You go Banu! Meet the First Transgender to Ace an Engg Seat in TN
Grace Banu has had a tumultuous personal life, but that hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her dreams. (Photo Courtesy: Grace Banu)
Grace Banu has had a tumultuous personal life, but that hasn’t stopped her from pursuing her dreams. (Photo Courtesy: Grace Banu)

You go Banu! Meet the First Transgender to Ace an Engg Seat in TN

A recent Hollywood release, The Danish Girl, is a story of a man in the early 20th century, who discovers his feminine identity and faces the brunt of a society who thinks it abnormal. Einar Wegener, a successful landscape painter, lives with his wife in an affluent Europe, wanting of nothing and yet dying within – of a need to transform into the woman he believes he is.

Apart from a loving wife and a friend, he is lonely, an outcast and a misfit as perceived by society.

A still from the movie <i>The Danish Girl</i>.
A still from the movie The Danish Girl.

It is now close to a century and India’s transgenders feel just as alienated as the European artist back then. Ask Grace Banu, a brilliant transgender woman from Tamil Nadu. Banu has faced every kind of struggle that one can think of, and yet, pulled off every battle convincingly.

Today, she is probably the first transgender engineering student in India.

How Banu Navigated the Heartbreak From her Family

Even after scoring 94 percentage in a diploma course in engineering, the Tuticorin native failed to get through a government college. Banu underwent counselling at Anna University for engineering courses through a lateral entry, and finally got admission in electrical and electronics engineering (EEE) at the self-financing Sri Krishna College of Engineering in Arakkonam.

Currently in her third year of college, Banu’s personal life has been even more tumultuous. Having studied in an all boys’ school, Banu could always feel she was different. From enacting the girl’s part in school plays, liking sarees to being propositioned by a classmate, she went through a whirlwind of emotions before concluding she was in fact, not a male.

Having studied in an all boys’ school, Banu could always feel she was different. (Photo Courtesy: Grace Banu)
Having studied in an all boys’ school, Banu could always feel she was different. (Photo Courtesy: Grace Banu)

When my parents and school authorities got to know, they gave me a difficult time. Eventually, I took poison to end my life. But I was saved. After recovering, it was my school headmaster who determined that I was a transgender. I was shocked and sad to hear the word.

Grace Banu

Banu was then asked to either leave school or come after school hours to take classes.

As the final year of school approached, she requested her parents to accept her true identity but they refused. When she suffered from depression, they put her in a mental asylum to ‘correct’ her. Finally, when everyone she cared for, wanted her gone, she left home and took refuge in one of the many transgender associations in Tamil Nadu.

When she suffered from depression, her parents put her in a mental asylum to ‘correct’ her. (Photo Courtesy: Grace Banu)
When she suffered from depression, her parents put her in a mental asylum to ‘correct’ her. (Photo Courtesy: Grace Banu)

I knew that in India, only two things await a transgender, either begging or prostitution. But I wanted to get educated and had lofty ambitions and I was not going to give up on that.

Grace Banu

Studying Like a Champ

Her adoptive mother from the transgender community paid the fees for her diploma course in engineering – which she passed with flying colours.

Later, she was placed in a software company in Chennai but joined work as a male to escape discrimination. “But people got to know and I was forced to leave. I requested the MD of the company to reconsider as I was an asset to the company,” she says.

In the following days, Banu took a personal loan of two lakh rupees to get her reassignment surgery. She went back to the job but felt the prejudice sting her all day long.

Along with her comrades, Banu has protested and taken a beating for transgender reservation and for them to be able to appear for the public service commission exams. (Photo Courtesy: Grace Banu)
Along with her comrades, Banu has protested and taken a beating for transgender reservation and for them to be able to appear for the public service commission exams. (Photo Courtesy: Grace Banu)

“So I went back to what I love doing most, studying. I will do my post-graduation as well. I have fought the good fight,” she says. Along with her comrades, Banu has protested and taken a beating for transgender reservation and for them to be able to appear for the public service commission exams.

In 2013, the first transgender person wrote the Tamil Nadu PSC exam, so my efforts count for something.

Grace Banu

How Can You Help Banu?

And yet 26-year-old Banu has no life of her own. Cooped up with friends from her community in a small house, she isn’t able to rent her own place. Her money has dried up – with no support from parents or willing employers. And she will not take to begging or prostitution. There is a crowdfunding page on Milaap that is raising funds for her study material, house rent and miscellaneous expenditures and she waits for the day when she can be respected for her brain and not her sexual identity.

While she feels blessed for the strides she has made, success would have been sweeter with the family behind her.

Success would have been sweeter with her family behind her, says Banu. (Photo Courtesy: Grace Banu)
Success would have been sweeter with her family behind her, says Banu. (Photo Courtesy: Grace Banu)

The first step to levelling the field comes through the acceptance from one’s parents. If we can get that, then we are just as talented and smart as the next person.

Grace Banu

(Runa Mukherjee Parikh has written on women, culture, social issues, education and animals, with The Times of India, India Today and IBN Live. When not hounding for stories, she can be found petting dogs, watching sitcoms or travelling. A big believer in ‘animals come before humans’, she is currently struggling to make sense of her Bengali-Gujarati lifestyle in Ahmedabad.)

You May Also Read:

Krishna to Naina: A Teenager’s Transition Into a Transgender Woman
Will Fashion Weeks Give This Manipuri Transgender Model a Chance?

(The Quint is now on WhatsApp. To receive handpicked stories on topics you care about, subscribe to our WhatsApp services. Just go to TheQuint.com/WhatsApp and hit the Subscribe button.)

Follow our LGBT section for more stories.

    Also Watch