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(This story was first published on 6 April 2021. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives to mark Pride Month.)
Aqsa Shaikh wears many hats. She is a doctor, professor and a COVID-19 warrior. She is also leading the vaccination centre in Delhi’s Jamia Hamdard Hospital – making her the only transgender doctor in all of India to hold the role.
“When I tweeted this, I was proud of myself that being a transperson I have been able to cross these obstacles and reach this. And with that there was also a feeling of sadness, that in a country of 130 crore people, where there are thousands of hospitals and vaccination centres, why don’t we have a single transperson apart from me heading one?”Dr Aqsa Shaikh
Dr Shaikh is an inspiration to all – but her journey was anything but easy.
From Mumbai to Delhi: A Story of Transformation
Born a boy in a modest Mumbai family, Dr Shaikh knew she was ‘different’ when she was three-four years old.
“Somewhere for me, playing with boys was not very comfortable. I used to enjoy the company of girls more. I also wanted to look like them. I wanted to dress like them. So, there was this struggle but I couldn’t tell anyone couldn’t discuss with anyone. However, the tension and the stress was building up.”Dr Aqsa Shaikh
She was a third-year medical student when an endocrinologist first had a conversation about her identity and put a name to it. But this came as a shock to her family.
“For any family, to accept this is difficult. To come to terms that the child that they brought up as a male till age 18 considers herself a female. That this person wants to live as a female in the society, wants to change their name, change how they look and dress as a female.”
On completing her undergraduate course, she moved from Mumbai to Delhi to undergo transition.
“Pre-transition I looked like a man. Post transition, I look like a woman. But there is a phase in between where you don’t look like a male person or a female person. And that phase lasted a year-and-a-half for me. At that time to even go out in public was a challenge.”Dr Aqsa Shaikh
She described that there was a point when everyone would stare at her, and even her mother was uncomfortable to go out for dinner with her.
“Everyone would say, this person does not look like a male does not look like a female. Who are they? Why are they like this? And that was a struggle which lasted for one and a half years,” the professor recalled.
Today, She Is An Inspiration
When she was given the responsibility of leading the COVID-19 vaccination centre, Dr Shaikh knew that this would be a high pressure job. But her favourite part is to interact with people – especially senior citizens.
“For them, there is a lot of anxiety involved – to go to a hospital and get the vaccine. And they really like if someone says a hello, or ask them how was their experience, if they found any difficulties, just some small talk and that can really brighten up their day,” she added.
Dr Shaikh admitted that while she has been in a privileged position as a doctor, there are still some hush-hush talks, comments and giggles that make her uncomfortable. But she believes transgender visibility is the only way to break this.
“To all the trans persons watching this, if you can and it is okay with you then make yourself more visible. Interact with more people. I understand it is hard. I understand it can be triggering and traumatising. But try it, for the larger good. Trust me, not all experiences are bad. Sometimes, it can be very beautiful also.”Dr Aqsa Shaikh