This piece is about three valiant non-binary and trans individuals who battled many adversities in their lives, from family pressure to bullying, homelessness, poverty, and loneliness. In the end, they emerged triumphant in the fight for their identity, in the fight for happiness. Their stories have been captured in five stages in the style of poet Rupi Kaur’s work The Sun and Her Flowers: Wilting, Falling, Rooting, Rising, and Blooming.
Bharat Jagwani (Urf Bubble)
“Gandhidham is a tiny pocket of Gujarat with a very conservative society. One where people are completely into the gender binaries. Where boys and girls don’t mingle together unless they’re married. Where the neighbors casually remark, ‘Why does he act like a girl?’ for someone like me.
I studied in an all-boys’ school where I was picked on for my femininity. Was called chakka and hijra and physically roughed up too.
I diverted my mind to academics, excelling in exams to gain some visibility and respect. It worked. Being good in the eyes of authorities saved me from the bullying.
But I always felt lonely…”
“Social media entered my life as a form of escapism.
I began sneaking off to the cyber café to use Orkut. Created a fake ID to chat with strangers, mostly from the same city. No one knew what they really wanted in life. All we talked about was sex. I thought this was ‘gay life’ and that things would remain this way forever.
I began using other social media like Facebook, BBM, and Whatsapp extensively when they launched. My parents objected to my social media addiction at first but they eventually thought, ‘It’s his world. Let him be happy’, and left me alone.
They never realized I was undergoing depression all this while.
We grew apart…”
“At 24, I fought with my parents to make my solo trip to Mumbai. I was desperate to experience the Queer Pride… of course, I told my parents nothing about it.
It was a long 20-hour bus journey from Gandhidham to the city of dreams, but completely worth it! I was introduced to likeminded LGBTQ community members from bigger cities who were a welcome change from the creeps I encountered in my hometown.
We hung out, did a lot of girliyaapa! I felt more confident to flaunt my femininity in a place that judged me less.
This is what I was looking for”
I moved to Baroda for five months, then shifted to Ahmedabad. There, attending Queerabad meet-and-greets introduced me to the term non-binary, genderqueer etc. I had only heard of ‘gay’ and ‘lesbian’ until then.
I gradually grew comfortable identifying as non-binary. I don’t have body dysphoria and don’t consider myself as transgender. While I am innately feminine, I like my male body nevertheless. I don’t want to be called genderqueer as well as I don’t fit into the funda of ‘male’ and ‘female’ – I DON’T BELIEVE IN GENDER!”
(Queerabad is a LGBTQ organization operating in Ahmedabad)
“I always wanted to as a child but never performed in front of my family. I thought I would bring disgrace upon them. I couldn’t even gather the courage to join a dance class while in Gandhidham.
It was in Ahmedabad that I learnt not to worry about what others thought of me. So I took up belly dancing workshops and attended dance circles. I even post my dance videos online and have been getting a lot of praises for it.
I am well aware that my relatives might be seeing the videos too. If they want to accept my true self, well and good. If they don’t, it doesn’t matter. One can’t get everything in life. The most important thing is happiness and I have that now.
For Ahmedabad Pride, I donned a Kutch embroidery-inspired work. This represents the part of me that always to go for garba but stayed back, afraid that the world will judge them. I got custom-made Kutchi hot pants which aren’t available anywhere! I shall always take pride in my culture no matter where I am”.
Lakshmi Hemant (Urf Meow)
“When people ask me when I ‘came out’ as trans, I reply, ‘I only came out once, and that was from my mother’s womb. Since then, I have been a girl’.
I feel cheated when I see my body naked. Every day I pray to God to change me”
“I hail from Nagpur. Everyone in that city acknowledges me as Lakshmi, the Bharatanatyam artist… well, everyone except my family.
Throughout my childhood, I faced a lot of harassment from my relatives. They would give me medicines to ‘cure’ me. I was once immersed in a tank filled with water as punishment.
One of my cousins raped me. When I confided this incident to my brother, he shrugged it off saying, ‘Tu toh gaandu hai isliye tere saath yeh hua’.
I couldn’t bear the trauma and left my home when I was fifteen”
“I moved to Kolhapur and became a devadasi (the female servant of the Gods), praying to the transgender Goddess Yellamma. I lived in the temple for nine years. I sat in the temple and applied tilak on the forehead of devotees. The day I joined the temple was the same day I entered the world of dance.
I had to abide by the temple rules. Transgender devadasis who lived within the temple premises were regarded as pure, as opposed to the rest who were looked down as sex workers.
