Minister of Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, posted an apology on Twitter on Monday after she came under heavy criticism for her transphobic remarks in the Parliament last week. Maneka had referred to transgender persons as ‘other ones’, while sniggering and giggling, and later relented to use the term ‘TGs’.
On Monday, the minister claimed she did not ‘snigger’, and said, “I sincerely apologise for using the term ‘other ones’ during the debate on the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, in Lok Sabha. I did not ‘snigger’, I was embarrassed at my own lack of knowledge.”
I sincerely apologise for using the term ‘other ones’ during the debate on the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018, in Lok Sabha. I did not ‘snigger’, I was embarrassed at my own lack of knowledge.— Maneka Gandhi (@Manekagandhibjp) July 30, 2018
However, can the Minister of Women and Child Development plead ignorance on the issue – especially when the Bill she was debating in Parliament was put forth by her own ministry, and affects the transgender community?
On Friday, Maneka was responding to Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s concerns about harassment of consenting sex workers during a discussion on the Trafficking of Persons (Prevention, Protection and Rehabilitation) Bill, 2018.
She said, “The Bill focusses on a victim. If a voluntary sex worker is not a victim, has not been trafficked, has no one to blame for his or her or…” and here, she suddenly smiled cheekily, and continued, “the other ones!” This was followed by a snigger and an eyeroll, after which she relented, “Ya ok, the ‘TGs’ problems.”
The video of the speech was shared on social media by Meera Sanghamitra, a member of the National Alliance for People’s Movements, who demanded that the minister apologise for her "extremely derogatory, insensitive reference and gesture".
. @Manekagandhibjp We are #NotOtherOnes or your pets. We are equally human, equal citizens. APOLOGIZE to the entire transgender community NOW, for your extremely derogatory, insenstive reference and gesture. This does not behove a Cabinet Minister! Appalled, Anguished, Ashamed ! pic.twitter.com/v9uPwm8VEj— Meera Sanghamitra (@meeracomposes) July 27, 2018
But as the apology comes, “I would have been less worried if Maneka was just mocking us,” says Nadika Nadja, a writer.
“That someone – a long time politician who claims to understand women's issues – can openly admit she doesn't care enough to learn about trans issues, and then pretend like she wasn't laughing about it, is deeply troubling,” she says.
“How are trans people now supposed to go approach ministries and representatives if a senior leader, especially the Minister of Women and Child Development, treats us like this?” she asks.
‘Transgender’ is not a noun
Maneka also tweeted that from now on, all official communication will use the term, ‘TGs’.
I was not aware of the official terminology for the transgender community. In future, all official communication will use the term TGs. I would like to assure that the #AntiTraffickingBill2018 is gender neutral and provides protection to the aggrieved.— Maneka Gandhi (@Manekagandhibjp) July 30, 2018
But is that the correct terminology to use for transgender persons?
It is not uncommon to see the word ‘transgenders’ used for the entire community or a group of trans persons across publications. But, as Nadika explains, the word ‘transgender’ is a description, an adjective.
“It cannot be used a collective noun,” she says.
“The correct way to go about it is to say ‘transgender woman’, or ‘trans woman’. Depending on the identity of the person, the correct terms are also – ‘transgender man’, ‘trans man’, ‘trans person’,” she explains.
Does that mean, as cisgender persons (who identify with the gender we were assigned at birth), we go around ‘correcting’ trans people on their grammar or language? No.
As @SunkenStoneShip explains on Twitter, “If a trans person uses any of those terms it's alright, especially when english isn't the first language. Also, don't attack people who don't have access to this information, instead help them learn.”
Okay: trans woman/man/person, transgender woman/man/person— Bring Back Hercules Rum (@SunkenStoneShip) July 25, 2018
Not okay: transgendered, transsexual, transgenders, transwoman, transman, transperson, tranny (geez)
That being said, if a trans person uses any of those terms it's alright, especially when english isn't the first language. Also, don't attack people who don't have access to this information, instead help them learn.— Bring Back Hercules Rum (@SunkenStoneShip) July 25, 2018
"Transgender" is an adjective, not a verb. You say transgender person, or cisgender person, like you say beautiful person, and not transgendered person like beautified person, transperson or beautifulperson, or "a transgender", like "a beautiful"— Bring Back Hercules Rum (@SunkenStoneShip) July 25, 2018