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In New Book, Gee Semmalar Shares His Experience with Transgender Healthcare In India

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By Gee Imaan Semmalar for Zuban Books:

The secretary, Meena, called me in. Dr Neeta smiled as we walked in. She slipped between “she” and “he” as she talked about me during the consultation. In my desperation to get the surgery done, I smiled weakly through a conversation that would have, in any other circumstances made me bare my fangs. She explained how the surgery would be done. “Each patient is a signature for me. You will have minimal scarring and be able to live as a man after this. Don’t worry,” she assured me.

For accessing hormone treatment, they require your mental health to be “assessed” and for two psychiatrists to certify you as having gender identity dysphoria (a lot of psychiatrists still write “gender identity disorder”). Depending on your psychiatrist, this could take any amount of time, in some cases, even years. We are left at the mercy of doctors who know very little about us.

In most cases, they try to convince us that we should continue to live in the same bodies, they warn us about the consequences of “sex change”. Among trans friends, I have heard of instances of electro shock therapies, house arrests, being chained to their bed posts, trans men being forcefully administered female hormones and marriage being prescribed as a “cure”. With no way to opt out of this oppressive medical system, I let them certify me as having a disorder. In fact, I pleaded with them to certify me, in order to become who I am today.

One of my major anxieties when I got onto hormones was how my mother would react to my physical changes.
I started looking more like the man she disliked from her past. Would she begin to see him in me more? I realised over time that she didn’t hate him as much as I thought she did. It was an impossible relationship due to many reasons, some within their control and some, outside of it.

As I masculinise over the years, I have come to realise that I have also become the child who cannot be “explained” to many. When you medically transition, the joke is over. The child can no longer be indulged as a tomboy, the “daughter” will never get married and give you chubby grandchildren, you stumble when you say your kid’s name, when you use pronouns, slowly you avoid conversations about that child with friends and family, you panic when someone rings the bell when your child is at home, you cannot ask extended circles to open a few doors of opportunity for your kid.

Your erasure is written into family histories as blank spaces where your photograph once was. As someone who is convinced about the need to destroy caste networks, this erasure came as a relief to me. I have begun to understand the erasure as something that is propelled by caste respectability and shame. It must also be said that it is natural for people close to us to feel a sense of loss, to not know how to transition themselves.

Once, when I went home, I found my school uniform neatly folded up in my mother’s cupboard. I realised then, that even as she struggled to embrace the son I had become to her, she still mourned the loss of the daughter she once thought she had given birth to. I acknowledge the incredible support I have received over time from my loved ones in this journey.

My surgery date was given. November 23. The surgery was to happen in a tiny operation theatre behind Dr Neeta’s clinic. I arrived in the morning around 9 am and was made to change into a medical gown. I waited for two hours, trembling with fear and excitement before the anaesthetist came. The doctor came and did markings on my chest for the surgery. I was on the operation table. The last thing I remember was the colour of the nail polish on the anaesthetist’s fingers. A dirty shade of green. And the glass beads on the surgeon’s cap. Anaesthetised dreams I cannot recall now, followed for about 6 hours.

When I woke up it was late evening. I saw my mother through a haze. I badly wanted to pee but when I tried, I couldn’t. I was taken back in an auto to a place we had rented for 15 days. There were two plastic cans with fluids and blood on both sides of my chest. Drainage pipes. They would be removed after five days. The surgery was practically pain free and I was on the other side! I was happy. Well, almost.

Gee Imaan Semmalar is a theatre actor, writer, filmmaker and co-founder of Panmai Theatre, Chennai.

Note: Due to lack of the doctor’s surgical knowledge, the procedure did not go as smoothly as planned. Further, her indifference to Gee’s calls and messages made this an incredibly difficult experience. The full story by Gee Semmalar can be read in A. Revathi’s “A Life in Trans Activism.” Excerpted with permission from Zubaan Books.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’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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