Representation is an important part in the process of recognizing the self through another; especially in today’s world, where the state is set on boxing us and silencing the media, representation becomes all the more pertinent not just to find your authentic self, but also in terms of the larger democratic status we don on as a country. Since the trans community, in particular, is often poorly represented in the mainstream, many folx are turning to self-advocacy.
If you’re looking for an authentic, wholesome transmasculine podcast to listen to (and perhaps feel seen?), Transpeak is exactly that. It’s a podcast you can find on SoundCloud that was begun by an effervescent 25-year-old trans-masc from Mumbai, Prithvi Vatsalya. Their podcast is like a refreshing glass of cold water when you find yourself lost in a desolate desert. Although the themes are broad and captivating like trans joy, navigating educational spaces, transitioning, privilege, love and comprehensive sex ed, the conversations are not just edifying, but personal and relatable. For me, the podcast embodied the relief of finding community and kinship within the confining walls that I occupy amidst the second wave of the pandemic.
Thanks to the Ideosync UNESCO Information Fellowship Grant that Prithvi qualified for, this podcast emerged as a media project carried out between Oct 2020 and March 2021. Prithvi’s aim was to mainly spread awareness about the transmasculine community, their struggles, joys, victories and every day experiences which although seemingly insignificant to others, has significant impact on how one views and accepts themselves. Although this is only a scratch on the surface, the podcast provides a very holistic perspective on not just being transmasculine, but also being a trans person from different socio-economic backgrounds.
Since this podcast specifically represents the transmasculine community and their ideas, Prithvi made sure that the production and execution involved only members of the community, “From the music to the cover art to the participants who helped to research and also appearing [as guests] on the podcast itself, everyone was paid thanks to the money from the grant”. They spent a lot of time communicating with various trans-mascs to find out ideas they want to hear, issues they want to bring to focus to, and what they want others to know about them and their experiences. This blossomed into 6 episodes that came to be the first season of Transpeak.
Prithvi speaks both Hindi and English throughout the podcast, an act deserving appreciation because language constitutes a very important part of our identity, our access to knowledge and our journey of selfhood. “Labels can be extremely empowering when we pick them ourselves, but can be dysphoric when we are assigned to them”, says Prithvi. This is why they believe we need to expand our vocabulary (especially that of our native language) to be as inclusive as possible. Words are made up and meanings are assigned, which means they are ever-changing and evolving. Prithvi points out that “Even the argument of they/them pronouns as being grammatically wrong is false, because someone’s discomfort with grammar does not equal the amount of pain and struggle trans persons have to experience [when misgendered]”. And let’s be honest, no one cares about the English grammar when it is taught to us in a school classroom, or when we’re frantically texting people, or when we’re scrambling to meet deadlines, so it shouldn’t bother us when someone makes a conscious effort to disrupt the dominant grammatical syntax to feel accommodated and seen. Prithvi also gives the example of their native tongue, Telugu, to explain that all the words they know are derogatory in some way and there are no empowering words for the trans community (or queer people in general) in Hindi as well. This is why they use the English word ‘transmasculine’ to express their identity, since a lot of people are already familiar with the word and for those who aren’t, Prithvi’s explanation depends on their comfort, safety, the other person’s intention and so on. Smart and sensitive about their own boundaries, Prithvi sure knows how to engage with any person in front of them!
However, this wasn’t always the case. Growing up, traversing their own educational space was not easy. Since the Indian education system is not the most inclusive (and continues in this much-critiqued tradition), Prithvi said that it was hard for them to understand what they were feeling and experiencing in terms of their identity as a kid, which made it hard for people around them to understand as well. Nonetheless, even though their school friends didn’t exactly throw them a pride parade, they were the pillars of support that Prithvi needed to get through school. College, on the other hand, was a very enlightening and liberating experience. Dating, meeting new people from various socio-economic backgrounds, reading and engaging with new texts and having access to an expanded vocabulary helped Prithvi to slowly understand and embrace the confusion within, which led to them slowly socially transition by choosing a new name, coming out to their friends, colleagues and family. This process is fairly recent for the 25-year-old, and they consider their transition as ongoing and potentially a never-ending process in their journey to find their most authentic and content self. They hope to soon medically and legally transition as well, and we can only wish the best for them.
Speaking of transitioning, Prithvi also shared their two cents on the Trans Act that came to be in December 2019: “Although [public] activism has now halted due to the Covid crisis, our main focus should be on the members of the trans community to raise funds for trans people from various caste/class backgrounds, supporting organizations like Pinklist India, Nazariya and so on”. For instance, the rule of online registrations is presently being imposed to access vaccinations. In this scenario, we need to acknowledge that it further marginalizes the community as there are people who cannot access formal identification, the internet or a device to register themselves on time, even as they find themselves vulnerable to its spread. Prithvi also pointed out that not having proper documentation might mean that those who have socially transitioned may still have legal documents that contain their dead name and gender assigned at birth which could hinder their access to the vaccine. They emphasized that if you have the privilege to access the internet and a smartphone or a laptop, you should consider registering for someone else as well, since four registrations are possible from the same mobile number.
Prithvi does have plans for another season for the podcast. Personally, I am excited to see if they speak with more gender fluid people, maybe an episode on how to build courage to come out to people, how to deal with the consequences of a negative reaction and the mental health issues and trauma that comes from being trans in a transphobic society.
Prithvi shared that although making this podcast wasn’t an easy process, due to reasons like: a lot of conversations resonated with them personally, some episodes had to be recorded more than once, some people were uncomfortable appearing on the podcast. They said that it was hard to distance themselves at times from the conversations for the sake of professionalism. The team at Gaysi wishes them the strength and ability to produce another season in the coming months.
You can listen to the first season here.