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Bridging the gap for transgender people in school programs: a look at some texts


The representation of transgender people in Indian school curricula is inadequate and often violates the dignity of the community.


The transgender community is one of the most marginalized and poorly represented communities in India. Yet throughout the 12 years of schooling, not much is learned about trans people, but they (neutral singular pronoun) end up having more misconceptions about the community.

Recently, by analyzing the theme ‘Family and friends’ in the SVE class 4 NCERT manual, I realized that the representation in the manual has a very cis-gender and heterosexual look.

Therefore, one thing becomes clear and that is that the school curriculum is not neutral (Apple, 1992). There is a relationship between knowledge and power which can be seen very clearly in the curriculum. The desire to make students understand gender in the masculine and feminine binaries and to become ‘normal’ in terms of gender and sexual orientation is intrinsically woven into the text and therefore in schooling (Nirantar, 2011) and therefore the predominance of the upper caste and the cis-gender (as the two are closely related) can be seen making a place in the curriculum. The essentialization of the body as frozen is not questioned anywhere in school curricula and this is why the experiences of trans people are even worse in society.

A few months ago I came across a storybook titled ‘Guthli has wings’ written by Kanak Shashi and published by Tulika Books which is the story of a girl called Guthli born into a male body.

She loves to wear dresses, but her family expects her to adopt the gender (Butler, 1988) that matches the sex assigned to her at birth. But since she considers herself a girl then one day, she wears her sister’s dress for which she makes fun of her siblings and gets looked at in anger by her father. Her mother tells her she shouldn’t wear a dress and reinforces the gender normativity on her but it saddens her Guthli and she stops smiling and talking to everyone. Finally, his mother accepts Guthli for who she is and gives her a dress to wear.

As I read it, the first question that came to my mind was, “Why is this story not in the school curriculum?” “.

So I established some criteria to see if the story “Guthli Has Wings” really fills the trans deficit (Trans is an umbrella term used for people whose gender does not match the assigned sex at birth. This includes intersex people, non-binary people, fluid gender people, genderqueer people, transgender people, transgender people, etc.) representation in the curriculum.

These included ‘Representation of the trans person‘which aims to observe whether the representation of the community is not simplistic, labeled or judged (Sharma, 2015),’Sensitivity to others‘, this criterion aims to see if the text invokes empathy and acceptance towards trans people,’Moving away from biological essentialism through the illustration used in the storybook‘will analyze whether the illustrations used in the storybook are clear and do not reproduce any gender norms and finally,’Awareness of the existence of different types of families‘which tries to see if the text makes students aware of the different types of families that exist around them in their social context. One of the sub-themes of the “family and friends” theme is “relationships” and therefore if this relationship of the trans child with his or her family is clear from the text, it will be considered to meet the last criterion.

Text selection matrix:

Criteria Observation from text Claim
Representation of trans ( Trans is a generic term used for people whose gender does not match the sex assigned at birth. This includes intersex people, non-binary people, genderfluid people, genderqueer people, transgender people, transgender people, etc.)anybody The story tells of the struggles of a trans child who finds happiness in wearing clothes that affirm her gender identity (pp. 8, 7). But she doesn’t get accepted by her family and doesn’t care about wearing a dress she loves (p. 8). When her mother tells her that she is a “boy” and that she should act like one, she also opposes this and asserts her identity by saying that she is a girl (p. 10). Later, when her family sees her getting discouraged, they accept her, and it brings back by Guthli happiness (p. 21) The story is about a trans child, Guthli, and no judgments were made in the history of her.

Guthli was shown as a active agent throughout the story as she tries to proclaim her gender identity and her experience has not been patronized in the text.

Correct pronouns are used for Guthli throughout history.

Her experiences and struggles with being trans are not too simplified but shown with a lot of reality as the mockery of the family and their apprehension to understand and accept Guthli.

The the alienation between the social context and social reality is called into question here in this text (Sharma, 2015) because trans people do exist in the social context of the child but they do not find any mention of it in the textbooks but here in this text, it is called into question.

