Date: 9th March 2022

Time: 6:30 p.m.

Abstract: In this presentation, I will explore autobiographical writings produced by tirunangais in Tamil across the first two decades of the 21st century. I will discuss A. Revathi’s autobiography that was written in Tamil but first published in English translation as The Truth about Me in 2010, the second part of her autobiography, which was published in English as a series of conversations called A Life in Trans Activism (2016), and another autobiography by a Sri Lankan German tirunangai, Tanuja, called An Autobiography: Tanuja published in 2021. In both these writers there is an intense discomfort with the bodies that they were assigned at birth and a desire to embody femininity; a desire that finds its articulation through their encounters with real and imaginary women (actresses, comperes, fantasized women, mothers, sisters etc.), kothis and the hijra jamaat. Revathi and Tanuja have to negotiate hostility and violence; even embracing new forms of kinship like the hijra family entails negotiating with new forms of authority and hierarchy. As Revathi observes in her autobiography, becoming a tirunangai poses its own challenges in terms of social ostracism and sexual violence. What distinguishes the two writers is the fact that they belong to different generations: as a young person, Revathi did not have the kind of access that Tanuja had to the internet that offers Tanuja a whole host of social connections, and professional and sexual/romantic choices and opportunities. Over the course of the presentation, I will underscore the complex ways in which both these tirunangais have to negotiate with social and sexual norms and the state to gain greater visibility, rights and recognition.

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