20 April 2009

Book Review: With Respect to Sex

Gayatri Reddy is an Indian-American anthropologist and gender studies professor. Reddy's book is an ethnography of the transgender hijra of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh.

Reddy carefully recounts the tensions in life for the hijra that are specific to the cultural context like the road from rural life to urban hijra identity in Hyderabad and some of the more seemingly universal aspects of transgender collective identity regarding how the hijra form into hierarchical adopted families that enforce norms for the hijra identity with an "old-timer" at the apex of the hierarchical family.

Her discussion of the negotiation between Hindu and Muslim identification is fascinating. (Hyderabad was a Muslim sultanate until after independence and if you ever go there, you can see its definitely not Delhi!) She uses this to then discuss the possibilities of how gender relates to colonialism in general and how man, woman and hijra relate to colonial suppression of indigenous cultural forms of sex and sexuality.

I found myself fascinated most by this aspect of the book, in part, because of the wholly undertheorized aspects of colonialism on mahu-identity, fa'afafine/fakaleiti identity and bakla identity, in general. Mark Johnson's ethnography, Beauty and Power, regarding the bantut of the Jolo community of Takut-Takut has a short discussion of the relationship between transgender identity and globalization, but doesn't really go too far with it.

Fenella Cannell's ethnography Power and Intimacy in the Christian Philippines also does discuss some of the aspects of bakla identity in relationship to globalization (both presently, colonial and pre-colonial periods) but this is primarily in conversation with aspects of folk beliefs in healing and the spirit world. (Both picking up on an aspect of Neil Garcia's Gay Philippine Culture discussion of the shaman role of the pre-Hispanic babaylan and the modern bakla.)

The extended discussion of religion, colonialism and the making of meaning for gender identity is worth the read. The hijra engage in a number of ascetic practices, like castration, based upon the collective interpretations of various religious texts and stories. She also discusses how the hijra identity relates (or doesn't relate) to the emergence of a separate gay identity in urban India.

The version I read was a 312 page paperback published by University of Chicago Press (July 1, 2005), ISBN-13: 978-0226707563. It is written in English. The lowest price I found online was at abebooks and is for the same version printed in India.


  1. this made me think on how much some of the ethics with transgenderissssm quite vary on different parts of the world-but is somehow quite more likely connected.

    I suddenly remember on how GAYS in our country were portrayed to act like girls and fuck around with any men they see-as a stereotype and somewhat a reality to some of the people in this country.

    But since the 20th century came-a lot of views got diverse and it's soooo muchhh betterrr than what WE face 50 years ago

    p.s. im sorry i havent been replying to the email much cause I've been way too busy with errands and coffee dates. *HUGSIES XOXO*

    when are you coming out? hehe

  2. another possibility is that an urban gay/bading identity is separating from a transgender/binabae identity.

  3. true. uyyyy may trafficfeed na si bakla! hehe

  4. I've seen a documentary about this in National Geographic if I remember it correctly. These people cut/remove their sex organs right?

  5. yes. the ones that become spiritually higher hijras they remove their sex organs. the uncommitted and younger ones have not are are seen as whores (and sometimes take that up as a profession)