during breakfast ammu asked me, "tanzi* ki?"
she's frying eggs for my father and herself while i'm cooking turkey bacon. i look at her with a what do you mean? look on my face and she repeats herself. her asking the same question again isn't helpful but i know where she's going with it all along.
tanzi ki? as in what is tanzi? in english. my mother is curious about tanzi's gender and sexuality. they* stayed over during the week and are spending time with me at my place more often. despite my friendship with tanzi existing for over three years now and having seen and talked to them before, today is the first time my mother asked about their gender identity. i gauged further to know what exactly she wanted to know because i'm curious about how she'll frame the questions. my mother then responded with, "well, does tanzi have periods?" i smiled at her innocence and wasn't surprised at her focus on tanzi's period, in other words, her wanting to know about tanzi's biological sex. tanzi is gender nonconforming and identifies as a trans-person. i explained some of this english language to my mother, often drawing comparisons to the third gender or hijra communities in bangladesh. i also spoke about how transitioning works and that some folks choose to take hormones to express their gender, which may stop periods but her trying to understand tanzi should not center periods.
there are no literal translations of gender nonconforming in bangla and transgender identities hold different meanings to those like my mother whose exposure to respectful and comprehensive conversations about queer & trans identities are nonexistent. even bringing up hijras isn't valuable to this conversation because our association with hijras are their feminine, saree-clad bodies roaming the streets as dancers, beggars or sex workers. thus, while trans-folks are on the margins universally, their identities hold diverse meanings according to space and place. i can't actually talk about hijras in bangladesh to understand trans-communities in america. nevertheless, my mother only wanted to be educated and this was our first open conversation about trans-identity. during my senior thesis year (i wrote a paper on queer muslims in nyc), she was conservative about my choice to pick at the qur'an for sexualizing homosexuality and didn't ask questions. three years later we are finally talking. she then shared how when she arrived to new york in the late 1980s, there was a woman who was romantically interested in her. she recalls this memory as her introduction to queer people existing. queerness never occurred to her while growing up in chittagong and dhaka.
my father has also been making comments, ammu added. he apparently said, "munmun now hangs out with lesbians." tanzi is an androgynous butch in their clothing style which reads lesbian to my father. he was worried that tanzi may be interested in me because we shared the same bed several times. i laughed.
ma, sleeping on the same bed doesn't mean we're intimate. have you thought this way when girlfriends slept on my bed? you and abbu shouldn't sexualize my friends like this, lesbian or not. them being a lesbian doesn't mean they're interested in me or other women in our group. a more in-depth lesson on queer identities coming soon.
i ended our little chat by letting her know that tanzi's not the only one. other queer, trans-identified, beautiful souls have walked and dined in our home. they are my friends.
tanzi*: original name has been changed; gender pronouns: they/them/theirs