The Tamil Nadu government has published a glossary of LGBTQIA+ terms in Tamil in the government gazette in a first-of-its-kind move in the country. The glossary has been adapted for the most part from the LGBTQIA+ glossary published by Queer Chennai Chronicles, The News Minute, Orinam, and several queer individuals, although the TN government's latest version has some changes. The move comes on the back of a series of judgments given by Madras High Court Justice Anand Venkatesh to improve the lives of LGBTQIA+ people in the state. The High Court had asked the government to come up with a list of terms in Tamil for the media to use, in order to stop derogatory references to LGBTQIA+ persons.
The glossary includes terms such as âPaal Puthumaiyarâ (queer), âThirunangaiâ (transgender woman), âThirunambiâ (transgender man), âOodupalâ (intersex), and several others. LGBTQIA+ communities in the state, and Tamil LGBTQIA+ persons and communities across the world, have welcomed the move by the Tamil Nadu government. âIt is great to see that the Social Welfare department has largely adapted the glossary prepared by us,â says C Moulee, co-founder of Queer Chennai Chronicles (QCC), who has been working on Tamil LGBTQIA+ terms for several years now. âI hope the glossary will be updated frequently, as the language of LGBTQIA+ people is continuously evolving,â he says.
Member of Tamil Nadu State Planning Commission, and Bharatanatyam artiste Narthaki Nataraj, who was also part of the team that finalised the TN governmentâs glossary, says that the glossary has curated Tamil terms that are equivalent to English words for LGBTQIA+ persons. âAs the word âThirunangaiâ was made respectable and popular, these words also should reach everyone, and the media plays an important role in it,â she says, adding that she hopes people would stop using derogatory terms for LGBTQIA+ persons.
This is not the first version of an LGBTQIA+ glossary that the Tamil Nadu government has come out with. In February 2022, the state submitted a glossary of terms to the Madras High Court, which was considered highly problematic by several LGBTQIA+ persons and communities. âThe first glossary prepared by the Social Welfare department with no community involvement was completely unacceptable,â Moulee says. Justice Anand Venkatesh however decided to publish the queer-led glossary made by QCC, TNM, Orinam and others in his order, and asked the government to use that as the base for their final list of terms. âNow, the government has adapted the glossary that was prepared by the community, and we appreciate this,â Moulee says.
Changes from glossary published by QCC, TNM, Orinam and queer individuals
While the glossary published by the government has accepted most of the terms published by QCC, TNM, Orinam and queer individuals, one of the major changes is for the Tamil term for transgender persons. While the original glossary contained the term âThirunarâ for transgender persons, the TN governmentâs latest version has the terms âMaruviya Palinamâ and âMaariya Palinamâ instead. âThirunarâ is an umbrella term for transgender persons that has been in common usage for several years.
When asked about the change, Narthaki Nataraj says she believes the term âThirunarâ would mean âa group of menâ, and is therefore unacceptable. âAs a trans woman, why should I be taken back into an older umbrella term?â she asks. Echoing this, Kalaimamani Sudha, a transgender woman who was part of the team finalising the terms for the TN government glossary says, âTaking âThiruâ from the Tamil words âThirunangaiâ and âThirunambiâ, the term âThirunarâ was coined. While people understood the former words, they could not understand the latter. Words should be coined in a way people can understand. So when we say âmaariya paalinamâ or âmaatru paalinamâ, people can understand easily.â
Moulee however points out that the âThiruâ in âThirunarâ is a term of respect according to several Tamil dictionaries, and the term âThirunarâ has been included in the Crea Tharkala Tamizh Agaradhi, which was created in consultation with several trans persons. ââThirunarâ is a widely used term by the communities at the grass root level, and also by Tamil speaking queer persons outside India. I expressed this in the consultation meeting as well. Including the term âThirunarâ in the glossary has to be taken into consideration by the department,â Moulee says.
Hari Rajaledchumy, a writer and curator of the Jaffna Queer Festival, says, âThere are at least two organisations that I know functioning in Sri Lanka that has the term âThirunarâ in their names - Jaffna Thirunar Valaiyamaippu (Jaffna Transgender Network) and Tamil Thirunar Peravai (Tamil Transgender Forum).â
Vandarkuzhali, who is a part of Kovai Vaanavil Koottam, says, the term âMaruviya Paalinamâ evokes borderline gender dysphoria, âas the notion is that a person becomes another person, it might be problematic for many people in the community. Also, âThirunarâ is used in a widespread way and bringing that word back would be better,â they say.
Another term that has appeared in the TN governmentâs glossary that was not in the original list is âNilaiyatra Palinamâ for gender fluidity. The original term given by community members was âDhiravanilai Paalinam/Neernanilai palinamâ. Hari says that the term âNilaiyatra Palinamâ can have harmful implications if mainstreamed. âThe word ânilaiyatraâ means something that doesnât have a ground â itâs close to meaning âbaselessâ. It has harmful implications to the community. When it comes to the mainstream, it can be misused to say that a person is of âbaseless genderâ, which is very problematic,â she says. A gender fluid person is someone who identifies with multiple genders, however, the term âNilaiyatra Palinamâ has connotations of âconfusionâ, which is problematic, several community members say.
On the same note, Vandarkuzhali says that the term âNilaiyatra Paalinamâ brings out a tone of uncertainty. âIt doesnât feel right to say that we are uncertain about our gender. The alternatives âThiravanilai/Neernilai Paalinamâ sound good,â they say.
Hari points out that while the glossary has been published by the Tamil Nadu government, its implications do not stop within Tamil Nadu â it goes to all parts of the world where Tamil is spoken. âWhatever happens in TN also impacts how we adopt the language in Sri Lanka or other places where Tamil is spoken. The terms âThirunambiâ, âThirunangaiâ, âThirunarâ have a long history of usage in Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Europe, Canada and elsewhere. The glossary has been prepared without any international input. I am not saying that a person should be hired from elsewhere for this purpose, but at least some sort of attention towards the fact that Tamil is being used elsewhere also and that Tamil Nadu has some sort of influence over how the language is used elsewhere is not present,â she says.
âThe glossary prepared by us reflects the diversity of the community, and the diversity is reduced in this glossary,â Moulee says. He adds that while the government introducing a glossary can help reduce the use of derogatory terms in the media, there are other long term measures that the government should consider â including bringing in anti-discrimination policies to protect LGBTQIA+ communities.
A note on the QCC-TNM media reference guide:
The News Minute and Queer Chennai Chronicles are working on an LGBTQIA+ media reference guide, and published Part 1 of the guide in June this year. Large parts of the original glossary submitted to the Madras High Court are from the glossary section of the reference guide. You can download Part 1 of the guide here.