Jill Peters is a photographer working on gender, identity and sexuality. Her latest work consist on India’s third gender commonly referred in South Asia as hijra. The term third gender hijra includes transgender women, hermaphrodites and also male cross-dressers. These hijra are an important cultural manifestation estimably dating back to the time of the Kama Sultra.
The hijra is so important in the Indian culture that they were believed to “bestow good fortune and fertility by dancing at weddings and the births of children.” Hijra was seen to be a powerful and feared entities between the sexes.
However nowadays, the third gender is seen as a second-class citizen ignored or harassed by the rest of the population. Similar to the transgender women in most places in the world the people identified with the third gender do not have the possibility to live a safe life and have decent employment. Most of the hijra in India unwillingly resort to being sex workers and find it even harder to escape this dehumanising cycle.
Jill Peters explains her photography project by saying “My intention was simply to portray them as the subjects of beauty and grace they so desperately wish to be, as if their path to nirvana had not been impeded by a century and a half of prejudice and intolerance.” With her work photographing this minority of society she hopes to show the hijra as they were once seen, fascinating beautiful people in between.
Peters also took down her stereotypes of the hijra during the project. After taking their photographs, she said “I was struck by how naturally graceful and feminine they are. I think that quiet dignity comes through in the portraits.” Peters hopes the photography series titled Nirvan: The Third Gender of India will take down other people’s stereotypes as well, giving them a chance to really look at the hijra.