speakers, organizers and majority of the attendees were from the sexual minority groups. “This’ I thought ‘is a stable way forward for real empowerment, rather than having a representative speak for them.’
The speakers shared their experiences. They spoke about how they were expected to completely stop being sexual beings if they were found to be HIV positive. Counselors from the government and NGOs were just not skilled or equipped to deal with sensitive issues related to transgender sexuality. The only approach was preachy and moralistic. This attitude was further aggravated by the total lack of secrecy and confidentiality about HIV testing, many of which were done forcibly and without recourse to even a pretension of informed consent.
Several years back I interacted with a group of transsexual people and they had many stories to share. The nature of these stories have not changed even after 10 years – they were exposed to physical and verbal abuse, especially by the police, public servants and general public; they were not allowed easy access to an identity, whether it was a ration card or a PAN card or a passport; their information was made public with total disregard for sensitivity and confidentiality; their families were informed about their HIV status inspite of them not consenting; they were also ostracized by other human rights and minority rights groups because they are a ‘kind of minority that others don’t want to speak about or be associated with’. Apparently the group invited at least 30 people to come and release the book, but they were either ignored or outright refused.
The suicide rates are high and seem to be peripherally linked to a positive HIV status that was disclosed to family without their consent. One of the speakers described how families could not handle the double social whammy of a son turning transsexual and also being found HIV positive. The result was further deterioration in family relations and sometimes suicide by the family member or the person affected.
The different kinds of transsexual people make one wonder – is male and female an artificial distinction? Is there a spectrum of gender? Are X and Y chromosomes really such specific genes, or is there a sequence or a range of gender possibilities? A lot of our maleness or femaleness is determined by our society and culture. If we give a space to individuals to develop their own unique sexuality, is it such a bad thing? How should religion deal with this issue?