Being Transgender

What does it mean to be Transgender in India? The answer to that question will vary depending on who you talk to! Because just like in all other aspects of Indian society, Trans folks also live in different worlds, each with their own unique set of realities and challenges. In this post, I will try to cover some of those from my perspective.

Many Indians, especially cis-gender folks, will preface their answer by saying that “Trans folks/Third gender are treated with respect in India”. Well, that is not completely honest when talking of modern India! “Feared” is a more accurate term! And there is a reason for this. Growing up, the first interaction that we had with Trans folks was seeing groups of Trans women begging at Traffic Signals, often harassing shopkeepers and drivers in an attempt to scrape a living. My mother used to tell me stories about how these groups kidnap young kids, castrate them and put them to work either begging on the streets or doing sex work. I am sure others have heard the exact same stories from their folks too! So “Feared” is certainly a more accurate term to describe the mindset towards the “Third Gender”!

Why did they have to move about in Groups? Why did they have to beg or resort to sex work? Why couldn’t they do honest work like everybody else? Good question! Could they? REALLY?!!

They say Indian society is tolerant of different cultures etc etc! That is true to an extent but this tolerance is also conditional! The tolerance is dependent on a “social contract” – based on the understanding that each of us agrees to lives in our own bubble, ghetto if you will, and at the end of day we all agree to return to our own ghettoes! So, there are Housing societies almost exclusively populated by Muslims or Christians. Gujarati/Jain folks like to have their own exclusive ghettoes too – by choice! When my folks were selling their 2nd house in Pune, they had to get a NOC (no objection certificate) from the Housing Society. They could’nt get the NOC if the buyer was a Muslim or even a Dalit(untouchable caste) for example.

Similarly, “Third gender” folks are also expected to remain in our own little ghetto. Some housing societies might “tolerate” a Muslim or Christian living there but you will be hard pressed to find a Transgender person in an apartment complex unless she has been living there for generations! Where you live also impacts other factors in your life. Availability and price of Finance options, Employability depends on where you stay! To this day, many companies will actively stay away from recruiting someone or issue a credit card/auto loan to anyone who has a “Nana Peth address” for example – unless you have an obviously Brahmin surname!

“Why cant these Third gender folks get a job instead of creathing this nuisance?” – Well, would YOU give any of us a job? We cant find a house to live in your area and have to find a ghetto to live in with other Trans folks, we cant get a job to survive with dignity. Is there an option for them other than to beg or do sex work? The nuisance that you talk about is desperation to survive in a difficult world!

For most Trans Girls, it becomes difficult to continue living with Parents and Family because the environment gets Toxic, and sometimes even Hostile! This means we leave our homes and try to build our lives independently in search of Dignity. Given the challenges mentioned above, the only alternative is find a group of “Third Gender” individuals and join their group and then do what they do to survive! Most have to abandon their studies because the focus becomes survival which severely impacts their employability options and earning potential in the future.

Some of us manage to buck the trend but still run into a wall! One girl I know is from Ludhiana in Punjab. She had to leave home when she was 17 in the same circumstances as me! She managed to find a house in a small town in Himachal Pradesh, and did odd jobs like work in a Grocery Store or sex work. She had to evade her Family and change her mobile number multiple times because she lived in fear of her Brothers or Cousins tracking her down and using violence for “tarnishing the family name”! She somehow managed to finish her Graduation and moved to Bangalore where she found work in a small school as a Science teacher – which is where we met. Between 2017 and 2019 in Bangalore, she changed houses 6 times and for a long time lived in the house of a colleague! I am not entirely sure of the reason why, but given my own experience, I think I know why!

Another girl I know is from Nagaland. She is very pretty and passable – infact I didnt even know she was Trans until she told me! She had to give up her education and career aspirations and leave home in the same circumstances. She moved first to Kolkata for some years and then moved to Bangalore. She got sub-par work in a Beauty Salon and did sex work on the side trying to save money for the big-surgery. She is still doing that- 10 years later! She wanted to become a Professor! She has the business skills and the ideas to setup a small cosmetics and homemade wigs business. But she cant – the reality of life has come in the way!

I had aspirations too! I had signed up to a Degree college to get a useless Commerce degree but I was also going to Film-school (secretly) on the side. I hoped to one day become a film maker. But then I had to leave home in the same circumstances like the other girls. Survival becomes the focus after that point. You have to pay rent and groceries every month no?! Fortunately, I had IT skills, largely self taught, which got me a job and a steady income. But because I didnt have a degree back then, so I would be paid 50% less than what my colleagues got, even though I was better than them at work! And if I had transitioned then, I would have had to face the same problems of finding accomodation etc that I ran into a decade later! I had to put off Transition till I was financially better off – that took 15 years – FIFTEEN YEARS! Only someone who has gone through Dysphoria can understand what that Trauma entails!

