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5 Myths About Trans People We Have Got To Stop Believing

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By Anjana Radhakrishnan for Cake:

lakshmi narayan tripathiOur society doesn’t raise us to engage in dialogues about gender and sexuality. We’re taught from a young age to be ashamed of our sexuality and to consider ‘deviant’ anything outside the traditional narrative of ‘boy who was born anatomically a boy meets girl who was born anatomically a girl; then boy marries girl and they have normal heterosexual sex and have lots of babies’. We’re often afraid to ask questions, to explore, to understand people who don’t conform to these heteronormative, cisgender (someone with a gender identity that aligns with what they were assigned at birth) norms – we’ve been conditioned to be that way.

Some quick definitions before we debunk these myths, just so we’re all on the same page:

Transgender is an umbrella term that includes all people whose gender identity, gender expression or behaviour does not conform to that typically associated with the sex to which they are assigned at birth. This means that for transgenders the intersection of sex and gender is complicated. And this complication gets expressed in many different ways.

Most commonly associated with the transgender population are transsexuals, who are individuals who feel their sex doesn’t match their gender identity so they may take steps to align these two. Each transsexual person has their own unique approach to gender transitioning with some choosing hormone therapy, others choosing gender reassignment surgery, or some combination of the two. Some however, do not choose to get a surgery at all.

But there are lots of other types of transgender people who fall under that umbrella. Genderqueer individuals don’t identify as either male or female and rather consider themselves as falling somewhere on the gender continuum. Cross-dressers are generally comfortable with their birth sex but choose to express their gender by wearing clothes traditionally worn by people of a different gender.

And that’s just the beginning of it! If you’re looking for more clarification on terms related to transgender issues, check out this guide published by GLAAD.

So now that we’ve cleared up all that confusion, let’s delve into some common misconceptions about transgender people!

Myth #1: Trans People Are Just Confused

Perhaps one of the most frustrating myths, this myth may also be one of the most damaging because in essence it denies individuals their lived experiences and invalidates their realities. Just because someone doesn’t fit into society’s construct of ‘normal’ doesn’t make them ‘confused’.

And in case a sense of humanity and compassion doesn’t do it for you, the science backs transgender people up on this. Some (but not all!) trans people are diagnosed with gender dysphoria – a state of emotional distress caused by how the gender someone was designated at birth conflicts with their gender identity – and it’s a recognised medical condition for which treatment is sometimes appropriate. Researchers at Boston University School of Medicine also recently found that the available data suggests there is a biological link to a person’s gender identity, indicating that trans people are essentially assigned genders at birth that don’t match their inherent, biologically set identity.

Myth #2: Trans People Are Mentally Ill

This myth is intertwined with the myth we debunked above. Here again, this misconception works to discount the realities trans people experience. Major medical organisations like the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association have clearly stated that being transgender is not a mental disorder.

While many transgender people do suffer from mental illness, it’s often less about their gender identity and more about the fact that people discriminate and harass them to the extent that 41 percent of trans people will attempt suicide at least once during their lifetimes. Compare that to the 4.6 percent of the general public who attempt suicide and you’ll see there’s a big problem in the way society views being transgender.

Myth #3: All Trans People Transition

Trans people are people too! They have their own individual preferences and some transgender people don’t want to undergo hormone therapy or gender-affirming surgeries.

According to the 2011 National Transgender Discrimination Survey conducted in the United States, about 14 percent of trans women and 72 percent of trans men said they don’t want full genital construction surgery.

Additionally, some trans people may desire or require medical procedures but can’t access necessary care because of poor medical facilities or prohibitive costs.

Myth #4: If You’re Trans, You’re Also Gay

This misconception is based on a misunderstanding of how sexual orientation, gender, and sex interplay with one another.

Sexual orientation is who someone is sexually attracted to while gender identity is how someone perceives themselves. It’s really that simple! A trans woman can be attracted to a cis-female (that’s a female individual whose gender identity aligns with what they were assigned at birth) or a trans woman or a trans man and so on and so forth.

Here’s a neat little infographic that visually charts these different characteristics and employs a happy little genderbread person!


And finally one that’s specific to the Indian context:

Myth #5: Hijras Hold A Sanctioned Place In Indian Culture And Are Generally Respected

‘Hijras’ are male-to-female transsexuals and have a recorded history of over 4,000 years in India. Tradition and mythology confer them with ‘special powers’ to bring luck and fertility and they’re popular invites to weddings and funerals. Despite this, hijras face severe harassment due to their gender nonconforming identities. Hijras are commonly portrayed as tricksters or freaks in popular media and are often forced to leave their family homes because of prejudice. Hijras only recently gained legal recognition in 2014, yet discrimination and violence against hijras remains rampant.

Things are certainly not all wedding bells, roses, and good cheer for hijras – so take the time to learn more about them.

This article just barely scratches the surface of transgender issues and common, harmful misconceptions about the population.

While it is often hard to have open discussions about societally-deemed ‘sensitive’ topics like sexuality and gender, it makes it all the more important that each of us as individuals take the time to find out accurate information about these issues. So don’t stop here! Read more about the gender spectrum, the Kinsey scale of sexuality, and the LGBTQ movement in India, and abroad! Only by exploring and learning about ourselves and the experiences of others can we move towards a more accepting, empathetic society.

This article was originally published here on Cake.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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