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‘Is It Too Much To Ask?’ Transgender People Ask. Do We Have Answers?

Leena Manimekalai’s short documentary poses many questions.

Still from the film. [Image courtesy: Leena Manimekalai]

Central government is moving towards a transgender bill [Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill] and transgender people are not happy with it. Some of the ideas propagated by Piyush Saxena, the man behind the bill makes transgender people laugh. You will not believe the kind of idiocies he spewed in the media about transgender rights. Here is one for starters.

“Vagina rape causes a different sort of mental trauma to the lady,” he said. Asked for evidence, Saxena referred to his personal experiences as a researcher. “I know that the conditions are different,” – Hindustan Times reported.

The report said that the transgender people ‘responded with laughs, groans, and exclamations.’ Come on, what can one possibly do about people who have such regressive thoughts and exhibit it without shame. Well, there is something they can do. It is a simple unassuming word of two syllables and it is called ‘listen’.

In pursuit of his ‘housiness’

Leena Manimekalai’s film, ‘Is It Too Much To Ask’ is about two transgender people in search of a house. To live. One might wonder what the big deal about it is. If you have never rented a house or are super rich. Because looking for a house to rent is a nightmare in all cities. Mumbai proudly claims that it is the worst here. But wait. Do you know that looking for a house to rent is dependent on many factors apart from that of your status as a human being?

Religion – No Muslims, say some of them because all Muslims are terrorists, of course.

Caste – Caste is never a restriction but it’s just that we prefer Brahmins

Food – We prefer vegetarians. If you are willing to give up eating meat, we will have to check if you are a Brahmin because by vegetarian that is what we really meant.

Complexion – We mean caste. Not business

Marital status – Family – you need to be a family with a wedded partner and plan for making children. Because bachelors are messy and spinsters are always having sex.

Sex – Could mean if you are male or female or transgender and also if you have sex. All these affect the way the house owners look at you.

Sir, yes, sir! [Image courtesy: Leena Manimekalai]

Is It Too Much To Ask?

In Manimekalai’s short documentary of 30 minutes, you can see Living Smile Vidya and Angel Glady, two transgender theatre artists battle with these inhuman restrictions. The film is in English and Tamil and subtitled in English. It has already made its mark in the film festival circuit and has been screened in Chennai, Kerala, Japan, Philadelphia, Mexico, Argentina, Cuba. It won the best documentary award at Singapore South Asian International Film Festival.

When you live inside a privileged world, the least you can do is realize that it is a privileged world. When you dial a number and the other person calls you ‘sir’ have you had to correct them? It is a common problem in the lives of transgender people. The society has defined what a ‘masculine’ voice is and what a ‘feminine’ voice is. There is a scene in the film where Living Smile Vidya is forced to correct the person at the other end of the call that she is not a ‘sir’ and is a ‘madam’. Because even when you tell people how you want to be addressed, they think you are joking. Especially when you are a transgender person.

Why is it that when transgender people put up their photos on Facebook, they get overwhelming response, and when they ask for a place to rent they get nothing? Vidya’s questions are pertinent and a slap in the society’s hypocritical face.

Selfies are popular but not requests for house to rent – Living Smile Vidya [Image courtesy: Leena Manimekalai]

Vegetarianism, sex etc.

Imagine a situation where you are an adult and you are unable to make choices regarding your own life? Well, if you go to Kerala, you will find one such woman in Hadiya, who is under house arrest. In the case of transgender people, most of the time, they rent an apartment by concealing their identity as transgender people. If they have a romantic relationship, it has to be done in secret. To love a person or to be physically intimate with a person, transgender people need NOCs from strangers!

Then there is caste. One woman clearly told the Vidya and Glady that she was looking for vegetarians. When Vidya told her that she was willing to become a vegetarian, she said that she wanted a Brahmin too. Do you now see where ‘strictly vegetarian’ boards in restaurants are coming from?

Now go watch!

The film portrays the atrocious way in which a city like Chennai treats its transgender people. But more than that, it exudes love and optimism. You know why? Because of the way in which Vidya and Glady deal with their problems. They turn the discrimination they face into plays and perform them. They make fun of people who just want to know what they have down there. [The genitals. Because ‘straight’ people are curious about it.] You can see glimpses of their performances that elicit long applause from the audience in the film. Vidya makes jokes about their problems. When people ask if they are a ‘family’ she says that she is indeed looking for a boyfriend and that it would be great if they could help her in the quest. There is even a title song that you can move your body to sung by Vidya and Glady.

Piyush Saxena and party, Watch this film at the festival near you if you want to listen and understand at least a small part of the world of transgender people. May be that will help you formulate better guidelines for the Bills you make for them.

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