Transgender & HIV

Sex & Gender Transgender – What does it mean?
Transgender Explained
Usually male cross – dressers for whom dressing as woman is a fetish. Heterosexual

Humans born with ambiguous genitalia. e.g. may be born with penis and ovaries

Transsexuals have issues or problems with their biological sex. They feel that they have been born in the wrong body. Transsexuals will often opt for surgery to become the sex they identify with.
Most nirvan (castrated or post–op) hijras are therefore transsexuals in the clinical sense

Drag Queeen – Satla Kothis
Male cross dresser. These men cross dress in order to Attract men for sexual interaction/Intercourse.

Transgender – A Global Perspective
Western Society: e.g. United Kingdom, USA
In western society two gender categories exist male and female. However, the concept of transgender communities is widely accepted. Transvestites, drag queens, transsexuals and hermaphrodites are all categories recognised in the western world. However they are not always accepted or respected.

Oman: Xanith
The Xanith are regarded as an in–between category, neither men nor women. Under Islamic law, Xanith have all the rights of a man. The Xanith belongs to the category of the 3rd gender. (Shapiro 2005).

India: Hijra/Ali
In India the Hijra/ Ali are regarded as belonging to a 3rd gender category, they are neither men or women. They are born with the physical sex of a male but identify with aspects of the female gender role. Hijra’s have few rights are not recognised by Indian law.

ASIA & The 3rd Gender
3rd Gender
The terms third gender and third sex describe individuals who are considered to be neither women nor men, as well as the social category present in those societies who recognize three or more genders.

3rd Gender
The concept of a 3rd gender is common in Asia. Including the Hijras of India and Bangladesh , and the kathoeys (or “Ladyboys”) of Thailand.

Transgender in India
The Humsafar trust estimates that there are between 5 and 6 million Hijras in India
The South The North Pradeep (2002) ‘Interventions among Men Who have Sex with Men’ in Panda et al (eds), Living with the AIDS virus – the epidemic and the response in India New Delhi:Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd.

Hijras and Hinduism
Hijras and Hinduism
In traditional Indian society Hijras played a religious role in births and marriages

Hijras are particularly associated with the worship of Bahuchara Mata, a version of the Mother Goddess, for whose sake they undergo emasculation.

In return for their emasculation, the Goddess gives them the power to bless people with fertility which explains their religious role in births and marriages.

The performances that Hijras perform at births and marriages are called badhai, a reference to the gifts of cash and goods that they receive as payment on these occasions.

Hijras are thought to have the power to bless and curse a family’s fertility. Explaining why Hijras are often treated ’with a combination of mockery and fear’ (Nanda 9).

Hijras and Islam
Hijras and Islam
Hijras are mainly associated with Hinduism but they are also accepted within Islam.

During Mughal times, kwaja saras, or eunuchs, guarded the ladies of the harem (Jaffrey 31).

In her fieldwork among the hijras of Hyderabad, Zia Jaffrey discovered that during the era when Hyderabad was a princely state, hijras were employed as servants in the homes of the nobility (Jaffrey 116).

Transgender in India today
There are three main ways in which the transgender community make a living
    Transgender community
  1. Performing Badhai
  2. Begging
  3. Sex Work
Transgender and the Law in India A Hijra’s Experience
I am 39 and a graduate in hotel management. Somewhere deep in my heart I wanted to be female, so one morning aged 16 I went to be castrated.

I now have another hijra staying with me and six or seven chelas, or followers. I am their guru. I am educated so have had many options, but 98% of hijras are illiterate and don’t know what to do.

I am 21 and became a hijra three years ago. We don’t have proper sex change operations in India, so I had castration. We hijras have only two options – begging or sex work. I am a sex worker and I don’t feel it’s a bad thing to be one. I always liked cross–dressing. I work in an NGO doing very important rights work helping hijras and female sex.

I volunteer for Vividha, the group staging this event (Festival of Hijras 2003). After last year’s event there was a drastic reduction in police violence, harassment and all that, so we want it to go on.

Though hijras have existed so long, the law speaks about only two genders. We can’t get ration cards, passports or voter IDs. Sex work is my only option.

Transgender: Discrimination
Being a eunuch in this world spells discrimination. I grew up as one of them without education. Why? The reason was that I was refused admission in schools because of me being a eunuch. Like everyone I also had the desire to read and write. Without education I grew up and had no way to earn a living. I was unwanted and cursed. Most of the time I go to dark corners and wave to men and call them. Then take them to a roadside secret place and give them the sexual satisfaction they need. Only after they are satisfied I get paid. Old age is now tormenting me. What should I do other than getting involved in illegal activities or begging?

