Tune in to the second episode of Unmute – a podcast series where we get voices little-heard to speak out loud.
In this episode I spoke to some members of the transgender community. Although the community has culturally been a significant part of Indian society, when it comes to providing quality of living and healthcare and acceptance, we’re lagging far behind.
The first person I got in touch with Riddhiman, a young trans man. He met me in a state of extreme distress. One of the first things he told me was how he was still addressed as a female by friends and family now and then, no matter how much he asserted his identity as a trans man. He chose to not attend a regular college only to avoid being identified as a girl.
The second person I spoke to for this podcast is Rudrani Chettri, a well-known member of the transgender community. Despite all her achievements, she told me about the time that she was refused entry at the mall for her gender identity.
When the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgement in 2014 recognising the fundamental and civil rights of the transgender community, it did a fairly good job in trying to define what gender identity really means and how it is different from sex.
“Gender identity refers to an individual’s self-identification as a man, woman, transgender or other identified category.”
By that definition, any person whose gender identity (‘woman’ or ‘man’) – does not conform to their biological sex (male or female) is a transgender person.
The Central government too wants to help transgender people, give them fundamental rights, and protect them from discrimination – and that’s how they came to propose the Transgender Rights Bill in 2016.
But wait, there’s a catch.
While gender is self-identified, the government proposed special IDs for members of this community after a screening process involving a medical officer or a psychiatrist. That proposition only exposed the lack of expertise among the lawmakers, because by that logic, somebody who hasn’t gone through a sex re-assignment surgery (SRS) yet wouldn’t make the cut. And there are several reasons why some people might delay SRS or never go through it at all.
Firstly, it’s long process that requires a green signal from a psychiatrist. Then there’s hormone therapy, and then the surgery. All of this might be unaffordable to those with a weaker economic background and without any familial support.
I met Simran, another trans woman at Mitr trust. She was unsure about sharing the story of her alienation during her transition but after some encouragement from Rudrani, she told me about how long she had to wait to be able to collect enough funds for her transition and when it did come, it was not easy.
In the absence of any national-level guidelines on transgender health care, which includes mental health and surgeries, SRS isn’t the easiest one to go through. If it’s not discriminatory, then it’s expensive. For those who don’t have enough support, it’s not only the means they are lacking in, but also the lack of dependable doctors.
As you have heard from him, being stuck in the wrong body not only seems to have affected Riddhiman’s self-esteem, but also made him insecure in his personal relationships. We stayed in touch over text messages even after the interview to be able to find the right people to counsel him through the process. And so far, he seems to have made some headway.