Hijras have historically been accepted as an integral part of South Asian culture. They are not eunuchs, but the third sex/third gender as coined by Serena Nanda. We do, however, view them as men who choose to live as women.
What I find interesting about the Shumail and Shazina case is that Shumail is, in effect, a variation of the hijra. Hijras go through a rather elaborate procedure to remove their genitals. They ensure that none of their maleness is left behind, to the extent that bleeding out the “male” blood after removing the penis and testes is mandatory.
Shumail was a woman who identified with the male gender. He can no longer be considered a woman, just as a hijra can no longer be considered a man. So why is so much hullabaloo being generated by this case? I propose the following theory:
The subcontinent is deeply rooted in patriarchy, to the extent that women’s bodies are the sole site of family honour. Male bodies are not at all fundamental to their family honour; a male may do as he pleases with any woman other than his own.
Hijras voluntarily remove themselves from the community of the powerful patriarchs and, in essence, choose to become the oppressed. What Shumail has done is the exact opposite. He has chosen to leave the domain of the oppressed and enter, or intrude upon, the domain of the oppressor. This seems almost unfathomable in a culture which controls women’s bodies in order to maintain honour. Honour killings almost always target women and not men. Shumail can now no longer be controlled. Shumail is now a threat to men. Shumail is now an antithesis of the woman he is “supposed” to be. This has not only shattered cultural conceptions of the role of women, it has also created a sense of fear. If Shumail sets a precedent, he will be a threat to the patriarchy. Since my country people love slippery slope arguments, they could argue that he will encourage this “immoral”, “un-Islamic” and (the favourite word) “Western” concept. Perhaps more and more women will want to become male, and if they do, who will be in control? Of course, the weird things is, that right across the border in Muslim Iran, sex change is legal.
This is, obviously, just a theory. I cannot understand anything unless I theorize it to infinity. I just wanted to put this forward to see if this makes sense to anyone other than me. I realise it’ll seem absurd to most people, but try to think of it as a theory only.