TRANSGENDER IN INDIA { 44 images } Created 23 Jul 2010

Many consider the India's Third Sex, also known as Aravanis, to posses special powers allowing them to determine the fate of others. As such, they are not only revered but despised and feared too. Resigned to the fringes of society, segregated and excluded from most occupations, many transgenders are forced to turn to begging and sex work in order to earn a living.

This collection of photographs focuses on the annual transgender festival in the village of Koovagam, near Vilappuram, which offers an escape from this often desolate existence. For some, this week-long festival is about fulfilling lustful desires. For others, the gathering provides a chance for transgenders to bond, share experiences, join the wider homosexual gay-community and coordinate their campaign for recognition and tackle the challenge of HIV/AIDS.

It is the Indian state of Tamil Nadu that the eighty-thousand-strong Aravani community has made advances in their fight for rights. In 2009, the Tamil Nadu state government began providing sex-change surgery free of cost. The state has also offers special third-gender ration cards, passports and reserved seats in colleges. And 2008 the launch of Ippudikku Rose, a Tamil talk-show fronted by India's first transgender TV-host and the release of a mainstream Tamil film staring an Aravani in the lead-role.

These advances clearly signal a victory for south India's transgenders, but they have also exposed deep divisions within the community. There is a very real gulf that separates the majority poor from their potentially influential but often reticent, upper-class sisters.
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