Bangladesh's Third Sex Through The Lens Of Raffaele Petralla
A few years ago photographer Raffaele Petralla left for Bangladesh in order to document the conditions of the workers in a brick factory. During his trip he met a hijra, the name given to someone who doesn't identify as either male or female in South East Asia.
"The local boys who were with me at the time started laughing as we were walking down the street, pointing at a young transvestite. I approached her and we began speaking, she invited me to her house for tea. It was clear that she was uncomfortable throughout the walk back — me being a male, a foreigner. Some people stopped in the street and their judgement was clear.
"When we arrived at her house she introduced my to some of her housemates. They were all really friendly. When we began talking, I realised that their stories were so powerful, that they needed to be told."
A year later Petralla returned to Bangladesh in order to photograph this community as part of a project entitled The Third Sex of Bangladesh. Not only did he take their portraits, but he spent time with them, getting to know them in their small home where there is so little space that some sleep on the floor at night.
This group of people who identify as transgender quickly became very close, finding solidarity in one another having been marginalised by society or rejected by their families. It is this solidarity that Petralla captures with candor.
In Bangladesh homosexuality is a crime and is punishable with prison sentences. The gay community is also regularly subject to violent attacks. In April 2016 two activists fighting for gay rights were killed with a machete in Dhaka.
Raffaele Petralla explains:
"Since 2013 hijras have gained a certain level of recognition concerning basic rights such as education, health and housing and are now considered as a third gender. However they remain victims of discrimination and violence on a daily basis."
It is this habitual discrimination that leads hijras to live together in groups, with their own rules and hierarchies. There is often a guru, the most experienced within the community who welcomes newcomers and guides them. Many end up as sex workers in order to survive."
By Lise Lanot, publish on 09/02/2017