Beauty Queens

Not all of us have had the same lived experience. There are girls who have been very lucky to have, if not fully accepting, but tolerant parents and family. They have had the advantage of completing their education in a relatively non-toxic environment, meeting their career goals and living out balanced lives. They are traditionally “beautiful”, passable – they could be the perfect role models for Trans Women! We have all met them havent we?! :rolling eyes: Completely passable, even Gorgeous! Some of their instagram videos could give #NoraFatehi a complex! I have cis-male friends following them and liking their videos! When I finally began my own transition journey, they were the ideal that I aspired to! But I am sorry to say that the most toxic people I met as I went through my Transition were not cis-folks but this sorry bunch! Back then, I did not understand the meaning of the word “Privilege” as well as I do now!

For example, one of the girls “A”, lived with her family and was studying to be a doctor in a prestigious medical school. She had access to Anti-Androgens even in her pre-teens (illegally ofcourse) which meant she developed differently once she officially started her HRT in her late teens. Her “passability” was assured! She learnt to drape the Sari from her mother and I must admit she does it beautifully! And ofcourse, she had a medical degree which means her future is assured! We had very different life-stories till that point, but coincidentally, she would get her big-surgery done just 2 days before me from the same surgeon and we went through the month long recovery process in the same Hotel Complex. The difference was that her father was with her before and during the surgery. Before he left back for India, her mother and brother came to stay with her and help during the difficult recovery process followed by her medical school buddies! Me and another girl from Brazil were the only girls who went through the process all alone!

I first met “A” 4 years before the surgery. I had originally got to know her from a Transgender forum and after talking through a couple of times, we fixed up to meet! I was quite looking forward to meet her and her gang. They all looked like successful, beautiful people that people would aspire to! You can judge me now, but back then I wanted to be a part of that! I was lonely without friends or family and when you find a group like this, you want to “fit in”. Back then, I just didn’t understand that Toxicity can take many forms!

I will never forget my first encounter with the “Beauty Queens” at a CCD cafe on MG Road which is where their “gang” usually met. They were all dressed up like fashion models at a celebrity party! I was dressed in Jeans and a TShirt. :rolling eyes: They were wearing makeup and outfits that each clearly cost more than my rent! I had nothing more than cheap MAC lipstick! I was hoping to talk about the Transition process, finding a good endocrinologist (my challenge back then) and so on! They were talking about some Sandeep Khosla party they wanted to go to, what they should all wear to that and their next girls trip to Bali! They were referencing brands of Clothes, Bags and Makeup that I had never even heard of! I came home and googled some of it and was blown away by the prices! How can these girls even afford all this? I was hoping to talk about Dating advice but I was looking for a real relationship – if there is indeed such a thing. But they were interested in finding a rich guy who would pay for their lifestyle and till they found that, finding the next fuck-boy with a big you know what! Clearly, we were from different worlds!

They took one look at me dressed in jeans and Tshirt and “cheap” $50 lipstick and made up their minds that I didn’t fit in! That is true – I did NOT fit in! The worst part was that THEY chose, quite purposefully, to misgender and deadname me. It is one thing to face this from cis-people, but it is quite another thing to face this from Trans girls. And I will never forget the looks that one of the girls gave me! That Fat Cow did this thing of looking me up from top to bottom and back up again with this smirky look on her face! That, THAT, I will never forget! I am a conservative, Malayalee Christian girl but I am NOT a prude – and THAT is way too much cleavage! Are you trying to attract a guy or a hungry infant?

Four years later, when we met again at the Hospital after our surgery, she had her family and friends with her through the recovery. Not once did she check up on me! She did check up on 2 other Indian girls also recovering at the same time – fellow beauty queens like her!

Today, I see “A” and her friends from that “Beauty Queens” group go around the Lecture/TedX circuit, being invited to speak at Software companies and Television shows where they speak of the need for “sensitivity” and such towards Gender and Sexuality issues. Oh the Hypocrisy! Their words are correct but I wonder at the Irony of it all! Have they forgotten how THEY behaved towards other Trans women? That Fat Cow who once told me that I was “too ugly to Transition” was later seen standing on a stage with Politicians calling for “sensitivity”! Think about it!

In retrospect, I understand where these “Beauty Queens” are coming from! Our life experiences are what shape our personalities! They have had very different lives to most of us! They had the privilege of having Family and Friends stand with them on their journey! They never had to go through the trauma that we went through! They had their struggles for sure, but they never had to struggle for basic necessities and keep their head above water like some of us had to! Perhaps that is why they lack the sensitivity to even begin to understand! Ofcourse, Society and Media wont come to talk to us about these issues. Because we do not matter! They all want pretty “Page 3” faces to tell the LGBTQ story! That is not our story, but theirs! That is just how it is! “Que Sera Sera”!

In retrospect again, I have no regrets! I am glad that I went through this all alone! Because dealing with these issues all alone has made me into a stronger person! And more importantly, It has made me more sensitive and empathetic towards others who may not be as fortunate as I am! The Lord works in mysterious ways! These life experiences have made me into what I am today! And I am thankful to the Lord for these!

Fun Fact – my great grand-father was a famous poet who wrote many popular Christian hymns in Malayalam Language. In closing, I would post a short English translation of one of his hymns.

The bowls of suffering that the Lord hands me, I shall accept these with thanks and sing Hallelujah!
What can the worldly riches give me but mental strain?
But this trauma reinvigorates my inner being
To impart on me this strength that is renewed everyday
There this Brass Bucket (chalice) containing the water (essence) of Life!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *