Podcast | India Recognises LGBTQ But Transmen Are Still Invisible
Four years after the Supreme Court ruled in favour of self-identification of gender in the famous NALSA case, and months after the apex court held that Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code was a violation of fundamental rights, it seems the LGBTQ community is finally being integrated into the mainstream.
But there is a group that is invisible even within the marginalised – transmen, as the female-to-male transgender people are called.
Even in a country where people prefer having sons over daughters, the ones who are in fact sons have been completely erased from the conversation on trans rights.
I had first met transmen in the UK in 2006, when I was working on a documentary about gender transition. It made me wonder about the community in India – transwomen have a prominent culture of their own, with a jama’at system and the traditions that ensconce them in a sisterhood, an acquired family to replace the natal family.
Transmen, at the time, were largely invisible. Since they are just beginning to form their networks, I wanted to explore transmasculinity in my book Invisible Men, published by Penguin in 2018. My research for the book officially began a year before, but I had first met Selvam – my first trans-male friend – eleven years earlier. I travelled across India, from Manipur to Maharashtra, and from Kashmir to Kerala, meeting transmen and their partners.
Through interviews with more than sixty people, including doctors, lawyers, theatre-makers, and allies apart from transmen, I would learn of various layers to their lives.
Nearly ever transman I interviewed would confess to having attempted suicide, or at least having suicidal thoughts. But I also heard stories of triumphs: Aryan Pasha, a bodybuilder who intends to compete in cismale competitions; Kiran, who won a Karnataka state government award for his work with disability rights; cinematographer Satya Rai Nagpaul, who has a National Award and Filmfare award to his name, and Sairam, who works in the Tamil Nadu Police.
Transmen are breaking glass ceilings. But they are often broken, too, by a society that relies on homogeneity and where cisgender heterosexuality is the norm.
The only way to fight prejudice is awareness, and our awareness of transmen is so poor that until a recent amendment, the Transgender Protection of Rights Bill 2016 did not even mention transmen, and classified all trans and intersex people as “eunuchs.”
The invisibility of transmen – in the media, in law, and in life – also affects their families. They believe their child is an aberration, and a unique one. The child who has the biological organs and functions of a woman is uniquely vulnerable. Charupriyan, a Bangalore-based transman told me how he and his partner Gayathri had been forcibly separated after school and married off to cismen.
Every year, on 30 November, the Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed to pay a tribute to those who have died due to unnatural causes – suicide, homicide, medical negligence – and every year, there are new names on the list.
Video Editor: Puneet Bhatia