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From Sex Worker To Karnataka’s First Trans College Student: My Story

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By M Suman:

Until I was about four or five, I didn’t know that I wasn’t a girl. One of my earliest memories, from when I was about five years old, is of being yelled at by a class teacher for going to the toilet with girls. I was around the same age when I realised that I was different from other boys. At the age of nine, I was refused the use of clothes and cosmetics that my sister had. Mom used to tell me to be bold and walk straight like my brother, which was a torment to me.

School days was challenging. My friends bullied me for being feminine and for not playing football and cricket. I was always hanging around with girls and playing with them. My friends mocked everything that they could think of regarding gender and sexuality.

Some of my classmates and schoolmates used to abuse me sexually. It was hard, for I could not share this with my teachers or family. One day, I gathered the courage and told my teachers. But unfortunately, they were unable to understand my feelings.

I never really told my family. I never said anything about my feelings. I don’t even tell people who I meet on a day to day basis that I am transgender. The thing about trans people is, we feel very normal. It’s the ways we are.

It is only when people say that you’re not normal, that you feel that way. I’ve always been extremely feminine, and I have always felt this way. I can’t say that I ever felt like a boy. I just had to live as a boy for the first 18 years of my life.

Just like everyone else, my ideals in life are to be happy, to be respected and comfortable. These ideals are not any different from cisgender people. A lot of friends and relatives have the notion in their head that we wake up and decide to become a trans-person. I want people to know that it’s not a choice. Nothing has happened in my life to make me trans. I was born with my feminine feelings.

My mother, like most typical mothers, was worried about my career and marriage prospects. She used to take me to doctors to check if my mental health was normal. She once also took me to ‘remove a bad sprit in from my body as I was possed by a woman’s soul.’ Safe to say, it didn’t really work.

My family thought I was mentally ill. Due to this stress, I left home. Strangers who befriended me started using me sexually, but I had no option. I choose to be a sex worker for five years. Life was not easy. I got raped multiple times by goons but had nowhere to go. After three years, I had my physiotherapy and sex reassignment surgery with the help of the money I had saved.

The reality of accepting a gender variant child is a different process for every family. Some families adapt and unconditionally accept their transgender children relatively quickly, while others go through a much longer and more difficult process, and many others never reach complete acceptance of their child. Empathy, knowledge, and understanding are critical in the processes of acceptance for parents, families, and educators.

My struggle was fruitful, and the next step was to get admitted to St Joseph evening college. There, I became the state’s first transsexual student. I am now, pursuing my bachelors in Journalism, Political Science and Sociology (J.P.S) in the college in Bangalore.

I applied for admission at many places like Bangalore University, Maharani College and IGNOU but was denied admission everywhere due to my gender identity. Exactly at the same time, the Supreme Court passed a landmark judgement to treat transgender as equals, creating a third gender status. It ruled that the community was entitled to be identified with the gender of their choice.

After multiple rounds of interviews, I gained admission in the college. Unfortunately, I found that fees were too high for me to afford. Without family support, scholarship, community support or government assistance, I was lost again

Then, I decided to join the evening college so that I could take care of myself. I didn’t want to miss my opportunity to study. At the same time, community members and friends started mocking me. “At 25, why do you want to study now?”

But my goal motivated me. I wanted to become a role model for the society and change the outlook towards the community of trans-people.

After five years of sex work, I quit the profession forever. I started working at a NGOs for sexual minorities as a peer educator. I joined as part-time staff and was paid ₹5,ooo per month. I took some credit from friends and filled my admission form and fees.

On the first day of college, I was terrified and felt nervous due to the gap in the society. It took time to gel with other people. Initially, they were hesitated to talk to me, but I helped them with assignments and preparing notes.

I worked in the day and went to college in the evening. This way I could not divert my mind. My family too accepted me and invited me home. This time, they welcomed me back as a daughter and not as their son.

The teachers are accommodating, and I have made friends here. I finally feel that I’m at the right place. I had a bad past because of the kind of horrors I faced in life.

It was in 2005, and I was studying BBM in a reputed college in Bangalore when it all began. It was then that I started feeling that I was a female in a male’s body. My classmates used to imitate me even though I was good at studies. I never answered any questions asked by the teachers out of shame. Unable to cope up with the physical and mental harassment, I left studies.

When I was asked why I chose journalism, I say that journalists have the power to bring about a change in the society. People choose different tools to identify social injustices. I chose journalism. My goal and objective are to come into the mainstream and be a role model and show the society that transgender are able to be successful in life. They too can occupy the mainstream space and live their life in dignity. It made me so happy to do that, to go to that part of the success I wanted to.

I was transitioning medically and spiritually and it was one of the most important moments of my life. A lot of people from mainstream trans communities asked me, “How can you be a person of faith because even your own religious has been so horrible to trans people?”

While that’s true, it’s about what faith means to me. I leave out what some leaders and institutions do in its name. It’s almost like trans people are one-dimensional, they are just these individuals who need help.

I do hope we will change our view of what trans people look like. It’s not just something on the outside; it’s something that’s very deep spiritual.

We are created in the image of God. And I am a part of that as M Suman.


Photo Credits: Elizabeth Mani/iamin
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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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