Shunned Hijra: Film Exposes Transgender Life in South Asia

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Vidur Kapur, Gay Comic, Understands

Vidur Kapur,, an Indian-born gay stand-up comic who now lives with his partner in New York City, knows firsthand how South Asian society treats feminine men.

"I had a traumatic teenage in India," said Kapur, 45. "To be honest, I had transgender tendencies as a kid and actually wanted to be a girl. I wore makeup and acted outwardly feminine. I got harassed and bullied and threatened and shunned."

Kapur is one of the first out Asian comics in the business -- and the only gay South Asian. He travels the world and talks about cultural and sexual issues in his act.

"I am Indian, I am gay, I am f***ked," is one of his opening lines in a show he just taped for a Showtime special with Pauly Shore that will air this fall.

Kapur grew up in a privileged background. His father was an executive in a well-known multinational company and he even attended a top boarding school in Wales before going on to the London School of Economics.

Despite his background, Kapur said he could not discuss his sexuality with his parents.

"They were highly disapproving of me and the way I was growing up," he said. "I was really scared. They actually used the term, 'hijra.'"

Kapur said his behavior was "horrifying and humiliating" for his family. "They said, 'Oh my god, he's growing up to become hijra.' My grandmother used to say, 'Hey, hijra come here. I remember at some point she took me to the psychiatrist and gave me a chromosome test to see if I was a normal male."

As they drove home, a hijra crossed the street and a traumatized Kapur wept. "That's how badly they were looked on and the last thing anyone would want to become."

The hijra have no access to jobs and many become sex workers and prostitutes. "A lot of straight men go to them," said Kapur. "Indians, especially in the lower classes, have no access to women until they are married and sometimes it's their first sexual experience."

They demand money and dance at weddings. "You must give it to them and if you don't, it's bad luck. People pay them off quickly and get rid of them. But when a child is born, they come ask for money."

Kapur said he hopes Robin's film can help transform a culture that is homophobic, and now the hijra are beginning to fight back.

Pakistan's supreme court has issued a series of judgments in favor of hijras, according to the Guardian newspaper. And last October more than 1,000 hijras participated in government-sponsored demonstration to raise awareness of their rights.

In fact, film director Robin has said that some of the profits from "Common Gender" will go to help the hijra in Bangladesh. He hopes to buy land in the outskirts of Dhaka to build a graveyard for those who are transgender.

His next film, "Shohagi," follows the story of a 32-year-old autistic man who discovers his sexuality and a new world when he marries.

But today, Bangladesh theaters continue to show "Common Gender" to packed audiences. Robin said filmgoers have reacted positively, hugging hijras afterward, telling them how sorry they are that they have been treated so badly.

"They came out of the movie theaters crying, saying, 'What can we do?' They are human. We should love them," he said.

"Now the shopkeepers are calling them to give them money -- 'Take this and come to my home, take my dress,'" said Robin. "Before, they were the people who begged for money and food. Now the shopkeepers call the: 'Tell me your story. Who is your mother or father?'"

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