For 25-year-old intersex person and gender queer social activist Gopi Shankar, the 2016 polls are not about corruption and better governance alone, but also about giving people a fresh perspective towards sexual minorities– and emphasizing that the pronoun to be used for intersex persons is not ‘he’ or ‘she’, but the gender-neutral ‘ze’. It’s about time our language changes to include sexual minority, ze believes.
Being a social activist, ze feels that ze will be able to serve the society better. “Politicians control the system. Social activists should get into politics to help people serve better,” ze says, speaking to TNM. Ze will be contesting elections for Anaithu Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK) from North Madurai constituency. Ze has been a social activist from 2011 and has been working for gender and sexual minorities.
Gopi Shankar believes politics has been commercialized. “It is more like a business and a common cannot dream to become a part of it. Now, we want the people to change not political parties,” ze says.
For Gopi, AMMK party is an “apolitical” party as it is not affiliated to any major parties and most of them who are contesting are youngters. Ze feels that their party is more like a team work and they all are doing part-time job and accumulating money for their campaigns. They will be using bicycles for their campaigns.
Gopi started the organization ‘Srishti Madurai’ in 2011. “We work for gender and sexual minorities. There are 58 types of genders and more than 15 sexual orientations in total. We started educating school children, medical fraternity and lawmakers about these many genders and sexual orientations,” ze says.
Talking about his experiences, ze says it has been a hard task. “Many schools have banned us from conducting classes in their schools. If 20 people supported us, 60 others opposed our cause. Many Muslim Jamads stuck posters outside our college using my picture saying ‘such people should be hanged’,” he said.
But Gopi has quite a few achievements to talk about. “We were the first ones to organize Asia’s first gender queer parades in India. We popularized the term ‘gender queer’ and I popularized the regional term for gender identities in Tamil,” ze says.
As a child, Gopi had gone through constant abuse and harassment, “From my childhood, I never used to wear frocks and I never used to mingle with girls. But beyond all the harassment and abuse I faced in my childhood, I always felt being an inter sex was part of my identity but I am much beyond that. I am a human being who respects all life forms on earth.”
Zis grandmother was very supportive and caring about zim. “I was an unusual and problematic kid for my parents. But my grandmother always used to say that you all are my beautiful grandchildren and should respect the creatures around you,” he said.
At the age of 14, ze joined Ramakrishna Mutt which taught zim about Indian tradition and philosophy. Later, ze went to a college in Madurai but left it midway because of the college’s unacceptance towards zim and zis cause.
What would ze like to do if you win the elections? “I’m going to use elections as a platform for awareness of various issues for minorities. Winning or losing does not matter. If I’m going to win I will make people to realize the individual potential to do so much through campaigns.”
Ze adds that gender minority community itself is not sensitized, “We do not even know who transgender people are. First, everyone should be seen as human beings. Ignorance is as much within the community as it is in the society.”
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