Being transgender in Bangladesh and India

Shahria Sharmin’s photograph mission on hijra, or third-gender, communities in Bangladesh and India explores femininity, circle of relatives rejection, and sexual taboos.

Shahria Sharmin’s debut mission, “Call Me Heena,” is an intimate portrayal of hijra communities in Bangladesh and India. Hijra is a time period used in South Asia for an formally known 0.33 gender, and hijras are steadily male-to-female transgender or intersex.

“Call Me Heena” explores intercourse and gender taboos, femininity, and circle of relatives relationships in hijra communities. R&Okay’s Irene Jiang spoke to the Bangladeshi photographer about how her revel in as a mom making ready for separation from her college-bound daughters impressed her to hunt out folks who deserted or estranged themselves from their hijra youngsters.

Irene Jiang: How did you meet Heena and get started this photograph mission?

Shahria Sharmin: For my pictures faculty mission, I used to be assigned to paintings in a garment manufacturing facility. I met 4 hijras there and began speaking with them as garment employees however ultimately, I changed into extra in their non-public lives. I believed, why don’t I take footage in their feelings and their emotions of femininity? Though the mission is called after Heena, it’s a tale about the entire transgender neighborhood.


“I feel like a mermaid. My body tells me I am a man and my soul tells me I am a woman.” Heena, 51.

Jiang: You discussed for your web page that you simply had some preconceived notions about hijras prior to you began this mission. Could you inform me just a little bit extra about the ones?

Sharmin: Being a lady in an [officially] Muslim nation—I wouldn’t say my circle of relatives was once restrictive—I simply knew that there have been two genders, male and feminine. We had taboos round sexuality. When I began doing pictures and I met [hijras], they presented me to their sexuality, amongst different issues. I’ve surely grown on account of spending time with them.

Jiang: What are one of the most demanding situations that hijras face in Bangladesh?

Sharmin: People settle for them as hijras, however they don’t seem to be a part of mainstream society. They have their very own communities. There is a guru gadget. Every space has a guru and underneath the guru, they’re in a space. Each space has its personal means of getting cash. Some properties become profitable thru prostitution. They give the cash to the guru. Half of the cash the guru assists in keeping, and the remaining the guru distributes to them.


“I am giving an exam, the result is unknown to me.” Tina, 21.

Jiang: Your portraits are very intimate. How did other people react whilst you requested to photograph them and how did you construct the ones relationships?

Sharmin: Initially, it was once very tricky to take footage. They didn’t agree with me. Gaining agree with takes time. You must turn out that you simply’re now not looking to exploit them, however that you wish to have to be part of their lifestyles and you wish to have to present them dignity thru your footage.

I were given a grant from the Alexia Foundation to apply and to take footage of the hijras that migrated from Bangladesh to India. My goal was once to understand why they migrated. I stayed with them in their brothels and with their households in their properties for months.

If you wish to have to visit their properties you must ask their guru first. You have to invite for permission and persuade her of why you wish to have to take footage.

Relationship construction takes a variety of time. You spend time with them and lead them to comfy and make your self comfy too. I habits interviews and then out of 10 or 15 topics, I pick out any person whose tale is extra fascinating. Then I take her image.


At morning time, Nayan, 24, is going to paintings at a garment manufacturing facility and earns what’s perceived as truthful source of revenue via her circle of relatives. But at nightfall, she returns to her neighborhood.

Jiang: Some of your portraits are in the way of previous circle of relatives pictures. Why did you select that taste?

Sharmin: I’m the mum of dual daughters, and they’re 19 now, in undergrad. When they have been in grade 11, I determined to make a dismal room at house so I may spend time with them and on the similar time proceed practising [photography].

At that point, I used to be in a transition [period] the place my daughters have been about to go away me, and I used to be simply enthusiastic about how the fogeys of hijras deserted their youngsters. I used to be struggling as a result of my daughters have been going to go away. At that second I believed, I will have to ask [the parents] questions. So I traveled all the way through the rustic and interviewed their households.


Jiang: What did the households say?

Sharmin: One of the fathers mentioned, “Society comes first because I can’t live without society. I have to go to the mosque. I have to go to my neighbors. If I sacrifice one child, then I can live with others.”

In maximum circumstances, the moms are extra versatile than the fathers are. Sometimes the daddy doesn’t know, however the mom assists in keeping speaking with their youngsters thru telephone or letters. But the daddy doesn’t need to see his son as a daughter. The son needs to be the son.

For fathers, accepting their son as a daughter may be very tricky until the son or the daughter supplies monetary enhance to the circle of relatives. Then it’s an exception. Okay, you’ll be able to stick with us or I will be able to nonetheless handle a courting with you as a result of I’m dependent for your cash.

In maximum circumstances, youngsters really feel once they’re a young person that they don’t belong to this society

Jiang: At what level in their kid’s lifestyles do those folks make the verdict to go away their youngsters with gurus?

Sharmin: In maximum circumstances, youngsters really feel once they’re a young person that they don’t belong to this society. They need to move to hijra society as a result of they need to have the liberty to reside and get dressed how they would like. Only on the gurus can they have got that freedom, so that they make a selection to go away house. In different circumstances, the daddy thinks that their kid goes to be hijra on account of their frame language and how they combine with different youngsters in elegance or one thing like that. In 4 or 5 circumstances, I’ve noticed the daddy or the brother carry their kid to the guru. They say, “This is your daughter, not mine, because she doesn’t belong to my society.”


Jiang: How did your mates and circle of relatives react whilst you got to work in this mission?

Sharmin: My husband and my daughters have been extraordinarily supportive. My daughters have been 12 or 13 at the moment, so I shared the whole thing with my circle of relatives on the dinner desk each day. I believed, it’s now not simply me in this adventure. If I need to develop, I need to develop with my youngsters. So I shared the whole thing with them.

But my folks weren’t as versatile till they noticed my footage in the exhibition corridor. I had accomplished my Masters, my banking occupation, and the whole thing. They at all times mentioned you must get married, you must have youngsters, you must do your Masters [degree] and the whole thing. I did the whole thing, so now it’s my flip to do the object that I would like.

Jiang: The hijras that you simply hung out with—what are their hopes for the longer term?

Sharmin: They need to paintings inside of mainstream society, however they need to get dressed the best way they would like. In the manufacturing facility they’re now not allowed to put on feminine garments, they have got to put on male garments.

I requested the manufacturing facility supervisor, why don’t you permit them to decorate the best way they would like? He mentioned, “If I allow them [to dress the way they want], the other workers will not work. They will look at them, they will tease them, they will make fun of them. They will be a disturbance on the factory floor because we count not minutes, but seconds on a floor.”

They need to sing, they need to put on a sari, they need to do make-up, they need to put on jewellery, and in addition they need to paintings. But the manufacturing facility surroundings is not going to permit them to do this.

This interview has been condensed and edited for readability.


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