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The Third Half - Tabs Breese on making documentary about transgender communities in India

Guest post by Tabs Breese

Photographs © Sindhjua P

In April, we travelled to India to start filming 'The Third Half', a documentary about the transgender communities there. For centuries, transgendered individuals in South Asian society have been both respected and exploited. At the end of 2013, the Indian Supreme Court reinstated Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalises sexual activities 'against the order of nature'.


We'd prepared ourselves for a community still reeling from the harshness of the law. However, the 15-20 transgender people that we interviewed over the course of our 2 month shoot were anything but. Outspoken, articulate and lots of fun to hang out with, our subjects were determined not to be silenced.

Then, on the 15th April, only a couple of weeks into our shoot, the Supreme Court spoke again. We  were midway through an interview with Pratiksha (left), an 18 year old sex worker who had told us how she'd been repeatedly raped while in police custody, when she received a text saying that the transgenders were now officially recognised as India's 'third sex.' It was an exciting moment for us all. Pratiksha and her 'guru' (a  mother figure in the hierarchal communities that  many Indian  transgenders live in) Banu were overjoyed. However as the shoot  progressed, we slowly became aware of the complications  surrounding the new law.


Revathi Amma (pictured here with Georgia and I), an outspoken activist whose autobiography 'Truth About Me' was published 2008, explained about the reality of this ruling. "What will happen to transgenders who wish to be identified as women are not comfortable with being labelled as this new gender?", she asked us emphatically. "How many more toilets can the government build?"




 Banu (pictured here with her husband) was more optimistic however. She  had met her husband at a march for Dalit (the 'untouchable' caste) rights  and when we met them at their village home outside Chennai, had only  recently been married. She'd encountered difficulties on the way of course  (so few people whom we met hadn't). On learning that she was transgender, her parents had sent her to an psychiatric hospital. However, she felt that she'd put these troubles behind her and that, with the support of her husband and of the government, life was going to look up.



The last character I want to tell you about is Purushi (pictured here in the yellow sari). Purushi is the lead character in our feature. She's a sex worker but has high hopes for a job in the government.Unlike the majority of Indian transgenders, Purushi lives alone, having chosen not to enter into the 'guru'/'chela' (meaning 'daughter') system that provides financial and emotional support. She longs to undergo the SRS operation but fears that if she does so, her conservative neighbourhood will shun her. She has no family - her parents and sister are dead from TB (which she is currently suffering from). Regardless of these unimaginable hardships, Purushi is tough. Not only that, she is warm, welcoming and generous. From both a filmmaking and a friendship point of view (and the two are so often intertwined) she is a pleasure to spend time with.


The Next Stage…

Social change can take several years to enact and so we will be in production for the next few years, with a projected wrap date somewhere in 2016.


We have applied to several film funds for grants and are currently seeking funding to allow us to return next year to continue production.


If you'd like to learn anything more about 'The Third Half', or would like to watch the short trailer for the film, please feel free to email me at: tabsbreese@gmail.com.