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Legally Changing My Gender In ‘Progressive’ Kerala Was Exhausting And Humiliating

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Kerala is the first state in India to have a Transgender Policy which was formed in September 2015. Still, the lives of its transgender people lie in uncertainty, vulnerable to discrimination and harassment every day. This is my personal account of the ordeal I endured for changing my gender, legally, in Kerala.

Having returned from Dubai last year, to get my name and gender changed across all my identification documents, it was then that I got in touch with Queerala, an LGBTIQ support group in Kerala for guidance. On December 19, 2016, I decided on the unthinkable and came out as a trans man to the world via a Facebook post. To be honest, I simply just wanted to inform the 1000 odd people on my friends list (including relatives, classmates and acquaintances) in order to avoid having to explain my transition and face weird questions if I ever met anyone in person at some point. I received so much love and support even from total strangers who were writing to me from different parts of the world congratulating and telling me how inspiring my post was.

Image Credit: Vihaan Peethambar.

Happy at overcoming a mountain of a hurdle in my life, I set out to change my name and gender, legally. Little did I know then that I was going to face the toughest challenge of my life.

My troubles began in December 2016, when I submitted an application in the Gazette of Kerala. Since the Gazette form does not have an application for gender change nor does it have an option/column to mark change in gender, the only option I had was to write a line requesting ‘Gender Change’ in the application for ‘Name Change’. Although not mandatory as per the NALSA judgement, I submitted all my medical reports which included reports from psychiatrists and details of my sex reassignment surgeries along with the application. To my dismay, the gazette officials asked me for certificates from a gynaecologist and urologist of a government hospital. They claimed that since all my surgeries were done at private hospitals, my medical reports cannot be considered official by the Gazette. My explanation that such a requirement was clearly violating the NALSA judgement (which made it unlawful for authorities to refuse us identification based on whether we had had sex reassignment surgery or not) fell on deaf ears.

Even though the judgment has remained far from being ideally implemented, it had opened a space for trans persons to obtain documents that identify them by the gender of their choice without subjecting us to the harassment of undergoing medical examinations at government hospitals by doctors and nurses who are in most cases unaware and insensitive towards trans people. It is to be noted that respective gazettes of states like Tamil Nadu and Delhi, follow the NALSA judgement for gender reassignment, and do not subject applicants to such tedious processes.

It is at this point that I realised the efficacy of LGBTIQ support groups. Queerala founder Jijo Kuriakose joined me at every step starting from the Gazette, Ernakulam District Social Justice department, State Social Justice Directorate, Ernakulam Human Rights office and government hospitals. In my quest to avoid this certificate ordeal, I learnt that a Transgender Justice Board is to be formed at the district and state levels, the primary role of which is transgender welfare. But as the Kerala Transgender Policy is far from being implemented, the formation of the Transgender Justice Board and its subsequent processes could take many months.

Since the Transgender Persons Bill 2016 is also pending finalization on the national level and has totally failed to imbibe the core of the NALSA judgement, I knew that fighting it out in court would take long time and I could not afford to do that without a job. Needless to say, I had to undergo the medical examinations (which included having to display my body at two instances and undergo ultrasound scans multiple times) at three different government hospitals in Kerala to obtain the medical certificates after which the Gazette officials accepted my application.

Image Credit: Vihaan Peethambar.

It was a horrid, exhausting and humiliating experience as I struggled to educate the doctors and staff about my requirement. To top it all, I had to assist the plastic surgery and gynaecology departments with drafting the certificate for sex reassignment, as they had no prior experience or template!

Apart from appropriating a substantial amount in the state budget for its envisioned Transgender policy, Kerala has not made any provisions to include the concerns and requirements of trans applicants at the Gazette or the Social Justice department. Despite the NALSA judgement in 2014, the Kerala Gazette clearly ignores the Supreme Court’s judgement and torments trans people with such harassment and subject them to medical examination processes which clearly violate their dignity.

The invisibility of trans men, amid solidarity for trans women post the Kerala Transgender policy adds woes. What the government needs to realise is that sex reassignment is often not taken up by transgender people, although many want to due to monetary constraints and lack of experienced doctors in the state who can lead the surgical procedure. A recent report of surgical transition performed at the Trivandrum Medical College which ended badly with a complaint filed against the hospital by the patient, highlights the lack of facilities and inexperienced doctors for SRS in the state.

Going through such traumatic experiences can either make or break you. Fortunately, with the immense support I received from Queerala and the LGBTIQ community in Kerala, it gave me a purpose. I decided to become a spokesperson for trans men – an invisible minority in the transgender community. A few months back, I had participated in a roundtable held at the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum. We were to finalize a lobby note to integrate LGBTIQ rights in the local self-governance framework in Kerala, and formulate an action plan. The day long workshop saw participants from LGBTIQ organizations, academics, the state planning board and members of Panchayat bodies from all over Kerala who highlighted the invisibility of trans men in the state. I spoke about the various threats trans men face on coming out which results in them not wanting to be visible in society. It is indeed very heartening to see such progressive initiatives come forward, but we need to see reforms immediately.

Obtaining gender change notifications from the Gazette is every citizen’s right. The very fact that the government officials in Kerala are unaware of the NALSA Judgment and refuse to even hear or learn about it, should be seen as contempt of a Supreme Court order. Kerala, which is riding high on the waves of its progressive initiatives for trans-people fails to deliver when it comes to reality. It is only a matter of time that everyone sees what is beneath the glorious image of the state built up by media hype. To my trans brothers and sisters I say, fret not, for struggles are inevitable in life. But it is worth it when you live life on your own terms, so fight on!

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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