However, a gender-nonconforming traditional group

The recent acceptance of transgender people in many parts of the world is shown by the confirmation of Rachel Levine as Assistant Secretary to the Department of Health and Human Services.

Trans people around the world find more courage in living openly despite intense opposition.

Transgender people are more accepted in government high-level positionscollegesextracurricular activities, and other areas.

My ethnographic research in India reveals an interesting paradox: claiming that trans identities may seem progressive to some but can marginalize other nonconforming gender groups.

What is the hijra?

I was surprised to find that many transgender people in India identified as women. It surprised me because India has an established category for people who are gender nonconforming and whose gender is male. This group is known as Hijras.

Hijras are said to have existed since antiquity. Hijras have their communities, where they live in homes called hammams and work together. They are not included in the mainstream society. As teenagers, they often leave their families because of abuse based on their gender expression and perceived sexuality. Hijras are usually found in urban areas. However, some Hijras live in rural regions.

Hijras are often forced to do sex work and ask for money, as they cannot find other employment or education. Hijras have become well-known for their uninvited performance during ceremonial events, such as weddings and birthday celebrations when they ask for large donations. India officially recognized Hijras and other gender-nonconforming individuals as a third-gender category in 2014. Hijras are still a marginalized and stigmatized group despite court rulings and outreach from nongovernmental organizations.

Transgender women vs. hijras

In India, there is a growing number of transgender women. Between 2009 and 2016, over 18 months, I interviewed more than 75 trans women, Hijras, and other members of the sexual and gender minorities community in Bengaluru.

People from India’s LGBTQ Community at a Delhi Queer Pride Event in 2011. AP Photo/Saurabh Das

media portray trans women as enjoying newfound opportunities and progress. Popular depictions of hijras are associated with poverty, stigmatized work, and backwardness.

Like hijras, most trans women that I met were from working-class backgrounds. They are seeking the upward mobility and respectability denied to many hijras. This is partly done by highlighting the differences between them and hijras.

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Trans women are positioned as middle-class, compared to hijras, who are stigmatized in society. This is done by adopting markers of the middle class, such as education, and claims to be “modern.”

In a conversation I had with a young woman wearing a green sari, I asked her if she belonged to the hijra tribe. Her friend interrupted her before she could respond, explaining that “the people who are… living in hamaams and following the traditions of the hamaams are called hijras.” She is a modern girl, educated and literate. She is called transgender.”

Many trans women I spoke to mentioned working “office jobs,” which is a white-collar job, particularly with NGOs. Office employment is crucial because it gives trans women the respectability of the middle class, something that hijras do not have.

Suma, an early-30s trans woman, explained the connection between such employment and the desire to be in the middle class. “Everyone must work, but dignity matters a lot,” she said. Begging and sexual work do not bring you any dignity.

I am not a Hijra.

In a 2016 online media photo collection titled “I Am Not a Hajira,” 16 photos show mostly feminine trans people with signs that assert their trans identities and highlight their differences from hijras. These trans people, like the trans women that I spoke to, emphasize how their class status – and employment – is a key indicator of this difference.

Trans women want to be understood as different from hijras because they are stigmatized and excluded. They want to be seen as distinct from hijras because they are stigmatized.

In their quest for acceptance, trans women often reinforce the discrimination and stigma that hijras face.

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