This article investigates the connections among music making, identity, and belonging within the context of a jalsā, a celebratory rite of initiation for a hījṛā (South Asian “third gender” individual) entering her gharānā (family). Drawing connections to Ali Jihad Racy’s (2004) analysis of ṭarab (ecstasy) performance in the West Asian jalsah (informal gathering), the article reveals how music making within the larger architecture of the jalsā—in particular, the liminal period in which the hījrā “passes through” to become nirvāṇ (liberated)—enables the visceral embodiment of values concerning hījṛā social transitioning and self-understanding. I argue that the discourses and performance practices involved in becoming hījṛā enact a strategic essentialism through the sanctification of different relational configurations of identity within gharānedar society. This gives shape to a symbolic representation about what it means to be hījṛā that is ambiguously cited, multiplicative, and materially unavailable for those from outside the community who seek to enter, define, or otherwise control it. This article is accompanied by a one-hour film (http://www.ethnomusicologyofthecloset.com/jalsa, password: pehchaan) that was edited to convey the physical and emotional sensation of a nirvāṇ hījṛā’s journey.

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