Pravallika: A transgender's death is not sexy enough for us
We may welcome her when a child is born or have her bless our marriages but God help her if she gets murdered.
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I am a member of Good As You Bangalore, a Facebook group devoted to gay rights. I visit the site almost every day and invariably click on fun stuff, like a recent spoof video that caricaturises the American series, My Husband's Not Gay. That show is about ex-gay men (men who once identified as gay) coming on camera with their wives, and proclaiming that they are now in committed heterosexual relationships. The show is hilarious even if its premise is not. Never mind that the ex-gay movement in America, which has included such nefarious measures as conversion therapy, has been comprehensively discredited. It is really something to see those young men try to convince the viewer, but more importantly themselves, that sexually, they have turned a corner.
That is the kind of stuff I like to consume on Good As You. There are the occasional posts on atrocities on one or the other member of the LGBTQ community, but the pervasiveness of such crimes induces a regrettable fatalism. You read about it, express shock to yourself or through your Twitter/Facebook feed, and you move on.
One such incident that appeared on the Good As You timeline recently was the murder of Pravallika, a transgender from Telangana. I would be dishonest if I did not concede that I read up about the case only cursorily, and moved on quickly to other stuff which was more relatable. I use the word "relatable" here with the utmost regard for how flippant it can sound. But it is true that beyond quietly appreciating the work of those brave men and women who speak for the likes of Pravallika, I have not committed myself to any activism. I am not a rallyist. I don't even attend the now-ubiquitous gay pride marches. I call myself political but I chaff at placing my politics in any bracket. I don't know if that's a good or bad thing but I suspect I nudge towards inaction because I don't see the point of action.
For days, Pravallika's story trended on Good As You. I learnt that she was a graduate, but had opted for a life of beggary and sex work to make ends meet. I came across a post from a Bangalore-based journalist who wanted to use Good As You to get in touch with transgender activists. At first I thought she was interested in Pravallika's case but she was referring to an incident in which a transgender beggar had pinched someone at a traffic junction, and the scene had turned into a brawl.
My tryst with Pravallika's story continued on this uncharted, non-committal path. I was uncomfortable with the idea that I had been keener to read up on Leelah Alcorn, a transgender teen from Ohio who had killed herself in December due to family pressures. I don't know why I saw myself in her since I am not transgender and have not faced the sort of persecution she faced from her parents over her sexuality. But then Leelah was American and in her tragedy I saw the snuffing of my own hopes for redemption that the West offered to the sexually marginalised. If this could happen in Ohio, where would I run to, in my mind?
Pravallika was not American, or middle class, or any of the other pointers that we find security in. She was born into a poor family and had somehow educated herself enough to earn a graduation. When I finally read up on her story, I came across a sordid mess of a case. The Hyderabad police suspected that she had been murdered by her clients and used a friend of hers as a decoy to lure the alleged criminals. The treatment meted out on the friend made for more depressing reading. She was stripped of her clothes to check if she was really a transgender-in spite of the fact that she was HIV-positive and therefore susceptible to infections.
This is the Hyderabad police we are talking about, part of India's Silicon Valley that houses the likes of Microsoft and Google. But then a transgender death is not a sexy story. It is a lesser tragedy, one of those minor incidents that make up the rotting corpse of overlooked cases. The transgender, after all, does not have a voice. We may welcome her when a child is born or have her bless our marriages but God help her if she gets murdered. That kind of stuff happens to other people, right, and who can be more other than the transgender? Her life and death are mere blips on a perfect social order that wants to have no truck with her. Worse, since she is so disposable, it is all right to use her and her kind to indulge our base perversions, as cases of police brutality reveal.
I want to feel angry but I only feel numbed. Pravallika's death does not matter. She was not the first transgender to die unsung in this country, nor will she be the last. We are promised a more equal world some day, but for the time being, we will have to do with this one. And the prospect of hope entails a wait so interminable as to mean little.
In my head, I am already an American thinking about what gains marriage equality will bring me. I grieve for Leelah Alcorn because in her I see a sister who was unable to beat a system that is ripe for beating. I tell myself these tall tales because that is the only way I can accept the reality of Pravallika. I don't have the vocabulary or the bandwidth to capture her pain. I don't have the means, emotional or intellectual, to fight her fight. She died in vain, in absolute, utter vain because she could not have gamed the system. The system wouldn't allow it.