Nagrik Dialogue

Change is Constant, Changing is a Choice -Stories Of Changemakers

-Series by Sandi Saksena

“We don’t need anyone to protect or empower us, it is us who need to take steps on our own. Each one of us needs to study, work, earn andbe independent.One needs to be strong hearted to live their life the way they want. The path to happiness can be easy as well as tough. It depends on which path one chooses”.

Nyna Kumar

Engineer by Degree, Content Writer, Freelance Photographer, Qualified FitnessTrainer
The Transgender Persons Act was passed by the lower house of the Indian Parliament on August 05, 2019, by the upper house of the Parliament on November 26, 2019 and finally received the Presidential assent on December 05, 2019. It has been brought into effect by the Indian Government on January 10, 2020. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules, 2020 were notified on September 29, 2020.

By enacting the Transgender Persons Act, we in India, took a step forward in granting and protecting the much deserved identity and rights of transgender persons. The Transgender Persons Act is an indication that we are moving towards a more inclusive and progressive society where the opportunities for people will not be limited on the basis of their gender. This should hopefully ensure that employment standards are brought in line with international standards. 

It’s a start; we as a community have come a long way. Credit goes to the people who struggled and worked hard to take a stand in society; to say they are no less than anyone else. However, I believe it’s forthe individual to succeed or to fail. Opportunities open up based on one’s qualifications or abilitiesnot just social acceptance. Social acceptance is an aspect that gives an individual  space for them apart from employment. Yes,the work front also needs acceptance but I deem one’s ability to work should define that factor. 

However, social attitudes and stigma have been a major reason for limiting the opportunities of transgender persons, whether it be their social or economic life or even within their own families! Despite the magnitude of the issue, awareness of the rights of transgender persons is lacking. The right to health, work, love, education and to stay connected with others, should be an inalienable right of every individual.

The time has come when every individual should be able to stand on their own, be confident in their beliefs and who they want to be!Their “whole selves” to work with the confidence knowing that society is protecting and empowering them. 

How do you perceive the above statement 

Acceptance starts from the person in question. If I expect people to accept me as a woman then it is me who should have full faith in myself that yes, ‘I am a woman’. If I am convinced;  things will follow. Sometime ago I was so worried if I lookedfemale. I kept asking people if I looked convincing enough.Obviously, people will doubt me if I doubt myself! Now, people tell me that they love my attitude and that I look beautiful, all because I started considering myself beautiful!

Social attitudes and stigma still remain,we are moving towards a change but it is very slow. It’s still very tough for a person to accept that a transwoman like me is much more educated than him/her or can communicate in a more effective way than he/she can fathom! The Trans community is gradually being absorbed into the mainstream and  thiswill change the outlook of people towards us.

Coming to your own journey how did you handle the conflicts inside you? 

My own journey I would say, has been long and distinguished so far. There was no such conflict inside me apart from the fact of my gender identity. Coming from a good family, acquiring a good education and exposure, I consider myself fortunate to have matured well. 

Identifying as transgender (or trans) means knowing that your gender identity is different than the sex assigned to you at birth.

I was assigned male gender at birth and it took me 26 years to realize it was wide off the mark and I was living in the wrong body! It is a discomfort for a lot of transpersons but for me, it was a path of discovery, of change, of transformation!

I am happy to have gone through life as male and understand life through the perspective of a boy till that age. Though I am sad that I missed growing up as a girl!

Although I am over thirty I consider myself a teenagegirl! Some transpersons have traumatic experiences facing gender issues in their teens or later. I have met many people who are trapped in the wrong body and are unable to effectchange. Some don’t have the support and others don’t have the strength to come ‘out of the closet’because of the social stigma.Indian cinema has perpetuated us as objects of laughter and humiliation and derision, people see us in that light shown to them by cinema. Society plays a big role in making one comfortable or uncomfortable, but as I said earlier, a person is solely responsible for his or her happiness and comfort. Inner strength is the solution to everything. We each have the power to change.

Did you experience discomfort with your gender identity, that made feel unhappy, lonely or isolated from other teenagers?Was it difficult in school/college/university?

No not really, at times I felt confused whenI wasenvious of girls who wore pretty clothes that I wanted to wear and, when I couldn’t grow my hair or get my ears pierced!  I was a crossdresser since childhood secretly wearing my sister’s clothes. I have many memories of dressing up as a female helped by our housemaid, with whom I shared a strong bond. She was like a sister to me. She even taught me how to drape a saree for which I still thank her in my heart every single day!

In college the desire to dress female increased. Though I had freedom of buying clothes from my saved pocket money, I didn’t have the freedom of dressing as female all the time being in a boys hostel.

I was always a loner but at the same time I was good at making friends. Now that’s a contradictory statement I know! I was a popular person at school being in extracurricular activities and sports. I never opened up to the idea of being in the wrong body to them at that time as I myself was on the path to enlightenment.