Am I not human? Does human mean only men and women? Why are we deprived of humanity?

Age: 50 years Birthplace: Kolkata
Click to view large Image
Kolkata Map
I am from Kolkata. My family consists of two brothers and three sisters. Even as a child, I loved dancing, wearing girls clothing, and using cosmetics. Whenever I acted in plays, it was a foregone conclusion that it would be me who would enact the role of the girl.

I came to Delhi and merged into the hijra community after the death of my father. I, my giriya (husband), my mother and one of my sisters share one home. I have been living with my giriya for the past fifteen years and work as a pan toli. My giriya works in a production house and a part of the pooled earnings go to my giriya’s ex–wife and child.

Prior to meeting my giriya, I was married twice. My wife, unable to conceive because of my biological condition ultimately divorced me. One of my strong characteristics is that I am highly opinionated. As a hijra I do not pay attention to the obscene remarks directed at me. I say, “Let them say whatever they feel like–it doesn’t make any difference to me. What you see is what you get.”

I began to visit the Sahara transgender project for treatment of the many minor illnesses that befell me. In due course, learning of Sahara’s expertise in weaning people off narcotic and alcohol addiction, I confessed my dependence on liquor. I now have a health care worker assigned to me full time and part of my care package involves receiving, understanding and practicing safer behaviors related to sex and alcohol use. Though I suspect that I could be HIV positive due to the extent of my exposure to the virus, I have as yet not consented to test. Sahara is in no hurry preferring to wait until I am ready and have made an informed and definite choice.

Research conducted by Sahara

Transgender in Chennai Pradeep (2002) ’Interventions among Men Who have Sex with Men’ in Panda et al (eds), Living with the AIDS virus – the epidemic and the response in India New Delhi:Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd.

Transgender in Mumbai
HIV Status of the trans gender sex workers
HIV Status of the trans gender sex workers
• Humsafar study on male sex workers in Mumbai.
• 76 participants: 24 males 52 transgender.
• Of the 52 transgender patients.
Click to view large Image
Mumbai Map
• 40% were HIV+
STI prevalence in TG 30.7%
Shinde et al – Humsafar trust

Transgender and HIV
Low visibility, no access to health care facilities, lack of education or development, a low level of awareness of their rights and other social issues combined with a high risk lifestyle has made the community of trans – genders socially and economically a deprived lot and potentially at risk of HIV explosion.

Transgender and HIV in India
Despite a number of Hijras still performing their traditional ceremonies at births and marriages a large percentage have turned to sex work to make a living.

Performing unprotected sex (without a Condom) is where the risk of HIV transmission comes in.

HIV can be transmitted through oral sex, anal sex and vaginal sex when protection (Condom) is not used.

Through anal sex without protection (Condom) there is a 33% chance of HIV transmission.

Human Rights Hijras are not recognised by Indian Law therefore their human rights are constantly violated.

Transgender Rights
Transgenders are not things or objects, property or toys, we are human beings with hearts and feelings and with rights afforded which should be respected.

Proposed Bill of Rights – Hopes for the Future Asia Pacific Network of sex Workers

Join the Fight
Organisations working with Transgenders Check them out to see how you can help join the fight against discrimination.

Websites/Resources Bibliography
Jaffery, Zia: The Invisibles:A tale of Eunuchs of India. New York: Vintage 1996.
Nanda, Serena: Neither Man nor Woman: The Hijras of India. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth 1999.
Pradeep (2002) ’Interventions among Men Who have Sex with Men’ in Panda et al (eds), Living with the AIDS virus – the epidemic and the response in India New Delhi:Sage Publications India Pvt Ltd.
Schultz and Lavenda: Cultural Anthropology: A perspective on the Human Condition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 2001.
Shapiro, J: Transsexualism: Reflections on the Persistence of Gender and the mutability of Sex in Robertson, J (Ed) same Sex Cultures and Sexuality: An Anthropoligical Reader. Blackwell Publishing 2005.
Shinde et al: Male sex workers in Mumbai (powerpoint presentation) available from accessed 8/9/2008.

Draft of Transgender rights taken from powerpoint Transgender “Claiming Our RIGHTS” June 19 – 20, 2007, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Photographic images and captions from
Research provided by Sahara
The Third Gender

For more information on HIV in India and Pune, and getting tested visit: