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How I Overcame My False Fear Of Transgender People

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All our misconceptions, stereotypical judgements and false assumptions emerge from our cultural background, common familial discourses – and even, to some extent, the popular culture we passionately feed on. Some of these conceptions are rectified with time – and if not, we make space for yet another idea to look at it in a different way.

But there are certain inhibitions that are so strongly embedded in our minds that it becomes difficult to root them out from our conscience. One such inhibition that my cultural background impinged upon me was transphobia (‘false fear’ towards transgender people). I grew up with this fear, and it took me really long to get rid of it. The process of realisation, however, was quite difficult because of the strong hold of these misconceptions and false stories, which the media, popular culture and the society had imposed upon me.

Right from the beginning, I was fearful towards transgender people. I always used to hide myself whenever I saw them in parks, trains and stations. I used to get scared of their gestures and heavy baritone voices when I watched them in films.

I remember an incident when a group of transgender people barged into our house early in the morning, because they had misread our address and thought there was a new-born child at our place. Unaware of my family’s false dispositions towards them, they came inside to say a friendly ‘hello’. But my family did not respond in a friendly manner. Three of them were almost thrashed out of our house and were scolded for trying to be friendly. I was petrified and stunned to see them for the first time. All dressed up in heavy make-up and colourful clothes – they appeared quite unusual to me. I was scared of them and wanted them to leave my place as early as possible.

This hatred and abhorrence only intensified with time – and eventually, the ‘clap sounds’ became the most horrific thing for me. My environment played a major part in intensifying this false fear.

I grew up watching ‘exaggerated’ and ‘manufactured’ news stories about transgender people assaulting men and women, stealing money and mistreating people at public places. I saw them scaring other people in the films or serials I watched. I was unable to erase the horrific image which had been etched in my mind.

Lajja Shankar in “Sangharsh”

The image of Lajja Shankar in “Sangharsh” continued to haunt me for several years. The director perhaps knew this fear psychosis of ours and played well with it. The fact that he made that character look like a transgender person in one of Bollywood’s most haunting scenes alludes to the fact that for the viewers, transgender people are mostly (if not only) used to incite fear.

Popular culture – soap operas, films, comedy shows, etc. – have contributed largely in imbibing this fear without us being aware of  it. I haven’t watched a single mainstream Bollywood film that has dealt with the trials and tribulations of transgender characters in their truest sense. They are either shown as comic fillers or as somebody you should despise for no reason at all. There have been many such instances (in films, television shows, news stories, etc.) and these only worsened my understanding of transgender people for a long time.

However, my recent encounter with hard-hitting poetry and anecdotes by transgender people coming from different communities in India and abroad, has helped me evade the false assumptions that had coiled inside my head for so many years. Unlike popular culture, which instills fear within people like me, the literary world has been quite welcoming of transgender people who have expressed their individual stories unabashedly – mostly through autobiographical novels, short stories and poems.

Here are some excerpts from a couple of poems I read, which have left a deep mark on my conscience.

“If you gave him a chance you’d see he’s real nice.
His heart is so warm, not cold as ice.
He loves with his heart, is caring and tender.
Look deep within, he is only transgender.”

Karen Wyld

“I was the mystery of an anatomy,
a question asked but not answered,
tightroping between awkward boy and apologetic girl, …” 

Lee Mokobe (TED fellow)

In one of her poems published in her anthology titled “Manada Kunnu (The eye of the mind)”, the transgender poet Chandini writes, “The god who made me, does not recognise me.

Apart from this, influential, mainstream writers like Arundhati Roy (in “The Ministry of Utmost Happiness”) have also tried to sketch unconventional pictures of the transgender community to let the world know about their daily struggles with the ‘self’ and the ‘society’. However, “The Ministry of Utmost happiness” eventually gets trapped in the political contours that the author struggles to stick to – and thus, the issue of identity and its representation falters in the process.

On the other hand, autobiographical novels authored by transgender people (like Laxmi Narayan Tripathi’s “Red Lipstick: The Men in My Life” or Manobi Bandopadhyay’s “A Gift of Goddess Lakshmi”) brings to you true and non-filtered stories of their painful life journeys – from societal rejection to objectification, and later to self-realisation.

Reading all these stories made me think of all the misconceptions I had and the things I did over all these years – about my hatred towards them, my reluctance to see them in films, hiding behind trees whenever I saw them in real life and what not. The stories made me feel the pain of being alienated by your loved ones. Hence, I sat down to let the world know that our judgements towards them only emanates from what our individual social backgrounds are and what popular culture makes us believe. And it is time that we reject such false representations and turn to the true stories narrated by transgender people themselves.

There is still a lot that I need to know. There is still a large chunk of literature which needs to be read – and there are many stories which are gasping in closed rooms, looking for ways to come out. I believe that the only way to let these stories breathe freely in public spaces is by eliminating the inherent fear we have towards the community which has been struggling hard to be acknowledged as human beings in our society. If I can come out of it after so many years, I am sure you can too!

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Featured image used for representative purposes only.

Featured image source: Sangharsh/YouTube
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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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