In the powerful book Among the Eunuchs: A Muslim Transgender Journey (Hurst Publishers, 2022), Leyla Jagiella reflects on her story as a trans Muslim living among a third-gender community known as Khwajasira in Pakistan and hijra in India. Throughout the book, we learn about this community, the ways they forge relationships with each other and with the mainstream community, the roles they play, the challenges they face, all told from an inviting, loving perspective. Jagiella’s academic background as an anthropologist is especially prominent in her writing, given her attention to the everyday in this book. Jagiella also pays close attention to religious history, to Islam more specifically, and the role of trans people in Islam. However, as Jagiella emphasizes in our conversation, this book is not about trans people – it is specifically her own journey, and as a part of a community, she cannot be separated from the community she is part of. The book in fact resists attempts to essentialize and clearly define identity.
In our conversation, Jagiella discusses the origins of the book, its contributions to our understanding of gender and sexuality in the Muslim South Asian context, the evolution of the terms for this third-gender community, her own experiences as a trans person traveling throughout South Asia, colonialism and its impact on trans identity, homonationalism and identity as ideology, and the importance and beauty of nuance, complexity, and ambiguity, which the book embraces.
Shehnaz Haqqani is an Assistant Professor of Religion at Mercer University. She earned her PhD in Islamic Studies with a focus on gender from the University of Texas at Austin in 2018. Her dissertation research explored questions of change and tradition, specifically in the context of gender and sexuality, in Islam. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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