Friday, 28 February 2014

Myself Mona Ahmed: A Reflection

Researching for term papers is a task that most find pretty tedious, but when you stumble across something poignant and perfectly crafted then it often all becomes worthwhile. I'm exploring the issue and treatment of transgendered people living in developing countries and whilst I'm very interested in the topic I had not been expecting to become so emotionally involved in my research. 

So my advice for today is to scour your local library, rummage through old (or new) bookshops, ask your friends, colleagues, professors, go to the squeaky stores hidden in basements of art galleries, if your eyes don't come across the modest gem that is, Myself Mona Ahmed then I suggest you get clicking on Amazon, this is a book you'll not regret parting with your pennies (£/$/€'s) for. I'm not going to make wild claims and pronounce that this book will change your life forever, but what Mona's story does do is force you to consider the delicacies of journalism, ensures you feel even just a speck of remorse at the treatment of transgendered people worldwide, and encourages you to ask questions about how society treats those who are born as, or choose to live life as, the third sex.

The creator (I say creator rather than author because it seems to me a dual effort and is not so much a work of authorship than a work of art) of Myself Mona Ahmed, Dayanita Singh, is a photographer and journalist originally from New Delhi, India. Singh spent over 13 years building an honest friendship with Mona Ahmed, a 61-year old eunuch now living in Old Delhi, India. Mona is also locally referred to as transgendered, the third sex or a hijra. The story of her life is eloquently projected into the pages of the book through unedited emails sent from Mona to a publisher in Switzerland. The emails are carefully slipped in alongside Singh's impressive selection of photographs.
The book also allows us a rare literal and personal glimpse into a world that we otherwise would know little about. In her opening email, Mona writes that “everytime [sic] we (the eunuchs) give an interview, the journalists write whatever they want anyway”. Too often when eunuch communities allow journalists to get close, they are rewarded with dishonesty and betrayal. Articles are published mocking and ridiculing the community, so surely it is natural then that this would breed hostility towards any person considered an outsider? Mona writes honestly and thoughtfully, whilst the images which accompany the text are saturated with emotion and have clearly been carefully selected to evoke parallel feelings with the reader. We witness Mona expressing outlandish pride and happiness at the grand birthday party celebrations for her daughter. However Singh also bluntly contrasts these with portraits of Mona feeling rejected, betrayed and of her displaying deep-rooted sadness.
In the West we can sometimes have stilted views concerning liberalism in the 'developing world'. It may come as a surprise to some that despite the stereotypes, India, a developing country, entitles more legal freedom to people in terms of transgendered issues than we do here in the UK. Since 2005 it has been possible for those wishing to obtain an Indian passport to have the freedom to choose between identifying their gender as male, female or eunuch/third sex. Following this decision, in 2009 the electoral roll was also changed to include the third sex. Whilst these moves are still a few steps away from people being able to select indeterminate gender or no gender at all, the progress is there and continues to be fought for.
Respect is a human right and Myself Mona Ahmed encourages us to ask why it is still acceptable today, in the 21st century, to treat someone as anything less than human just because of the gender they identify with.
(Please note that all images in this post belong to Dayanita Singh at
- If you need to find the book on Amazon you can purchase it by clicking here -


  1. I need to track down this book. It looks life changing.

    1. Hi, thanks so much for stopping by.Yes, it is really interesting, I hope you manage to find a copy! Amazon seemed to have quite a few when I last checked. :-)