In modern India, transsexualism is well known. Many HSTS and other transwomen consider themselves to be a ‘third gender’. Indeed, the country recently added a ‘third gender’ category to its Civil Code. There are many forms of transgender/transsexualism in India going by various names in many different languages, such as hijra, thirunangai and others. However, they are all essentially similar.
The practice of self-castration may have been introduced, paradoxically, by Muslim invaders of the subcontinent. It appears that they had acquired this practice from the cultures in the Levant and further east, where is had been present for many centuries. This is probably the legacy, therefore, of Cybele’s culture and through that, the culture of Sumer and Akkadia.
Today, self-castration is carried on across India but many groups of trans people do not do so and instead live their lives intact. The great difficulty that they formerly endured, the relentless masculinisation caused by testosterone, can now be controlled with proprietary hormones.
Many transwomen in India are priestesses, followers of a number of goddesses, such as Bahuchara Mata. This is a Hindu goddess of chastity and fertility in the Maiden aspect, of the incarnation of the Mother aspect of Shakti. Another is the goddess Marriammen Juhu.
Hijra, clearly, can never be mothers and so are usually followers of either the Goddess as maiden or the Goddess as harlot.
However, while these religious expressions of transsexualism in India are the better known, there are others. Notable amongst them — and arguably more numerous, if not more obvious — are young homosexual males who become prostitutes. These seek sex with men and present as women.
They are usually very feminine and even before modern hormonal treatments were available could continue to work well into their twenties. While the Indian Constitution enshrined a British colonial-era law that forbade anal sex (‘buggery’) these prostitutes have always been a feature of Indian life, although it is not always easy to find them.
While the more dangerous areas of Old Delhi or Kolkata might not appeal to everyone, major trans festivals occur all over India, like that at Koovagam in Tamil Nadu.
Transsexualism is enshrined in Hindu belief and at the heart of Indian culture. The epic poem ‘The Mahabharata’ features a scene in which Lord Krishna transforms into a woman in order to marry Prince Aravan — whose last wish is to be married — before he is sacrificed. The idea of sexual transmutation is everywhere in India.
A recent census suggested that there were around half a million transwomen in India, but workers in the field consider that an underestimation. They point out that transwomen are deeply suspicious of the authorities and, in any case, most are illiterate and could not read a survey form. The official census figures should be seen as a lower bound, therefore.