What is it like to be a Transgender Woman in India? 10 Barrier Breaking Trans Women you need to know about!5 minute
Transgender in India
We’ve seen them at traffic signals, inside trains and walking on the footpath. We tend to ignore them, treat them harshly and often complain about their “bad behaviour”. They are none other than the transgender community of India.
In our country if you’re a minority who dares to be different, there is no dearth of discrimination and harassment. To be accepted by the people, you’ve got to follow “societal norms”.
With intolerance becoming rampant everywhere, it is sad to say that India is a harsh place for norm-challenging and diverse individuals. Despite the rights of transgender in India, the community is still looked down upon, treated differently and face lack of access to basic facilities and infrastructure. In short, they’re still running from pillar to post to be recognised and accepted for who they really are.
If there is anyone responsible for this plight of theirs, it is none other than us as a society. It is our ignorance that continues to oppress them.
Before we go ahead and understand transgender struggles, let’s touch upon the various people that come under this group. Even before you label them, know where they’re coming from and what has brought them to such a juncture in their lives.
Transgender is a term that is often given to people who feel differently from the sex that was assigned to them at birth. They even face gender identity struggles. Trans is often an acronym used for a transgender male or female.
In India, the community includes various groups such as hijras/kinnars (eunuchs), jogappas and shiv-shaktis. There are also many transgender people who don’t belong to any of the above-mentioned groups. They fall under the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) group.
Every member falling under this group expresses their gender identity in different ways. For some, it’s the way they dress whereas the others are defined by their mannerisms and behaviour. In fact, owing to the transgender struggles in India, there are many who have even undergone surgery to change their body so that it matches their real gender identity.
Honestly speaking, being a trans woman is no mean feat. On the outside, they may come across as content, happy-go-lucky people. However, on the inside, they face immense anxiety, distress and unhappiness. Gender dysphoria is the term psychologists often used to describe this feeling of discomfort where there is a mismatch between the body and gender identity. Thus, it often takes a lot of strength for them to come to terms with who they really are.
Problems Faced by Transgender in India
In April 2014, the Supreme Court passed a historical judgement for India’s transgender community. It officially recognised them as a “third gender” therefore giving them a legal identity. However, this law isn’t something worth celebrating because there is still a lack of acceptance of transgender in Indian society. Certain people still view them as prostitutes, beggars and escorts.
No matter how many laws are passed, their situation still looks bleak and they’re literally living amidst these adversities. We have highlighted some of the common struggles faced by trans women in India and how they’re constant victims of economic, social and legal difficulties:
- They are disowned by their families and often face harsh treatment from the society
- Difficulty in accessing basic civil rights
- Restricted access to education and non-availability of jobs, and limited employment opportunities
- Harassment, violence, sexual abuse and unfair treatment is rampant
- Kept away from politics and decision-making processes
- They become victims of a deep-rooted patriarchal mindset
- Their gender misalignment often becomes their identity irrespective of their education, background and personality
- They face severe harassment in public toilets
- Lack of access to medical facilities including HIV care, hygiene, depression, etc.
- They face discrimination at all levels
The portrayal of the Transgender Community in Bollywood
Not once but several times Bollywood has aced the game when it comes to misrepresentation of the transgender community. Take Akshay Kumar’s recent film ‘Laxmii’ as an example. It not just peddles blatant gender stereotypes but also makes them appear to be laughing stocks.
However, there are certain films where they have been portrayed with nuance and empathy. Kubbra Sait as Cuckoo in Netflix’s Sacred Games is a gorgeous and intelligent transgender woman. She plays the role of a transsexual cabaret dancer.
Hopefully, Bollywood directors will show signs of change and make more films where transgender stories and the LGBTQA+ community are shown in a good light.
Marginal to Mainstream: 10 Transgender Women who are Breaking Stereotypes despite Social Taboo
Despite being victims of such a ruthless reality, there are still many successful transgender people who have broken barriers, defied stereotypes and made their way into the mainstream to achieve their goals. They are capable, talented and deserving just like any other individual. A transgender coming out in the open takes a lot of courage and strength. It’s high time, Indians are empathetic towards them and their plight. Below we have thrown light on ten exceptional transgender women who have carved their own success stories without worrying about “log kya kahenge”.
1. Laxmi Narayan Tripathi
Recognised as one of the most influential figures in the LGBT community in India, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi garnered utmost attention when she appeared on a television reality show, Bigg Boss in 2011. She is not only a transgender activist but also an accomplished choreographer. To add to the many feathers in her cap, she is also the first transgender woman to represent the Asia Pacific at the United Nations. However, despite her accomplishments, her journey to fame and recognition has been a bumpy one. She has been a victim of sexual abuse and verbal taunting. Though her extended family was never supportive of her gender identity, her parents were always her pillars of strength. She proudly calls herself a ‘hijra’.
