22 India Post
Community Across America
April 25, 2014
Story of being neither here nor there ELIZABETH CHALIER-VISUVALINGAM
CHICAGO: On April 13, two days before the landmark decision by India's Supreme Court to recognize the intersex as a "third gender" endowed with the same legal rights and privileges as men and women, an academic panel comprising five knowledgeable South Asians and Americans was discussing the (self-) representation of the intersex at the downtown Chicago Temple building. The context for the debates was Brahman/i "a one-hijra stand-up comedy show" featuring Fawzia Mirza in the title role that debuted at the Chicago Temple on March 27 and continues till May 4. The one person comedy is hosted by Silk Road Rising in collaboration with About Faxe Theatre group. The panel "In the Other's Shoes: Identity and Representation in Storytelling (Brahman/i)"
an eye-catching exhibition by photojournalist Dayanita Singh from March 1 till June 1. The highlight of the installation is the series titled Myself Mona Ahmed (1989-2001), which tells the despairing story of a Muslim outcaste eunuch in Delhi whom Singh befriended and enables to speak directly to us through words and pictures. They have together endeavored to think through and explain what it means to be truly unique
in the world. "She wanted to tell the story," writes Singh, "of being neither here nor there, neither male nor female, and finally, neither a eunuch nor someone like me." Written by Aditi Brennan Kapil, directed by Andrew Volkoff, and co-produced by Silk Road Rising and About Face Theatre, Brahman/I explores history, mythology, gender roles, and going to high school in the U.S. through the unique perspective of an intersex person.
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Fawzia Mirza in her self-conflicted gender role as the intersex Brahman/i
did comprise an intersex person, who was actually very open to their being portrayed empathetically, after due research
by male or female actors, of whatever sexual orientation. At the same time, the Art Institute of Chicago has been hosting
Braman/i - Rehabilitating the Intersex Gender
e recently saw the play Brahman/i by Silk Road Rising and About Face Theatre, which has been dis cussed at length in Desi and mainstream media. Brahman/i tells the story of an Indian American intersex person played by the talented Fawzia Mirza. The engaging play tackles a narrative familiar to many of us, the idea of straddling complex identities - male and female, straight and gay, American and Indian. At times, Brahman/i oversimplifies identities and draws upon misconceptions about intersex people and hijras. It left us wondering whether this play incorporated the perspectives of actual intersex people. But to its credit, to address such questions, Silk Road Rising hosted a bold panel discussion about actors portraying "the other" when they are not the other themselves. We need precisely this type of dialogue to honor and empower our most vulnerable community members in the arts and in society at large. Research shows that South Asian youth experience high rates of bullying. Our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and gender non-conforming (LGBTQ) community members face high rates of mistreatment in school and at work and are more likely to commit suicide. But those who are accepted by their families are much less likely to face such harm. We might think that it is not our place to get involved. We might stay silent when we hear homophobic and transphobic jokes. But our silence makes us complicit in oppression and, on the other hand, our acceptance can make a positive difference - as highlighted in Brahman/i itself. We can all take steps to show acceptance. When we talk about the ongoing Indian elections, we can mention how transgender community members are now allowed to vote and exercise other rights. When we talk about movies, we can mention how Bollywood actors and corporate leaders have denounced Section 377, a law criminalizing homosexuality. And we can speak up about accepting our LGBTQ community members and direct people to resources such as Chicago Desi Youth Rising, the Transcend support group hosted by Invisible to Invincible, Trikone Chicago, and the many other organizations and individuals who provide critical support. Viveka Ray-Mazumder, Youth Organizer, Asian Americans Advancing Justice Chicago, and named to The Trans 100 of 2014 Ami Gandhi Executive Director, South Asian American Policy & Research Institute (SAAPRI), Chicago Disclaimer :- India Post does not endorse opinions expressed in the letters.
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