Mona Varonica Campbell as told to Tinder:
I spoke to my dad on the phone before I wrote this, and all I really remember is “make sure you tell them loud and proud that you are a trans woman.” I don’t want to be labelled a woman, I am a trans woman, and calling me a woman diminishes my experiences. I don’t want to hide my gender, I want to live with freedom and I am very happy with who I am.
I was born and raised in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh. My father worked for the government and my mother is a homemaker. As far back as I can remember, I knew that I was feminine, a girl, a woman. At the age of 3, my mother would dress my older sister and me in dresses, and never treated me as a ‘conventional’ little boy. Right until the age of 12, I felt as though my sister and I were both little girls in the way we dressed, behaved and were treated. Even though we were from a small town, our neighborhood was very supportive. No one judged me or passed any comments about how I chose to dress and behave.
I think the pivotal moment came in grade 8, when my father put me in an all-boys hostel. I was acutely uncomfortable taking a shower in common areas, boys would grab my tits and make fun of how I looked. I confided in my father about the mental trauma, how it prevented me from studying but I stuck it out for 2 years until I no longer couldn’t.
I wanted to be closer to home, shower in the privacy of my own bathroom and be as womanly as possible. My father supported me unwaveringly, shifted houses so I could be closer to a day school and went out of his way to educate my faculty, teachers, principal, new friends and peers about my gender expression. They were asked not to tease me, threaten me and were reminded repeatedly that no one should be teased for natural behaviour.
I went on to finish school, and after much familial angst, had my parents support in pursuing a degree in fashion design from NIFT in Hyderabad. In college, I had a gay friend from Assam who introduced me to dating apps, and I was hooked. I had never had any sexual experiences and was excited about discovering my sexuality. I matched with a doctor, who had a life-changing effect on my transition journey. Not only did I have his emotional support, but constant medical advice. He also educated my parents and held regular medical camps on my campus, about being trans and the science behind it. Most importantly, he treated me as a woman. At 19, I started hormone replacement therapy and my journey towards transitioning.
In 2007, I was crowned Miss India Trans Woman, and overnight I shot to stardom in Hyderabad. At this point I was faced with a choice, whether or not to go through with gender reassignment surgery. I wasn’t sure, so I put it off. In 2008, I stopped my hormones and went off to London to study further. While I was there, my boyfriend, my rock and my biggest cheerleader, passed away in an accident. It took me 6 months from this event to feel like myself again.
I had seen my future; we’d live in London, we’d get married, pay off my loans and build a happy, stable emotionally fulfilling relationship. Everything had changed now. As luck would have it, I found a job in cosmetics in Canada and decided to move. I restarted my hormones, made good money and came back to Hyderabad to start my own makeup label. At this point, I decided to have the surgery. I told my parents I had made up my mind, I wanted to feel comfortable, I wanted to feel like myself. Gender reassignment surgery is a long drawn-out process. I went back to the United Kingdom to have it, it was 3 different surgeries and took me one year to recover.
Looking at the dearth of plus-size models in the country, in 2016, I decided to move to Bombay and make a go of it. I was used to setting my own pace and facing everything head on. If you believe in yourself, your identity and silence the white noise, nothing is unachievable.
In 2017, I met a guy on Tinder. I was ready to start dating and meeting new people. My Tinder profile is under my nickname Santini, where I am loud and proud about my identity. The guy I matched with was also nursing a broken heart, so we were a match! We spoke every day for 31 days straight, lived in the same city yet never met, although we video chatted a lot. We finally decided to plan our first date and mutually agreed it has to be epic given all the communication and build up. We met at the JW Marriott in Juhu for dinner and drinks and then flew out to Seychelles for our first official date. You read that right. And all this planning was him. I can’t say I’ve had anything less than a positive experience on Tinder.
As for being able to identify, if Tinder gives you the option it is much easier for people to express their choices. People just really want to be given the option to choose their choice.