The ABC of gender identity

Tamil Nadu has released a glossary of terms in Tamil and English, which will be reference point for the public, when it comes to addressing members of the sexual minorities.
Representative image
Representative image Reuters

Tamil Nadu has been known as a beacon of inclusiveness, having made inroads into the representation of members of the LGBTQIA community many years before the movement gained momentum in the rest of India. TN was the first to introduce application forms in colleges which not only included a gender column for male/female, but also had an option for the third gender. Now, in an example of progressive lawmaking that must be emulated by states across India, Tamil Nadu has released a glossary of terms in Tamil and English, which will be reference point for the public, when it comes to addressing members of the sexual minorities.

The development comes close on the heels of Singapore breaking down years of its colonial hangover and decriminalising consensual homosexual relationships. The ready-reckoner introduced in Tamil Nadu contains the definition of many terms and phrases related to gender and sexuality and guidelines on respectfully addressing individuals who do not identify as a single gender or binary. The glossary was released after the Madras High Court prodded the State to introduce a vocabulary to cover aspects of the queer experience, a demand pushed by the community too. This radical glossary for the first time attempts to bring some clarity on concepts regarded as taboo and kept far removed from public discourse.

For instance, one cannot classify non-binary persons as transgenders, and people have the liberty to identify with not just a single, but multiple genders, also known as gender fluid. Terms such as genderqueer, cisgender, pansexuality, gender dysphoria and gender incongruence have also found a place in this dictionary. By all means, the introduction of this lexicon speaks highly of the State government’s attempts in normalising conversations around gender and sexual identities. For a people, whose culture and mythologies bear numerous references to character traits bordering on gender fluidity, the evidence of which is present in the great epics, the idea of queerness still took some time getting used to.

Many schools/colleges here, for instance, still segregate male and female students in classrooms. Some reputed colleges have even assigned separate entrances, exits and stairways for men and women. This is where the conversation needs to be kick-started. Building a vocabulary is only the start. Despite gender awareness kicking off during adolescence, it does not prompt educational institutes to assign gender neutral restrooms in their premises. And why single out schools and colleges? When was the last time any public institution or private office building came equipped with restrooms that even accounted for something like gender fluidity?

The shift towards inclusiveness cannot be achieved overnight. After all, a big chunk of our identity-related infrastructure hinges on the idea of clear-cut gender differentiation. Starting from birth, to school and college admissions, to applying for a passport or an Aadhaar, ration card or a voter’s ID, even filing one’s taxes, or ascertaining one’s inheritance in property related matters, gender has remained a constant in all such documents.

There are umpteen issues that genderqueer members of society have to deal with including concerns regarding civil union like marriage, the adoption of children, religious, societal and official acceptance, and more than anything, the right to a life sans discrimination or inherent bias. In all honesty, we haven’t even begun addressing the major implications of our decisions to embrace the idea of the non-binary. But Tamil Nadu seems to have taken the first step in opening up this discourse in a healthy manner.

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