I couldn’t leave the premises after 7 except during functions. If I was late, judgements would be made about my character. I couldn’t be seen smoking near the temple premises – the devotees who willingly fell at my feet out of reverence would be traumatized!”
“Three years ago, I visited home at my family’s insistence. I had beautiful long hair extending halfway down my back. At night, while I was asleep, my brother entered my room and shaved off one side of my head with a trimmer. I woke up immediately, shaken to the core by what had just happened.
Next day, I didn’t speak a word with anyone. My mother who is more supportive compared to the rest was getting very anxious by my silence. Finally, I pulled out the same trimmer and shaved the rest of my hair. I then wrapped a turban over my head and put on my saree and nose ring in front of everyone.
My family was obviously nonplussed. My brother kicked me out of rage but I slapped him back in retaliation, then broke the home refrigerator before declaring –
I’M NEVER COMING BACK”
“I didn’t want to remain at the temple for the rest of my life. I wanted to educate myself.
I funded my education in engineering and polytechnic with the money I earned through begging and performing. I wanted to pursue Bharatnatyam professionally and began my training under Guru Meera Chandrasekaran. Her academy taught me a lot about the dance form. They were equally amazed by the knowledge of the ancient devadasi tradition of dance which I already possessed. I am currently pursuing my post-graduation at Darpana Academy in Ahmedabad and am performing across the country. I use some of my personal memories while performing. For instance, if I have to show surprise, I recall the hair trimming incident and it automatically creates magic onstage!
I recently bagged a job at Vodafone. My life changed only because I decided to educated myself, and my Goddess knows I am a good human and is by my side”
“I was born in Rajkot. My dad died when I was nine. I lived in a joint family until we moved to Ahmedabad nine years ago. Thereafter, I stayed with my mom and sister. My mom passed away four years back and my sister doesn’t live with me any longer. So I live alone.
My entire family was shocked when I came out as ‘gay’ at sixteen. Relatives would come and tell my parents, ‘Such things happen under your nose and you remained oblivious?!’.
Matters escalated when my interview appeared in Ahmedabad Mirror, where I spoke about considering a sex reassignment surgery. I was given an ultimatum, ‘Be normal else keep away from us’. They have gradually accepted my sexual orientation but are still unsupportive towards my gender identity.
“I’ve never been able to hold on a job a long due to my dysphoria.
I was pursuing Chartered Accountancy and was working at a firm. On the good side, my boss had read my interview in Ahmedabad mirror and was very supportive. However, working in an all-male environment made me very uncomfortable. Some of my colleagues looked down on me as a ‘chakka’. I eventually left the job in six or seven months.
I switched from job to job, my nerves getting the better of me each time. But I know nothing can stop me once I transition and feel completely female”.
“I shortlisted three names for myself – Devyani, Vaishnavi, and Manorama.
Manorama seemed too old-fashioned so it was crossed off immediately.
I liked Vaishnavi because it is also the name of a Goddess.
Ultimately, I chose Devyani. This was also the name of a character on the Doordarshan serial Miss India. I loved the name so much so I decided to keep it! It helps that the name I was born with also starts with a D (Dhaval)!”
“My aunt took me to a psychiatrist thinking it would bring me to my senses. During the session, I was as open as I could be. The psychiatrist then turned to my aunt, who rattled off the usual concerns like ‘It’s not normal’ and ‘What will society think?’.
The psychiatrist patiently heard both our views, and then said, ‘I remember this incident from my trip in Switzerland. I was sitting in a public transit and I began noticing the people around me. To my surprise, I couldn’t make out the gender of half the commuters! They all co-existed in the space minding their business instead of judging one another’.
I was so overjoyed by his support, I immediately blurted out how my family also told me to ‘fall under the train tracks instead of bringing disgrace upon my family name’. My psychiatrist quipped, ‘Devyani, if you ever consider suicide, don’t forget to mention in your note each and every family member who made this terrible suggestion!’.
“My current boyfriend has been a pillar of strength in my life. The very first encounter, I told him all about myself. Within three days of meeting, I underwent the first stage of the SRS (sex reassignment surgery). I have been on hormones since then.
My relatives try to influence their best to my boyfriend into talking me out of the SRS, saying, ‘Would you want to be seen with such a person in society?’.
But my boyfriend’s chill with it. He only fears that the hormones and surgeries will take a toll on my health, and has urged me to reconsider the final surgery. To be honest, I do get frustrated sometimes by how my sexual appetite has reduced post-op!
But I will not look back.
I will go through it all”