One thing that bothers me as a trans person in a cis heteronormative society is the obligation to share ‘my story’. As an occasional blogger, sharing aspects of my life has, of course, become second nature to my writings. Self-introspection on various events right from childhood has evolved me into the person I am today. When I publicly announced I was trans, it entailed radically shifting the way how most people, both known and strangers, perceived my gender. So I spent months waxing candid on little details of my life – to family, friends, colleagues, community members, journalists, academicians, health professionals, advocates, and government officials. The public curiosity was boundless and practically everyone included myself became members of Mystery Incorporated as we searched for clues from my past to piece together my trans identity.
I was initially glad to find that people were willing to listen and even empathize. My life journey featured in Ahmedabad Times two years back as a public appeal towards trans acceptance. Following that, I was invited to speak at a few conferences, which I happily obliged. Students and researchers at my institute working on ‘LGBTQ+’ projects approached me by default, and so did journalists looking for human interest articles. Nearly all of them had a singular expectation – to ‘hear my story’. Here I was, a doctoral scholar with a fair amount of knowledge on public affairs, recounting for the nth time the first time I realized I was different. I had almost memorized the trajectories of my life that were worth sharing. To my listeners, who had probably never conversed with a trans person until that very moment, it became a time to be wowed –mouth agape, loads of notetaking, followed by ingratiating thank-yous. In the process of aiding many research projects and news publications, my oft-repeated life experiences turned from revelations to routine. Was my story breaking barriers by changing mindsets and winning sympathy? Yes. Did it motivate people, especially those with privilege, to bring about structural changes and equitable conditions not just for the trans community but for all minority groups? Not so much.
Expecting nothing from me but my story became a way to make me feel heard and give an illusion of inclusivity and empowerment without real change. I see this in academia where queer persons are bombarded with surveys and interview requests on ‘queer’ matters, but not otherwise. I see this in media where queer citizens are suddenly remembered on each anniversary of Section 377 revocation as if they have no opinions on other subject matters. I see this in public gatherings, where one slot gets reserved for that ‘heartwarming’ queer story, peppered with ‘I was laughed at for playing with Barbie dolls as a child’ and other clichés.
There is an inherent problem in assuming we can only talk about our personal lives and nothing else, that we are somehow remote from, say the migrant crisis and Islamophobia during COVID-19. By foregrounding one aspect of ourselves at the expense of other equally important concerns, inclusivity efforts in their present restrict rather than expand our civic engagement. We are boxed into the ‘acceptance frame’ exemplified through middling stories like Shubh Mangal Zyada Saavdhan. We are tolerated so long as we tug at heartstrings through public disclosures of our private lives. When we move beyond our life stories and raise our voices in other salient concerns, we upset the status quo and face persecution.
As queer persons, we must, therefore, resist the frames society reserves for us when they no longer continue to serve much value. This could mean declining some opportunities that offer visibility in the short run, or demanding for more challenging and productive conversations. In recent months, I have learned to say no to “share my story” requests when I find it an exercise in futility. At this point, I have so much to say about other issues affecting the world. That one incident when wore my mother’s dress as a teen and dreamed of dating boys can take a backseat for the moment.