In a largely unprecedented move in the region, Aarav, a trans-man, married Kalpana, a cis-woman, in Rajasthan’s Deeg district, which used to be a part of the erstwhile Bharatpur kingdom. Their marriage attracted viral coverage, from offline and online news outlets to Instagram meme pages. Almost everywhere it was announced that he had changed his gender to marry his wife. Rampant misgendering to highlight his transition and insensitive, misinformed sensationalism have resulted in enormous trauma and damage to the couple. Aarav, in particular, finds it tough to move past the misinformation that has outshined the simple-to-respect yet complex-to-understand reality of his gender identity. Excerpts from the interviews that they naively agreed to give were butchered, thrown back and forth, and seasoned to suit a selfish, harmful narrative that threatens to alienate the queer community even further. Aarav’s dead name finds place in almost every news headline.
Kalpana, a national-level Kabaddi player, has played for Punjab Panthers in the Women’s Kabaddi League tournament held in Dubai, where her team ended as the first runners-up. Sadly, none of the news articles talk of her remarkable achievement without making it about Aarav’s gender-affirming surgery. One of the two headlines (perhaps, among the less problematic ones) read “दबईु में प्रो कबड्डी मेंदमखम दिखाएगी भरतपरु की बेटी कल्पना, पति की वजह से थीं सुर्खियों में (translates to: Bharatpur’s daughter Kapana will prove her mettle, was in headlines because of her husband)”.
Aarav finds that his surgery has become so deeply correlated with his wedding that the former will never be an independent topic of discussion, no matter how frustratingly misleading it is. In a heartwarming gesture of love, the couple use the names Aarav Kalpana Kuntal and Kalpana Aarav Kuntal, and sometimes upload romantic clips and photos of themselves on social media. Sadly, transphobic comments owing to their much publicized marriage do not spare them.
Aarav feels that the majority of people judge him and Kalpana based on such articles, instead of really getting to know anything about them. Some articles even used the term “third gender” for Aarav, which adds to his gender dysphoria even more. In very simple words, with a lot of repressed gloom, he justifies his decision to undergo gender-affirming surgery, “इंसान कोई सर्जरी तब कराता है जब उसके शरीर में कोई दिक्कत हो। मैं भी अपने शरीर से खुश नहीं था (translates to: one undergoes a surgery when they find something wrong with their body. Similarly, I was not happy with mine)”. Blessed with a supportive family that has been with Aarav throughout his journey of becoming and being himself, he says that the absence of a male-child in his family could have been the reason for their support.
Interestingly, he tells us that he was interviewed by the local newspapers even before his marriage, after he underwent medical transition. Unsurprisingly, it did not have the ‘masala’ to be even half as viral as the coverage after his marriage.
The Supreme Court of India holds that transgender persons in hetero-normative relationships have the freedom to marry under the existing statutory provisions. Yet, one can count cases similar to Aarav-Kalpana’s marriage on their
fingers. That is because even in expanding binaries, the law is stuck within them. Only the transgender persons who transititon in every way possible (surgically and as per legal documents) have the aforementioned freedom. Meanwhile, gender is a very personal and subjective thing and not all trans people have the desire or the resources to transition.
Also read: On “Passing”
Now, the ideal objective of journalism is to bring about awareness regarding the subject of such stories among the people who peruse them. If it results in the opposite, that is, even more ignorance in the readers and hurdles for the subjects, we are forced to wonder if people are no more than stories meant to be covered before a strict deadline. It also does not help that there are few queer journalists in India to bring the ‘queer gaze’ needed to sensitively bring such stories to the mainstream. This is not to say that heterosexual journalists cannot report queer stories. Sure, they can; if they actively try to understand the nuances of a particular human-interest story and realize that their coverage can affect lives, either positively or negatively. Instead, they move on to a new ‘breaking news’ headline in their glass-gilded newsrooms in the national capital, miles away from a newly-created district in eastern Rajasthan, where misinformed transphobia still haunts people.
As the saying goes, ‘Ignorance is bliss’; I personally feel that such ignorance it’s also a choice by those with the privilege of ignoring reality. Journalists living in metro cities with multiple degrees and caste-resourced, should simply do better than perpetuating such dangerous narratives.
Having lost all his faith in the media, Aarav declines most interviews. A PT teacher in a government school, he recently celebrated his one-year marriage anniversary. Affectionate and proud, he says that he wanted to take Kalpana on a vacation but she insisted on celebrating with family instead. He plans to have kids and live a happily married life where the ‘peculiarity’ of his union with Kalpana does not eclipse their dreams.