Skip to main site content.
Laxmi Narayan Tripathi at the Women in the World L.A. Salon. (Joe Kohen / Women in the World)

The Transformer

Activist behind India’s third gender revolution speaks out

March 9, 2017

Rounding out the evening at the Women in the World L.A. salon on Tuesday night, Tina Brown returned to the stage for “The Transformer” panel in which she went one-on-one with transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi. India is one of just 11 countries that recognize a third gender — and Tripathi is the gender warrior who convinced India’s Supreme Court to think beyond male and female. Tripathi has fought for transgender rights for the last two decades.

When Tripathi, who was born on the outskirts of what was then known as Mumbai, turned 14 years old, she decided to join the the transgender hijra community. Members of the hijra community answer to a guru and are at once revered in Indian society, celebrated as demigods and ostracized. Tripathi, who has mounted an impressive career in show business, has also advocated for transgender rights at the United Nations and, in 2014, took her case to India’s highest court. The verdict resulted in India recognizing transgender people as members of a third gender, meaning that on legal documents, individuals aren’t limited to only the two tradition gender choices. They can legally choose a third gender.

When asked by Brown when she realized she felt different than the boy she was born as, Tripathi replied, “I never felt different … the world made me feel different. I was just a simple child. I didn’t fit in the boxes of male and female.” She continued saying that she was feminine and that when she was growing up, “people started calling me homo, effeminate and all the other slangs. The world made me think I was different. For me, I was as normal as you or anybody else.”

She also endured sexual abuse at the hands of family members. It was this childhood experience that shaped her into what would become the country’s most influential activist on gender, who ultimately won the right for all of India’s transgender people to identify as a third gender if they choose to do so. “Nobody — no doctor, no politician, no police — has a right to interfere in that,” Tripathi told the salon audience. Watch the full interview below.