I was lonelyhaving so many friends just because of the fact that they could never really be a part of this journey of mine. LaterI made a lot of friends through Orkut and social media who were like minded. I even had a nice relationship with a guy who used to buy me clothes, wigs and make-up! This was a time of self-exploration and discovery.

Did you feel as though you have a mental illness?

At times I did feel that but they were all limited to short durations. I never really had mental trauma as such. Though there are many who go through really bad phases in childhood. To be honest such phases struck me recently when I started transitioning. It was more related to the hormone replacement therapy that I am undergoing. It’s important to remember that gender identity issues on their own are not a mental health disorder or disease.

Whom do you count as your family and friends?  From where did you get support and understandingmost ? 

My family hasn’t been supportive and I have been mostly an independent person.

However, I will acknowledge that they given megood quality education that has helped me stand on my feet and that itself was enough for me to take the steps to live life on my own terms. 

I garnered a lot of support from my friends especially women.I have a very big family of friends. I make friends easily wherever I go and I endeavor to build my friendships into beautiful relationships. I feel blessed to have been adopted by three lovely ladies as their daughter, all of whom I met on social media. One of them is also a renowned kathak performer. I have many ladies who consider me as their sister! My family is so big and distinguished! 

Have you faced rejection, been ostracized and if so what was your attitude and response?

I feel rejection and selection are a part of life. I have been fortunate to have achieved whatever I aimed for. Whatever I couldn’t attain I have attributed it to my lack of efforts or capabilities.I recall an interview for a BPO that was offering a good salary. In the HR round, after interacting  with me for a considerable time the interviewer admitted that she didn’t know how people would react to a transwoman being part of the team so was in a dilemma as to whether she should offer me the job! She also admitted I was overqualified and shedidn’t want to lose out on me! I was selected but, I didn’t take the job as I realized I was worthy of bigger and better opportunities!

I moved on to be a freelance content writer and photographer. 

You have embarked on a career as a freelance photographer, did you work anywhere else?

I am a qualified engineer,I was placed in three companies at my college campus placement. I joined one of the companies and worked there for about three years. I moved on and worked as a content writer and photographer. Recently I have qualified and work as a fitness trainer .

Is the work atmosphere conducive?

Well conducive for certain things definitely. It has made me more confident about myself. I have learnt a lot from various people of different cultures whom I interactwith. That is one out of many things about freelance work that I love. It has helped me transform out of the cocoon into a butterfly, I no longer feel restricted and bound down as a transperson.

What is your response to negative attitudes and beliefs,aversion to and prejudice against transgender people, irrational fear and misunderstandingderogatory language and name-callingbullying, abuse, and even violence .

I would say one needs to be intelligent enough to accept or not accept things thrown at them. Some negative attitudes can be absorbed and used in a direction of self- motivation to achieve certain goals in life. Pronouns and derogatory language can affect anyone, it’s not subject to this community only. Being a dark- skinned person, I was subjected to name calling in schools and university. So, one needs to be strong minded and have faith in oneself and most importantly love oneself to fight all these issues. 

Haveyou found your path to happiness and fulfilment

I am a born dreamer! I love dreaming and the Almighty has been kind enough to have bestowed upon me almost everything I desired. Happiness and fulfilment are aspects that are dependent on the individual . For some it is earning a lot of money, having a nice partner, having a home, owning a car or a bike or just getting to live life the way they want.

For me, living the gender of my choosing, the gender that I identify with was the beginning of a happy and content life. From there everything just fell in place. Not having enough money and being hand to mouth at times was also fine for me since I was living the life the way I wanted it. Being a woman was the solution to all my problems.I chose to Change and break outof the shell and embrace my real identity. 

I was really prepared for all this, I knew I couldn’t live a lie anymore. So, my self-esteem wasn’t affected. Today I walk in a saree with my hair open with all pride and no shame. I don’t care about what the next person thinks. I really feel being educated and successful is really important for people in my community as it brings in a sense ofindependence, achievement, pride and respect. 

Your plans for the future?

Since childhood my big dreamwas ; to become a pilot! Today I am an engineer, a writer, a photographerand a fitness trainer. Ilove to learn more things in life, being a pilot someday too! Pilot training is expensive. I am saving up for my sex reassignment surgery and maybe after that I might start saving to be a pilot. I know it’s a dream but one must always have the proverbial carrot in front of the eyes to keep moving! 

Author Sandi Saksena is Head ‘Family Matters’ at Echelon Advisors and Management Consultants
CSR Advisory Board ActionAid Association
SDG Global Ambassador, Advisory Board Nagrik Foundation

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Nagrik Dialogue is the face of Nagrik Foundation’s communication skills that comes in the form of a monthly magazine. It will work as a bridge for those working at the grass roots level and those who support them in any form and manner.