By Lipi Mehta:
If you like keeping a track of conversations on feminism, gender, sexuality and related topics on Twitter, you’ve probably heard of (and already follow) @GenderlogIndia. This is a Twitter initiative spearheaded by Natasha Badhwar, Amrita Tripathi and Noopur Tiwari, all writers and feminists. The account is curated by a different person each week who tries to bring in their areas of interests to the fore and kick open a variety of conversations ranging from queer issues to empowering poetry and art, and more.
This week, journalist Dhamini is handling the account and on 4th February, she hosted a chat with transwoman Nadika Nadja who identifies as a “non-binary non-binary person”. It was insightful to say the least, with many learnings on how many trans people grow up in India and the challenges the face.
I’m quite excited to talk to @NadjaNadika, a transwoman and a lesbian. To start, I’d request Nadika to tell us a bit about her adolescence.
I wasn’t the most active person around… problem called rheumatoid arthritis. And I was quite introverted. So stuck indoors. I also had begun feeling something wasn’t right. It started a bit earlier but by the time I was 15 or so, it had solidified – the feeling that I wasn’t really exactly the boy I was supposed to be.
What/who all made you feel that you weren’t fully performing the gender role expected of you?
I don’t know if that’s how I would have put it back then. It was just the whole ‘boys got to be like this and girls like that’, that was being drilled into all of us. And my preference for not active things to do, and having some problem with how I looked. I didn’t know the term ‘dysphoria’ back then, but I think that was what it was. My school had mandatory swimming for classes up to 9th. I loved swimming but was terribly afraid of and uncomfortable with wearing the swimming trunks boys were supposed to. I couldn’t imagine going topless.
Was there anyone else in your peer group who felt like you did/understood your discomfort even if not its cause?
There may have been other kids in school who felt the same way. However, given the school environment, and possibly similar introversion, shame and stuff, people didn’t exactly seek out solace. I know I didn’t. Preferred to keep to myself, shut myself in the school library and read.
When did you first read about dysphoria?
I remember when I was about 19-20, downloading a bunch of articles and stuff from trans help forums, and going to our family physician. Asking him about transgenderism and what I could do for it. It was a difficult conversation, and basically the doctor sent me packing saying I was being stupid etc. He was a superb family physician. Quite charming. But zero exposure to gender and stuff.
Did you talk to your doctor about your sexuality as well?
Nope. Didn’t know much to ask. Also, a boy was supposed to like girls, right? Of course, by the time I’d gotten to class 12, I’d heard of homosexuals, lesbians and gays but thought that didn’t apply.
Yes. Exactly. Did you grapple with this ‘sameness’ to the assigned gender you sought to separate from?
Yup. For, well, ever. Even now. if I was a girl, I’m supposed to like boys, men. But I like girls. Have serious crushes on them. So does this mean I’m not? In @HerStoryShow, @SmartAssJen says pretty much the same thing. As a transwoman, her sleeping with/having relationships with men validates her gender. But being with women makes her unconsciously debate that.
Okay. Let’s unpack this a little bit. Why do you think this happens? And, is it necessarily a problematic thing for you?
It is problematic in a way for me to explain my choices, say, to parents when I want to come out.
What about love partners? (If this isn’t too personal a question to ask)
Well, what with one thing or the other, body image issues, dysphoria, the conditioning/upbringing I had, and whole lot more. I haven’t gotten around to love partners. I had one – um – relationshippy period which ended the minute I came out to them. I am wary of calling it a relationship, or anything else. It wasn’t the best time of my life. In a way it is a personal question and I wasn’t sure I wanted to answer.
Thank you, then. What I want to also understand from you is the ways in which you have coped with all of this. Does using language differently, help? Does creating an online/offline queer family offer sustenance?
I’d been blogging from around 2003. Later on, forums online. I’ve always had multiple identities and personas online. I had one “mainstream” blog tied to my real-world, offline, official identity and a couple of others in my “alternate” identity. Over the last 3-4 years, I’ve found some support offline too. And since 2014, when I began to come out to friends.. I now have a superb, superb group of friends – offline and online, and I am part of a few trans* and queer groups. Friends from @chennaipride have helped me define my sexuality and my gender better for myself. @SampoornaIndia has been a huge influence and a huge outlet for the kind of conversations I want to have with people.
So I want to ask one more thing. What would the reading down of #Sec377 mean to you?
A long time ago, a friend told me this: “What you allow the government to do to others, it will eventually do to you”. Allowing one set of people to live less freely than others, allowing a ‘minuscule minority’ to be oppressed just for that isn’t going to help when they come after your own liberty and rights. So for that reason alone, 377 HAS to go. Personally, it would mean the happiness and freedom of people like me, people unlike me.
Gender expectations are encountered everywhere. May be, start by undercutting hierarchy of the right kind of relationship.
Of course, it is easy to say this, feel it, incorporate it into your politics. but when it comes down to living it, people start putting road blocks. there are a whole lot of notions and beliefs, ideas to fight. can’t do it all the time and not feel tired, exhausted. sometimes you just want to give up.
Absolutely. I think part of the exhaustion derives from an added sense that LGBT is responsible for making everyone aware of the limitations of their thinking. It’s a double bind, like #sec377, puts responsibility on queer person to validate themselves, in an atmosphere that already invalidates them.
And with that, the chat came to an end with Genderlog thanking Nadja for sharing her life experiences in a conversation that they described as ‘invaluable’. Indeed, it was, what with other users getting involved too and sharing their feelings and responses with Nadja. We hope that such conversations only continue because when it comes to awareness, it’s never something that we can have enough of.