Thursday, October 7, 2010

"A Comparative Analysis of Hijras and Drag Queens" by Sandeep Bakshi

In his article "A Comparative Analysis of Hijras and Drag Queens" Sandeep Bakshi explores the ability of hijras and drag queens to question heteronormative culture. He begins his article by explaining hijras. Hijras are men who voluntarily go through castration and penectomy and thus, are neither men nor women. They perform as women at important Indian ceremonies, such as weddings and birth ceremonies, as "perceived guarantors of fertility" (213). Though they are culturally sanctioned, they are not regarded as full citizens either and have few political rights. Their community structure is very religious (each hijra has guru) and hierarchical, mirroring normative society. Their motivation for castration is part of a religious ritual to a goddess and their history is shrouded in myth. Hijras are similar to drag queens, by virtue that they parade as women, but they are not the same.

Bakshi compares and contrasts the ability of hijras and drag queens to subvert the gender binary and common conceptions of gender roles. Hijras perform in a public space and "enjoy religious and cultural legitimacy" (216), while drag queens perform in a private or alternative space. Hijras interact with the public who tend not to question heteronormative culture, while in most cases drag queens are performing to an audience that is already questioning society. One problem during the performance of hijras is that the gender roles of the audience members are reinforced, because women are passive observers and men are active participants, "controlling" the show. Drag queens also seem to reinforce gender roles because "female impersonators almost universally present stereotypical and exaggerated images of females" (218). Not only that, but power is a fundamental part of current gender dynamics and in one sense male drag queens are proving that they are "'better' women than women themselves" (218), reinforcing male power. A drag queen's performance relies on the audience's preconceived perceptions of gender and gender roles, instead of calling them into question. While both hijras and drag queens perform as women, hijras reveal their sex (or lack thereof) at the end of the show by lifting up their saris. This shocks the audience are destabilizes their experience.

Bakshi finishes his article by reminding the reader to keep national context in mind when comparing and contrasting cultural practices of the Orient and the West. Both hijras and drag queens "are subcultural byproducts of Western and Indian societies and have developed in relation to their respective mainstream cultures" (221). And they both have their limits and abilities to question the gender binary within their respective cultures. In conclusion "reading the hijra alongside the drag queen means broadening and enriching the discursive elements of identity (in)congruity and revealing the fiction of all gendering and sexualizing processes of any dominant culture" (221).

1 comment:

  1. I apologize for the weird formatting. I could not get Blogger to fix it. :(