2. Sathyasri Sharmila
Smashing barriers and patriarchy, Sathyasri Sharmila from Tamil Nadu became India’s first transgender lawyer in 2018. Despite various laws being implemented to break the stigma and discrimination the transgender community faces, the public mentality hasn’t changed. However, Sathyasri fought against all odds to pave her way into the mainstream. Though Sharmila comes from a state that has the highest literacy rank, things weren’t easy for her. She has been constantly subject to torture and abuse by her neighbours. After completing her bachelor's in law, it took her almost a decade to build the courage and enroll with the State Bar Council. Today, she takes immense pride in being called out as a transgender lawyer. Her struggles and pain, all seem worthwhile.
3. Akkai Padmashali
Born as Jagadeesh, Akkai is a male-to-female transgender. Her childhood was indeed a confused one. She would enjoy playing with girls and often wore her sister’s clothes. From taking her to traditional healers to local doctors, her parents tried it all in an attempt to ‘cure’ her. At the age of 12, she felt extremely lonely and tried to take her life twice. She even worked as a sex worker and faced widespread sexual violence and discrimination. During this time, she was motivated to join an NGO called Sangama that used to work with sexual minorities. Her aim was to fight for her community members. Today, she is an accomplished transgender activist, motivational speaker and singer. She was invited by the International Bar Association to speak about the legal rights of sexual minorities, held in Tokyo in 2014.
4. Kalki Subramaniam
Kalki is a trans woman who wears many hats. She is an artist, writer, inspirational speaker and entrepreneur from Tamil Nadu. She is a woman with pride who stands up for gender equality and transgender rights. At the age of 16, she was confused about her sexual identity. She has come a long way since then. Though trans women face immense discrimination on the education front, Kalki was blessed. She was an academically bright student and class topper. She has two master’s degrees in Journalism and Mass Communication, and in International Relations. Today, she runs an NGO called Sahodari (sister) Foundation which works towards the welfare of the trans/intersex community. Hats off to her resilience.
5. Padmini Prakash
She is India’s first transgender to anchor a daily television news channel and has grabbed many eyeballs in Tamil Nadu. Padmini Prakash is no ordinary trans woman. She appears on the 7 pm prime-time slot and is widely acclaimed by her audience. Just like her peers, she too has had a troubled and traumatic childhood. She left her house at 13 after she was disowned by her family. She even tried to commit suicide. However, she was saved by a few people. Today, the tables have turned and she is someone to be reckoned with. She spends her time as a transgender activist and fights social taboo, harassment and discrimination.
6. Manabi Bandyopadhyay
Manabi is India’s first transgender principal in West Bengal. After battling ignorance, discrimination and intimidation, this came as a major move in 2015. She was shunned by society for her gender identity as a child. However, she decided to face it and come out of it. Despite so many hurdles in her personal life, she always understood the importance of education. She excelled in her studies and completed her MA in Bengali. After being a strong voice for the LGBTQ community and their human rights struggle, she went on to pen the Bengal novel, Endless Bondage, which became a national bestseller. A transsexual group in Bengal was also started posting her novel. In her interviews also, she always mentioned that she will continue fighting for those who dare to be different.
7. Gauri Sawant
Gauri Sawant is a social worker who fought immensely for transgender rights. Society shunned her and told her she is not a woman. A reluctant Gauri decided to prove them wrong and went on to become a mother to an orphaned girl whose mother was a sex worker and died when she was four-years-old. She is indeed a formidable woman. Gauri fled her home at the age of 18 and stepped into activism. She is currently a director at Sakshi Char Chowghi Trust, an organisation that provides counseling and assistance to trans people and those with HIV. She was even one of the petitioners in the case that recognised the transgender as a third gender.
8. Joyita Mondal
A victim of verbal bullying, the story of Joyita is no different than any other transgender woman in our country. After being disowned by her family, she spent several sleepless nights on an empty stomach at bus stops hoping that one day her fate would change. Joyita has made several contributions as a social worker. She also started an NGO named Nai Roshni for Dinajpur for the LGBTQ community in West Bengal. Over the years, she worked on different social issues and also received great support from the government. At the age o 29, Joyita Mondal became the first transgender judge of a Lok Adalat in India. She was also the first trans person from her district to earn herself a voter’s ID.
9. Mona Varonica Campbell
Dr. Mona Varonica Campbell is India’s first trans, plus-size model. Having an inclination towards the fashion industry from childhood, Varonica graduated from NIFT, has a Ph.D. to her name, and has her own makeup label as well. She was even titled Miss Transgender in 2015. During her stint as a model, she has walked the ramp for top designers including Wendell Rodricks at the Lakme Fashion Week. Today, she is a role model for the LGBTQ community.
10. K Prithika Yashini
K Prithika Yashini is India’s first transgender police officer. Throughout her life, she has faced several gender biases. Despite the police force being a male-dominated sphere, she was quite firm on changing. Though she failed the exam by one mark, she still went on to become a sub-inspector. When the Supreme court recognised the transgender community as a third gender, it was indeed a personal as well as a professional win for Prithika. Her victory has given her peers a boost to chase their dreams.
These are just a few trans women we have covered that have broken stereotypes and emerged successful in their respective fields. There are so many more around the country that have proved their mettle despite being constant victims of harassment. Kudos to their never-say-die attitude and spirit.