'Invisible Men', a book by author Nandini Krishnan on the transmasculine network in India, has caused ripples in the trans community and not for the right reasons.
The trans community in India has several socio-cultural, economic and regional variations. With the Supreme Court granting third gender status to the community, more and more issues of the so-far neglected community are making their way to the mainstream.
However, several members of the community from Manipur have objected to the book, accusing the author of misrepresenting the narratives of the Nupa Maanba, the indigenous name for trans-men in Manipur.
"The Manipuri trans-community has a rich history and we have our own indigenous narratives. But in the book, Nandini Krishnan tries to paint us as part of the dominant Hindu community," said Santa Khurai, prominent trans activist and writer from Manipur.
According to her, the book got most things right but failed to properly represent the history of trans men in the state.
"The section on Manipur starts with a description of Chitrangada and Arjuna from Mahabharata. Why would the writer begin our chapter with these characters that we don't even know? Hindu mythology is not historically relevant to us," Khurai added.
Khurai, who is a member of the Meitei tribe, also said that the book ignored the richness of indigenous tribes in Manipur, focusing instead on only the Meitei tribe.
The activist is not the only one to be raising these contentions. In fact, Khurai's All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association along with Eta Manipur, an organisation working for trans rights in Manipur, has called for a review of the book and also demanded an apology for the misrepresentation.
She warned that if the author did not acquiesce, they would proceed with publicly burning the books in protest.
Meanwhile, the author has been hounded on social media by critics of the book, with some even accusing her of glorifying Hindus as the 'saviours' of trans persons. Others have criticized the introduction by Manu Joseph as 'transphobic'.
@k_nandini's Invisible Men is glorification of Hindu mythological characters and portrayal of them as Saviours of trans people, supported by Brahminism, misogyny, transphobia, culture washing, and poor writing.
— cecil thounaojam (@cecilthojm) January 8, 2019
@manujosephsan you owe trans people , specifically trans men an apology for your transphobic and voyeuristic introduction to us in the book "invisible men" by Nandini krishnan. You won't get away with this, you troll. pic.twitter.com/9n9TG6rKXA
— Gee (@geeimaan) January 2, 2019
Am appalled by the forward to a new book on trans men, #InvisibleMen, that has just come out by @k_nandini. It is horrifically insensitive to trans men, in fact to the trans* community in general - as many have now come out to express. @PenguinIndia why allow this to go forward?
— Sandhya Gupta (@sandhyagupta02) January 4, 2019
OH MY GOD what is WRONG WITH YOU @k_nandini ?! How DARE you? I thought you couldn’t possibly be more vile - and then this. I’m shaking with rage. #InvisibleMen #Transphobic #NotAnAlly #burytransphobicbook @PenguinIndia pic.twitter.com/SdGVG4IOz1
— AKD (@TheHoleyBibli) January 4, 2019
According to Bittu K of the Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samiti, the book has dealt insensitively with the subject of trans men, especially the foreword.
"We obviously want more people to talk about our community. But there is a degree of sensitization needed. The book often misgenders the interviewees, and others from the trans community," Bittu said. "People need to understand that for us it's not just an erroneous pronoun. It is our identity that is being misrepresented."
Bittu also mentioned that picking novelist Manu Joseph who is a cis man to write the foreword for a book about transmen was itself problematic.
Krishnan, on the other hand, has come out strongly in defence of the book as well as Joseph, stating that the book was an accurate based on the interviews she conducted. She urged people on social media to not read the book in parts but rather read it in its entirety to better understand the text.
— Nandini Krishnan (@k_nandini) January 2, 2019
She added that choosing Joseph was a personal choice as he had been his editorial mentor. She also wrote in the post that she is "deeply sorry for the effect some things may have had and for unintentional hurt caused".
The controversy comes amid ongoing debate regarding the passing of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill in Lok Sabha with many from the trans-community calling the bill violative of their rights and identity.