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Transgender Awareness Week: Let’s Make Childhood Beautiful For Trans Children

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TW: Mentions of self-harm.

We recently celebrated Children’s Day, a day to celebrate childhood in all its innocent beauty. Every Children’s Day we talk about the rights of children, why securing them is a social responsibility for all, and why caring for children who cannot fight for their own rights is our collective obligation. This Children’s Day let’s also talk about the rights of transgender children.

Childhood can be the most beautiful period of our life, provided we get the right nurturing environment, support, and unconditional acceptance to be ourselves. However, when it comes to transgender children who are born and raised in societies that believe in the binary system and hetero-normativity, their childhood can be traumatic and depressing, a fight against themselves and their own.

Representational image.

Now, before we discuss this any further, let us clarify the terms sex and gender. Sex refers to a person’s biological status and is typically categorised as male, female, or intersex assigned at birth based on external physical characteristics or other biological markers. Gender, on the other hand, is one’s identity of who they are–it can refer to the role of a male or female in society, known as a gender role. A transgender person is one whose gender identity of the self is different from the sex assigned to them at birth.

A transgender child is raised in our society based on the sex assigned to them at birth and this can lead to immense discomfort or dysphoria in most of these children as they grow older and their sense of gender becomes clear, usually around the age of 3-4 years. Familial and social norms ensure that either the child is not allowed to explore the gender roles of the gender they identify with or even if they are allowed, they are looked down upon for the same.

A family is the most intimate group of people with whom a child communicates, however, in our societies, any talk on sex and gender is a taboo. How do we expect this child to talk to their family about what they are feeling? To the same family which constantly asks this child to adapt to the social norms, to compete academically and not worry much about personal feelings or needs. As a result, the child will go into a shell, so what will this child do? Talk to their friends at school? Well, unfortunately in the case of most transgender children, the school is a place where a lot of bullying happens. Children in schools are expected to play certain roles, wear certain kinds of clothes, show an inclination towards certain kinds of sports and activities, and use the bathroom according to their gender.

Just imagine being in the shoe of this transgender child for a day in school, where they find it difficult to play the role expected of them. God forbid, if this child also had the mannerisms of the gender they identify with, as a substantial number of children may have, then the name-calling, bullying, and abuse can reach a very high level. Children, whether cis or trans, undergo a lot of unreported physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, often at the hands of the people closest to them and they trust; for transgender children, the abuse can be manifold.

As puberty hits and the child starts developing sexual characteristics of the sex they don’t identify with, it can be very traumatic. Imagine, someone who identifies themselves as a woman starts developing male genitalia and beard, or someone who identifies as a man starts developing breasts and having menses.

Also, simultaneously they start getting sexually attracted, often to the people of the same sex as the one assigned to them. This conflates in their mind gender identity and sexual orientation, and the child is sent into a whirlpool of questions as to whether they are gay or lesbian.

Looking at the widespread homophobia around them, they have no choice but to shun their desires and stop any form of exploration or expression of this attraction. What does all this lead to? Pent-up frustrations? Addictions to pornography? Risky online dating? Experimentation with drugs, smoking, and alcohol? They look around themselves and do not find any role models, and depictions on TV and films are caricatures in comic roles who are being laughed at. They don’t want to be like them–mocked or made fun of.

All this can lead to a lot of stress and what do they do with this unbearable stress? Self-harm? Yes. A lot of transgender teens experience so much dysphoria and hate towards their own bodies that they are forced to self-harm. Sometimes it takes sharp physical pain to deviate one’s mind from the mental pain they are going through. What then, when this doesn’t help? Give up? A lot of transgender children attempt and die by suicide. That is the single most important cause of death among transgender children worldwide, Death by suicide, and this is how childhood, which was to be a beautiful phase, ends.

Can we change this? Yes, we can.

What do we need to do? We need to re-examine our values, beliefs, and ideals. We need to weed out the old beliefs of hetero-normativity in the light of the science, lived experiences, and value of human life. We need to re-align ourselves and re-educate ourselves and the people around us. We need to accept that children, like flowers, come in different forms, shapes, colors, and smell, and to fit them into only two types is neither natural nor just.

This Children’s Day let’s make childhood beautiful again, for all children, including transgender children.

Featured image for representation only.
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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.

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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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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.

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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.”

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

Bidisha was selected in’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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