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Trans-Men Dancing as Goddesses: Breaking Boundaries of Religion and Gender


· Anugyan Nag Jamia Millia Islamia (New Delhi, India)


07/27 | 12:00-12:20 UTC+2/CEST


Nightlong prayer meets (Jagrans, Mata-ki-Chowki) are a common phenomenon in northern India that grows increasingly grand, lavish and spectacular. These performances are elaborate mediatized spectacles with lights, cameras; smoke machines, sets, decorations, installations, live and DJ music among other elements. These sacred performances layer religious ritual and professional production, placing religious practices and beliefs into the service of professional performance with entrepreneurs enmeshing ritual and performance. The performers are mostly trans-men (often from other religious backgrounds) impersonating female goddesses, dancing with elaborate and ornate costumes. These performances are a hybrid mix of Bollywood dance movements and a range of illicit choreographic vocabularies—adopting elements from folk dance, street performance, and cabaret. My paper investigates three aspects of this new and transgressive form of performance: First, the aesthetics and mediatized mounting of these performances; second, questions of gender and impersonation alongside the livelihoods of these performers; and third, the entrepreneurship and networked groups that organize, operate, and manage such events. These urban performative forms of devotion and entertainment, uncover issues of morality, illicit practices, censorship, and transgression.