Of Identity: Gender ‘O’

Posted in human rights by stories of an authentic self on December 25, 2009

The Election Commission recently decided to introduce the “Other” category for Transgenders, on Voter ID cards.

Transgender activists have reacted saying that while this may be a start towards recognising this marginalised group, it does not really go a long way in according them a separate gender identity; they prefer the provision being called “Third gender”.

‘What’s in nomenclature?’ may be the first question that comes to mind.. which brings me to Goodwin v. UK, a 2002 case successfully fought by a post-operative male to female transsexual for her right of recognition of her post-operative gender in national benefit schemes et al. wherein gender holds legal significance.The European Court of Human Rights made an interesting observation pertaining to identity, personal autonomy and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which recognises the right of respect for one’s personal life.

The Court held that through this Article,  “protection is given to the personal sphere of each individual, including the right to establish details of their identity as individual human beings“. This essentially breaks down the biological gender identity and recognises one’s autonomy in deciding his/her sexual identity, concurrent with the psychological and hormonal gender identity. In India, given that most cannot afford gender re-assignment surgery and the wide social stigma associated with it (TN is the only state that recognised such surgeries, by way of a G.O), if transsexuals choose to establish their identities as such, they must fully be accorded the right to do so.

As an aside, it strikes me that even de hors the reactions of transgender activists, gender “Other” forms a terrible compromise of identity, as it connotes a gender “other” than male or female. Granting an identity relative to those of established and recognised social groups such as male and female, charts the path to perpetual social exclusion.


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