Less than two weeks ago, the Union Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment announced the National Council for Transgender Persons (hereafter: National Council) as fulfilment of its mandate in the Transgender (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 (hereafter: Trans Act).
Almost in time for the anniversary of Navtej Johar & Ors. Vs Union of India, 2018, the Supreme Court Judgment that decriminalised consensual sodomy; and in the sixth year after NALSA vs Union of India, that recognised the “third gender”(sic); it might seem the queer utopia we all wanted is just around the corner.
This piece argues for caution in making such a claim
Many activists have already spoken out about the lack of representation in the National Council. It bears no harm to repeat that the very Trans Act under which this Council has been set up is currently under challenge in the Supreme Court by trans activists from across the country for its violation of many principles of the NALSA judgment.
While the problems with the Trans Act are too many to elaborate, in this piece I attempt to elaborate how trans politics and their demands challenge the logic of representative democracy that holds such Councils as signs of development and progress itself.
One way of being a citizen is through our participation in representative democracy – whether it is in voting, participating in civil society or holding our representatives to account.
The logic of votes is the game of numbers and that of representation is a promise of visibility. In fact representation, in this logic, gives hitherto “silenced” minorities not just voice but also repairs the hurt of living in an unequal society.
It is often argued that to see more of one’s own community represented addresses and makes responsible the very structures that denied their existence before. It heals wounds, like a doctor does. But a doctor doesn’t just cure, he also disciplines.
Representation is to be slowly roasted on the same fire whose burns it seeks to heal. Built on a political version of the trickle down theory, it claims that in time, the representatives in raising their voice on our behalf, slowly alleviate our minoritisation.
The promise of democracy is deferred to a future of inexact or no time, while we as good citizens are to wait. It diffuses the rage that is animated out of daily injustice and delegitimises the immediacy that any call to justice might seek.
It shushes the aggrieved to wait, like an adult does an agitated child, till their representatives do the needful. Representation may seem to lessen the erasure of minority speech but it merely creates more ambient noise with its visibility. The scream becomes the din of an annoying, ill-fated mosquito.
Even this is suspect only to the generosity of elected bodies. The fear of loss of numbers keeps the violence of electoral representation in check. If you can be counted, your voice will be accounted for. The count is a scary thing for many trans folx.
What do you count when you account for trans folx? What experience? What bodies? Who is left behind and who gets to represent us? Often our personhood is disaggregated by what Katherine McKrittrick calls in the context of the slave ledger, “the mathematics of the unliving.”
McKrittick eludes to the difficulty of writing into existence black beings from the originary violence of the ledger and the log book, where the slave’s status was commodity. Can someone be recovered from the “data that honour and repeat and cherish anti-black violence and black death”?
Transness is often made into an arithmetic – the percentage of hormones, the date of surgery, the years of knowing you were a boy or a girl – that can add up into a gender or may be not.
This calculation is done by a team of experts who certify us into existence – doctors, psychiatrists and law makers. This is the very arithmetic that the Trans Act has sought to reduce trans folx to.