Transcending the 'Real' vs 'Fake' Debate: Perspectives from Transpersons' Rights Activists

In Uttar Pradesh’s Maharajganj, a conflict arose between a self-proclaimed real eunuch and a suspected imposter — both seeking alms — fueled the debate.
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New Delhi: A simple Google search flashes more stories on “fake transgenders” than articles on the complexities of the community. This makes one ask: who these people are who disguise them as a trans person.

On February 21, a case of heated confrontation between a so-called real eunuch and an alleged imposter, both seeking alms from a family on the birth of a child, came to light from Maharajganj in Uttar Pradesh. 

Upon learning about the alleged extortion attempt by the supposed fake eunuch, few from the Kinnar community intervened and voiced their protest.

Tensions escalated quickly, leading to a scuffle. Upon arriving at the police station, the eunuchs caused a commotion while filing a complaint. The real eunuchs lodged a complaint, urging authorities to take appropriate action.

Police Station in-charge Balendu told The Mooknayak, “Two people who claimed to be Kinnar had gone for ‘Badhai’ ritual. They were caught by ‘real’ Kinnars and both the groups started fighting. Now, the issue has been resolved.”

Ritwik, a transgender non-binary activist and scholar from Lucknow, explained how such cases come along. 

“A system known as Dera-Gharana is associated with specific transgender individuals, which are widely recognized by the public,” he said, adding that conflicts arise when individuals who identify as transgender but are not affiliated with a specific gharana participate in rituals or claim association with a gharana to which they do not truly belong to.

There are cases where some trans people are revealed to have been belonging to heterosexual families. Talking about them, the scholar added, “Someone having a family cannot be a parameter to judge their ‘fakeness’ because being trans is a gender identity and many often fall prey to the heteronormative societal structure.”

“Adding on to it,” the activist explained, “If one is involved in criminal activities, their gender identity should not be the first thing that is brought into question”.

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“Even a criminal has the right to self-identify themselves. If they say they are trans, one is obligated to check the third gender category,” said Ritwik.

When asked about such similar situations, Shamibha Patil from Maharashtra, who is the founder of the Transgender Hakka Adhikar Sangharsh Samiti, commented, “There is no concept of fake transgenders.”

Talking to The Mooknayak, the activist added, “There are trans people who have undergone sex-reassignment surgery and then there are some who haven’t. In any case, undergoing the surgery is not a parametre of being trans.”

She said people who have not undergone the surgery are at times called fake, and thought to be “men in sarees”, which they are not.

“When it comes to gender identity, there are some people who undergo dysphoria and decide to embrace their transness,” she said.

According to the Transgenders Protection Act 2019, “transgender person” means a person whose gender does not match with the gender assigned to that person at birth and includes trans-man or trans-woman (whether or not such person has undergone the Sex Reassignment Surgery, hormone therapy, laser therapy or any other such medical procedure).

Chapter three of the Act that deals with recognition of identity of transgender persons states that a trans person “has a right to self-perceived gender identity”.

The activist said the NALSA judgement and the Transgender Protection Act of 2019 empower a consenting adult to self-determine their gender. 

“So, calling someone ‘fake’ not only goes against the law but is also morally wrong,” she explained.

“If a person is using self-perceived gender identity for criminal activities, then the person may be tried as someone who is faking his or her identification. But even then, it is for the law to decide,” remarked Padma Lakshmi, a transgender lawyer from Kerala.

While speaking to The Mooknayak, she added, “The primary issue is that many trans people do not have the accessibility to legal recourse. There are multiple applications pending when it comes to transgender ID cards.”

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In December 2023, statistics provided by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in response to a question by Lok Sabha MP Jayadev Galla revealed that there were over 3,200 applications, which have been pending for more than 30 days, seeking to obtain a transgender certificate and ID card.

The data further showed that by late 2023, the government had received a total of 24,115 applications and issued 15,800 certificates.

Also, there is a higher discrepancy when it comes to trans people from the Dalit and Adivasi communities.

Talking about the recent case in Uttar Pradesh, Ritwik said, “Here is where we need to acknowledge the inter-community violence as well. There is a hypocrisy present in the community. Even if a gharana claims a certain person is ‘fake’, how does it even matter? They are not above the law.”

When members of a community accuse each other, he said, it emboldens the already conservative society to cast blame as well.

The activist said the term fake trans people is used by the police to harass individuals.

“In 2022, I went to the Transgender Police Cell established by the state government in Lucknow. The women there asked me personal and invasive questions about how I became trans, if I went through castration’. It reveals how the police force, which is meant to work for citizens, ultimately ends up being a part of the problem,” said Ritwik.

Shamibha said recently, in Hyderabad, the police had picked up people, claiming to be fake transgenders. The same has been happening in Pune, Nagpur too. When picked up, they undergo humiliating tests.”

“The police often force the individuals to get their genitals checked or put their lathis in between the thighs of the people to ‘check’ their private parts. This is against human rights. Will someone ever do this with binary genders?” asked the founder of the Transgender Samiti.

Taking a dig at the law enforcers, the activist said, “There is no sensitivity when it comes to the police or the media. Gender sensitization at governmental departments always happens in terms of the binaries of male and female.”

The disappointed Shamibha added, “The NALSA judgement asked for an LGBTQIA+ inclusive gender sensitization, which is yet to become a reality.”

Lack of such initiatives, she feels, may be leading to such transphobia.

Caste and Class Aspect of “Fake Transpersons”

Ritwik said the surgeries required to look a certain way according to the social standard are expensive and only the privileged trans people can afford the same.

“Despite undergoing the above-mentioned surgeries, variations may persist due to differences in skin color and texture, which are often distinct in Adivasi and Dalit community members compared to transgenders belonging to upper castes,” he said, talking about the Brahmanical aspects of celebrations, which trans women generally attend. 

“There is caste marginalisation when we talk about Badhai ceremonies. Generally, in such rituals, caste-based privileges play a big role. Trans people who are able to use sanskritised words and sing bhajans are at the forefront, who generally belong to the upper caste,” he revealed.

Trans persons belonging to the Dalit community, according to him, are generally sent to bus stands or railway stations for begging. They are more vulnerable, owing to this isolation. 

“So, questioning the validity of gender usually happens in the case of lower caste community members. For a Dalit or Adivasi trans person, thinking about surgery or gender affirmative care is not the priority but rotikapda and makaan,” he said. 

One would not think of such things on a hungry stomach, he said, adding that if by chance, they are caught by the police or other community members, they have to suffer humiliations.

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