Hijras, India’s “third gender” now often translated as trans figures, have long been defined by their castrated status in colonial and postcolonial discourse, which has aimed at conflating their social and moral positions with their corporeal modification. This article juxtaposes various sets of narrative accounts to explain the theological underpinnings of liberal explanations for accommodating queer sexuality in India. First, the article looks at contemporary Bollywood films in which hijras are often inserted into the plot to bring the villains to justice, sometimes by castrating them. This seeming contradiction, in which queer personhood is made life-affirming, reveals the complex ways in which hijras have been redefined as legitimizing forms of historical queerness in South Asia. Their role, it is argued, is better understood not through an ontological notion of generosity but through the particular dramaturgical position of the sutradhar that the Hindu-Muslim theology of South Asia makes available. The sutradhar is the one who holds (dhar) the strings (sutra) of the dramatic plot. The voicing and enacting of the moral position with which queer ethics have been associated, both in film and in life, are drawn from this character. Given that the long documented history of hijras has made them quite intelligible to South Asian people without the need for translation, this article argues that debates of queer sexuality must go beyond the civilizational terms of “West and the rest” and explore the theological material available for the crafting of queer personhood and ethics.

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