In the movie Article 15 released last year, Ayushmann Khurrana’s character poses some essential if unpalatable questions on the deep-rooted caste system prevalent in India. The same year, at the Rajya Sabha’s proceedings on the so-called ‘Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019’, I had witnessed Khurrana’s counterpart in DMK’s Tiruchi Siva. In a 25-minute declamation, Siva laid bare the several limitations within the bill and urged the House to redirect it to a Select Committee. Ultimately, the bill is now an Act despite his efforts and the show of support from some other members including Jaya Bachchan, whose public presence assured her banal additions greater attention. Why is the community vigorously up in arms against an Act that claims to uplift their lives, one may ask? How do such policies impact the everyday lives of trans individuals?
I come from the discipline of media communications, where human-interest stories rouse public empathy like no other. Let me share with you my journey. I took 25 years to reclaim my womanhood in a world that militantly tried to make me believe I was a man. This lie was declared at birth and reinforced throughout childhood, at home, at school, in short, in every institution that was meant for my development. Little by little, I withdrew to a point that I saw no purpose in living. Instead of offering me healthy support systems to understand the root cause of my pain, I was declared a problem child and subject to further stigma. I was never forced to cut ties with my natal home, but I distanced myself from it for years. Several hundred miles away, I finally found myself amidst strangers, some of whom became family and the community allies. I lost precious years to depression my privilege and handwork got me through a doctoral program. At the institute, I am seen as any other woman in spite of ‘non-passing’ features. This is even on the days I do not wear typically female-coded clothes or when my facial hair spurts out. The institute has respected my identity on its official documents, which motivates me to stay on and contribute. This is closest to what a home should feel like.
It is when I step into the world outside that I feel otherized and pressured to conform. Finding a trans-friendly psychiatrist takes months. Most treat you as a ‘patient’, suspect your word, subject you to misguided invasive tests, and expect a visible before-after transformation. The medical fraternity bombards you with their latest surgical innovations without caring to understand your needs and financial capacity. While I have been fortunate and privileged to find supportive educational and work ecosystems, most are not as lucky. Ultimately, the legitimacy of my identity rests in individuals who are mostly ignorant and apprehensive about the trans community’s concerns. We run from pillar to post ad nauseam to prove something as fundamental as our gender.
While the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019 as is holds some merit, it lays down conditions as well as glimpses over issues and thus fails to be inclusive in spirit. One has to compulsorily adopt the ‘T’ gender marker unless they undergo SRS. Even among members who seek SRS, most can barely afford the costs entailed and can neither avail insurance. Despite numerous accounts of corrective torture by family members, trans persons will be forced to reside in their natal homes. There is no provision of affirmative action, a boon for most members who fall behind in education and employment due to the pervasive transphobia and depression. Harassing a trans person will not have serious consequences, and neither will sexual violence. In such conditions, how can one feel at home when the home itself is built on shaky ground?
Going back to the example of Article 15, Ayushmann’s character rightly used his privilege to fight for the cause of the marginalized. However, he can only do so much. Once he is gone, it is up to the community members themselves to work continue the battle towards their liberation. On International Transgender Day of Visibility, let us recognise the contribution of our pioneers who have led the way for equal rights for the community. Let us also pledge to contribute in our individual capacities even if it involves its share of struggles, even if it seems like an uphill battle. Because only if all of us are in it together to support and stand by each other will we truly make the world our home.