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The Right to Our Bodies

July 13, 2012

In a case where the “facts” are both complex and yet also the question at hand, let us start with one that should be undisputed: Pinki Pramanik says she is a woman. She has lived as one, competed as one, and identifies as one. She and no other person or institution – particularly the law or medical science – has the right to decide what her gender identity is regardless of her anatomy, her chromosomes or her hormones. As the investigations against her began, her claim to be a woman should have been accepted at face value regardless of whether narrow judgments of her appearance, manner, physicality or dress led some to believe otherwise.

To add to Nivedita’s post below and track what the Pinki Pramanik case continues to tell us, here is a link to the rest of the Times of India piece cited above that appeared on Monday. The argument I make in that piece has taken a new turn. The gender test results, as reported by the media currently, now say that Pinki is “male” because she has XY chromosome. Yet the report says at the same time that she has “female genital ducts and female external genitalia.” What indeed, then, are we to make of a “conclusive” report that finds Pink to be “male”? The terms and words of the test undo themselves and the underlying assumptions and pathways to the conclusion are far from apparent. If Pink is indeed intersex, then all of these results can stand without the conclusion the report draws of her being “male.” Worth reading are a Journal of American Medical Association article here on Gender Testing and the Olympics, Alice Dreger on sex and gender testing in sports here.

In a national daily this morning, there is a photograph of Pinki. She is taking cooking lessons with her mother in her village. The performance of her gender has begun as her sex is questioned. The only strategy open to her is to now constantly claim all that is uncontestably “woman”: a saree, a pallu over the head, in the kitchen, learning from her mother. Yet again the binaries and essentialisms of our gender identities are reproduced as Pinki tries to erase signs of the apparent “masculinity” of her appearance and behaviour that has driven much of the outrage against her thus far.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2012 4:23 PM

    Interesting points raised, Mr Bhan. But Pinki’s behaviour with her mother is precisely what makes it as easy for me to do the same thing and not risk being called a patriarchal stooge. Gender identities are performative. As enactments they come to mean different things in different contexts, and for Pinki, perhaps, it is as liberating to perform that gender role, as it was problematic for her to exhibit it in a jail with male inmates. No?

  2. Gautam Bhan permalink
    July 13, 2012 5:13 PM

    Dear Dhamini,

    Absolutely – and I hope I didn’t come across as judgmental in any sense of that picture as if Pinki was being, somehow, “fake”, or suggesting that that moment was not possibly as much part of her gender identity as the racetrack. We have little way of knowing whether this was an everyday scene for her that now suddenly seems placed on purpose by print media to make a point, or is in, in fact, just performance. Either way, honestly, I think its legitimate. My intention is not to put this part of her gender identity on trial in any way. Our performance of gender are always complex and strategic — in this case, its almost even more so at every turn because every bit of her gender identity has been made into public spectacle of which this picture is a part. I mentioned the picture only because it made me pause, as will the legal strategies that lawyers on both sides will have to use the trial begins, and mark the complexities how these performances will now grapple with other registers and discourses of “male” and “female,” especially those of the law and science and, of course, public expectations of appropriate gendered behaviour. The picture just reminded me that that she will also have to make some hard choices (in whatever way these are “choices” at any rate) on her appearance, gender performance and self-identity over the next few weeks and months in response to all of these, and do so in the public eye waiting to snap a picture.

    - gautam

  3. July 17, 2012 12:45 PM

    Reblogged this on burntbutteredtoast and commented:
    Identity has become something of a privilege granted by the society to each individual. What lies forgotten is the basic understanding that acceptance is on the basis of being a human being. Gender and other stereotypical constructs seek to dehumanize people, insult logic and question the principles of the society as a whole.

  4. Gee Ameena Suleiman permalink
    July 22, 2012 11:36 PM

    “If Pink is indeed intersex, then all of these results can stand without the conclusion the report draws of her being “male.””

    Why is the “intersex” not in quotes here?Or are you indeed revealing the “truth” of Pinki’s sex to us? In a biologically determinist way? What is she “indeed”? That is not a question that we should be pondering over and blogging about publically. Her body can be “intersex”, “male” , “female” etc. It just doesn’t matter as long as she identifies as a woman. Please do not label people as intersex if that’s not an identity that they want to assume! If the I in LGBTI is invisible or non existent, that’s a whole different issue that needs to be addressed. We needn’t recruit forcibly like the Israeli army for troopers if they don’t want to be part of the “rainbow family”.

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  1. The Right to Our Bodies « burntbutteredtoast

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