Sensitivity to others The story focuses a lot on the emotions and feelings of the child Guthli (p. 12, 15) and shows how acceptance of others brings him happiness (p.22). The role of a teacher is very important here because through the text empathy, acceptance and respect towards others can be invoked very easily by the teacher.
Moving away from biological essentialism through the illustration used in the storybook The illustrations in the storybook claim by Guthli gender identity and nowhere does it focus on her biology or the sex assigned at birth. The faces are not very clear, and it looks more like a deliberate movement so that the body gestures and emotions of the characters can be more focused (p. 8 shows how by Guthli brother laughs at her and her father looks at her angrily).

It is also imperative to note that the feelings are quite difficult to describe via illustrations but here in the story sadness is shown using appropriate body gestures like Guthli is depicted leaning and leaning towards the ground due to the heaviness of his emotions and also, the colors used to represent sadness and happiness give him more meaning (pp. 13, 15).

Vector Illustrations do not reinforce gender norms.

They do communicate feelings of the protagonist.

It is important to note the role of the teacher here because the whole purpose of the illustrations will be diluted if no attention is paid to them.

Awareness of the existence of different types of families History shows by Guthli relationship with his mother (p. 10, 18), his siblings (p. 6, 8), and his father (p. 8). And with all honesty, tell the reader how Guthli is her mother as she understands her best, but the bond with her father and siblings is not so smooth as they angrily look at her and laugh at her. Under the theme of “family and friends”, the story clearly has describes complex relationships that exist in a family.

The text shares the relation of Guthli with family members, and in the same way, a teacher can also lead a relationship discussion that the students in their class share with their family members.

And finally…

At the outset, it’s important to recognize that there isn’t enough children’s literature that represents queer lives. Those who sometimes completely ignore the trans portrayal and those who speak of trans people end up offending the community because it oscillates between the pronouns “he” and “she” for one person, which is very offensive. Such representational texts also end up condescending trans lives. Sometimes such texts are written by people who do not even fully understand trans experiences, hence a text like ‘Guthli has wings’ gives some hope as he also does not hang out with transgender or mesgender lives.

The text deals carefully with empathy and if a critical teacher takes this text back to their class then it can really help other students understand that respecting differences and seeing themselves in other people’s shoes is very important.

Our program pushes us towards the male and female binaries and promotes the affirmation of our assigned sex at birth and this is one of the reasons why even after spending 12 years in school, homosexuals do not know each other. as long as they are not exposed to the speeches. about gender and sexuality that typically occurs in higher education universities and cis-gender students end up having misunderstandings about the community.

Of course, the question of who owns the knowledge and one can clearly see that knowing the “cis-gender”, “heterosexual” and “upper caste” hegemonizes the school curriculum but now with the changing times it is important that such discourses become common not only in universities of higher education, but also in schools so that students become aware of the different gender identities that exist around them and accept such differences.

I see that the text meets the chosen criteria because it invokes empathy, acceptance, bridges the gap between social context and social reality and tries to represent the trans child (Guthli) as an active agent in his life so I think this storybook can be used in class 4 as it is simple enough to be used in this year and connects with the other chapters of the SVE manual (of this class ) under the theme ‘Family and friends’.

Reference:

Apple, MW (1992). The text and cultural policy. Educational researcher, 21(7), 4-19.

Butler, Judith. (1988). “Performative acts and gender constitution: an essay on phenomenology and feminist theory”. Theater review, flight. 40, p. 519-531. JSTOR

Nirantar. (2011). Textbook Regimes: A Feminist Critique of Nation and Identity – Global analysis

Sharma, G. (2015). From curriculum to textbooks – Textbooks revised after 2005 and social exclusion. The primary school teacher

Shashi, K (2019). Guthli has wings. Tulika Books

Zayan is pursuing his Masters in Education at Ambedkar University in Delhi. Her areas of interest include gender, sexuality, caste, education, and music.


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