The world’s largest democracy has finally given its voting public something of value. No, not broom-wielding, huffing-puffing vigilantes who will get blown away by the big bad wolves. Not the RaGa-NaMo media wars, in which he who buys the most friends and followers gets crowned The Desi Dude. And, certainly not the nimble, bed-hopping antics and other posterior-kissing contortions pulled by MPs who could teach the girls in Patpong a thing or two. Even the entertainment value of this circus plummets, the second one realises we’re the ones funding this. Normally, all we get in return is a bunch of pledges that fade faster than a new bride’s mehndi. Well, this time around, we, the electorate, has been offered a special treat. It’s called the gender option. It’s an acknowledgement that the voter is seen as an entity, not simply as a hand that ticks a box or pushes a button. It may not be a big deal to most of us, but there are those who have lived as outcasts, sidelined by the democratic process altogether, on the basis of their alternative gender, for want of a better word.
Finally, these transgendered Indians can participate by casting their votes and impacting the leadership of their country, should they wish to. They will no longer be forced to tick the closest decimal point to the real answer, i.e., male or female. Their long denied right to vote finally comes to them by way of a little square box on their Voter ID card that classifies their gender as ‘other’. According to The Wall Street Journal, so far, 28,314 others have registered to vote, a number that’s expected to spike significantly by the time this issue goes to press. This little army of significant others is gearing up to storm the polling booths, and vote with impassioned conviction. Ironically, and very possibly, for neither RaGa orNaMo, but NOTA. None of the above.
Just when India has acknowledged the existence of humans other than male and female on this planet, Mark Zuckerberg has officially announced a gender spectrum with 56 stopovers between male and female. This Valentine’s Day, Facebook users in the US were treated to staggeringly diverse ways of experiencing and expressing their gender. “While to many this change may not mean much, to those it affects, it means a great deal,” says Facebook spokesman Will Hodges. “We want users to be comfortable in their virtual skins, free to express their authentic identities.” He forgot to add, “Hey, if this noble gesture helps marketers micro-target their ads and products to skilfully corralled customers, OMG, what wondrous serendipity.”
Fifty-six other genders?But, how? Here’s a quick heads up, but first, just so we all know how gender is different from sex. Sex is the nomenclature that classifies you on the basis of your physical and biological characteristics. Gender is more about who you are in your head and your heart, your psychological and emotional characteristics. Sometimes, the biological and emotional features are polarised, sometimes mildly mismatched and, sometimes, in perfect sync. If the response to Zuckerman’s Valentine’s gift to the virtual world is anything to go by, one may have to agree that like so many other complexities of the human condition, gender isn’t binary and possibly has never been. Transgender is just one of the myriad gender statuses. There’s agender, bigender, male-to-female, female-to-male, gender nonconforming, gender questioning, gender variant, genderqueer, neutrois, non binary, pan gender, two spirit and so on. And, these are just the basic heads without the subsets and the micro subsets. And, yet, there was a comment from an irate Facebook user demanding why his/her/their gender had not been included in the list of options.
Fox TV network’s Ted Starnes responded stridently to the gender explosion with this widely reported comment: “In the beginning, God made man and woman. But Facebook decided to improve on the original models. What if I identify as a pinecone, or a chicken or a weed whacker? Does Facebook give me those gender identity options?” Another response, from a concerned parent of a son identified at birth as female, is relief at the public recognition of the fact that genitalia does not define gender, but also vehemence that answering questions about gender should be optional and not mandatory. The pre-emptive Zuckerberg has built in a customise gender option, with a privacy filter that protects those who face challenges sharing their true gender identity with the public. If the gender experiment goes well in the US, Facebook will roll it out to its 1.23 billion users across the world.
Gender diversity is finally beginning to get accepted across the world, even protected, and one day, perhaps, celebrated. But, there are many of us who don’t fancy being stereotyped based on our gender. A female friend of mine has taken to deliberately ticking ‘male’ on social networking sites, just to avoid the perennial and annoying stream of wrinkle-erasing cream and breast enhancement ads that inundate every woman’s Facebook. Like Maya Angelou says, “How important it is for us to recognise and celebrate our heroes and our she-roes.” I’ll take the liberty of adding, “And, everyone in between, before or after on that axis of 48 chromosomes.”