On Self-identity and English-Tamil Glossary by Queer Community

LGBTQ community faced many challenges to pave the way for their dignified identification, and  the Tamil-English glossary is slowly bringing the wrong-social fractures to the fore.

By Sushmita Dey 

In between counselling sessions, seminars on gender identity, teaching students about the transgender community, Dr L Ramakrishnan, Vice President of SAATHI and a volunteer with Orinam LGBTQIA+ collective in Chennai,  always flits back to ensure “This is not a culture from Hollywood movies or Western countries, it is all there for a very long time.” 

From the notion of Shiva as male and female, which is kind of an intersect depiction to transgenders who were in Ayodhya, who waited for Lord Ram to come back, the transgender community is not something that is brand new.

He explains how society as a whole emphasizes having children with somebody from the same caste or opposite gender and anybody who feels outside those boxes was ostracized. 

“But we need to understand that people are diverse and everybody has the rights”

When Justice Anand Venkatesh asked the queer community – if the problems are limited to the police or parental harassment – the community listed out there are sets of problems besides this which first needs to be solved. 

“The primary issue is the media coverage in Tamil Nadu and how they are using derogatory and queerphobic terms to identify the LGBTQIA community,” said the Queer Chennai Chronicles organisation.  

Earlier, in October 2021, the media portrayed a trans man as a woman who underwent an exchange to marry her girlfriend. “It was absolutely wrong. A transman is a trans man, regardless of whether in a relationship with a man or a woman or with nobody,” said L Ramakrishnan.

During that case, Justice N Anand Venkatesh asked to put out an English-Tamil glossary for everyone out there for better understanding and the analysis of the situation, to put a step forward to creating a safe environment for the LGBTQIA community in our country and address everyone in a dignified manner.

Nadika Nadja, a writer and a member of Sampoorna Working Group who was also a part of the glossary project said, “What is more encouraging is that the High Court has been open to listening to us, to our concerts and responding to them. This is what approaching an issue with a rights-based perspective accomplished. Moreover, this also sets an example for a way to start talking about the rights of all marginalised people, listening to them and how they want to be addressed.

Following the SoGIESC (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression and Sex Characteristics) framework, the community’s glossary has been put together by Orinam, Queer Chennai Chronicles, The News Minute, Sampoorna Working Group and other individual contributors. The glossary has been classified into four sections which are related to sex, gender, sexuality, conversion therapy umbrella/collective terms and other community terms.

L Ramakrishnan and Nadak Nadija have also pointed out that the terminology referring to the queer community is ever-evolving, and therefore the government recommending a list of terms to address them instead of the community itself, may not be ideal.

However, the Madras High Court directed all media organisations to use words that are in the alternative glossary while referring or perhaps giving identification to the people of the queer community. In the order, Justice Anand Venkatesh said, “ The Department of Social Welfare and Women Empowerment is directed to publish a fresh glossary in line with suggestions made by members and stakeholders from the LGBTQ+ community.”

On being asked a Tamil professor at the International Institute of Tamil Studies,  what does he think about the terminology, S Selvakumar said, “Many words have loaded meanings. But the dictionary is the only book that is not biased. So, in this glossary, the community people have tried to use terms that step away from any kind of patriarchal mindset and prioritise equality over accepted usage in language and literature.”

Moreover, Justice Anand Venkatesh ordered that members of the public who have children, go to school should be educated through the parents’ teacher association, but first, the teachers need to be trained. 

“There is a training module developed by National Council for Education Research Training (NCERT) and being a part of this modules, we tried to inform to the general public who may have children of school-going age, in which case they can probably get some sensitization during the parent-teacher meeting,” said Ramakrishnan.

Apart from this, the order also states that health providers (largely the psychiatrists, psychologists, health care providers in general), the government departments, the media houses, the law and law enforcement should start using appropriate terminology to bring these words forward to educate an ordinary citizen.

Referring to recent historic moments in the state, Ramakrishnan stated, “Over the years, there has been a massive change in laws and policies. But what we are finding nowadays is that parents are reaching out to the support group for LGBTQ people, who want to understand their children better and support them.”