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I for Intersex: Interview With Shakti Sri Maya (Part 2)

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

On Friday, June 19, I attended a webinar ‘Intersex Voices’ organised by IHRI, SAATHII, Solidarity Foundation and Nirangal. I am grateful to Dr Shruthi Chakravarthi for letting me know about it. I thank Pushpa Achanta from Solidarity Foundation for helping me connect with Maya, and Maya herself for being the most graceful person to talk to.

Shakti Sri Maya is an intersex rights activist from Chittoor, Andhra Pradesh. She is the co-founder of Intersex Human Rights India. “Being the co-founder of IHRI, I have been learning a lot about intersex people, variations among them and their conditions. Also, the IHRI has a WhatsApp group that has many intersex persons and Shubha, the founder of Solidarity Foundation, who keep me updated. We all are working together to implement the rights for intersex persons and struggling to get them implemented. But we’re working on it and hope they get implemented soon,” she says.

Rupsa Nag (RN): What entails intersex identity?

Shakti Sri Maya (SSM): Even within intersex identities, there are many variations. I have five-alpha reductase deficiency. In Class 9, my parents took me to a hospital because I experienced bleeding on the onset of puberty. I don’t remember the doctor’s name, but that doctor prescribed me some medicines, and after a few days, I underwent a small surgery because of urinary problems. I consulted many doctors who gave me different reasons for my condition. At the Bharathiraja Hospital in Chennai, I was told that I am a transgender and can undergo SRS. So people say different things and are often unaware.

Initially, I identified myself as gay and felt comfortable with that identity. After some time, I wanted to become a female, and started with my transition. The doctor warned me about getting health problems, which I was okay with. It took some time, but my parents agreed to the procedure so I underwent vaginoplasty. As far as government hospitals are concerned, I never received proper care there, so I choose to go to private hospitals. There are no healthcare policies or government provisions to help us with the cost of these surgeries. I request legal and healthcare centres to treat the intersex community equal to everyone else. We’re treated like aliens, and many people are not aware of the medical knowledge about our community. I wish people make and effort to make themselves more aware and keep themselves updated.

RN: Could you elaborate on the ignorance in society around the intersex identity?

SSM: Due to lack of medical knowledge and exposure about them, intersex people feel uncomfortable coming out to society. There are many intersex variations — even single variations have sub-variations, but most people do not even know what intersex is. They feel intersex people are pretending, making themselves appear different from others. Often, they conflate intersex and trans identities. Only people who are very close to me know my true gender identity. Most people do not even understand trans-identity, so if I say I am intersex, they’ll ask several unwanted questions that I’m not ready to answer.

RN: Do caste and religion also play a role?

SSM: Yes, caste plays a major role as I have experienced. When I went to Bangalore and was searching for a house, I identified as a transwoman to people, right after which they’d ask me which caste I belong to. This has happened everywhere, while searching for a house, at a friend’s place, and at more places.

RN: Menstruation is a stigma and a gendered concept. Like you’ve already said, society is deeply ignorant about intersex persons. What are the struggles around menstruation for intersex persons?

SSM: Menstruation is something that occurs to me naturally, people find it weird when they come to know about it. In my experience, menstruation is a challenge because it becomes difficult to use men’s restroom. There is no sanitary napkin disposal and travel becomes risky because of fungal infection, especially because sitting is a problem. What affects our mental health the most is a gendered understanding of menstruation in society. Intersex persons are taunted by society, which often pushes them into depression as they start underestimating themselves. It hinders the process of self-realisation and self-care for us.

RN: How accessible would you say healthcare is for intersex persons?

SSM: There’s a scarcity of healthcare resources for intersex persons. For example, I cannot be healthy for even a single day without my medicines, especially because of hormonal imbalance. The medicines are too costly and it takes Rs 4,000-6,000 to place an order. Regular sanitary napkins are not enough in my experience. Due to frequent infections, we need proper napkins that differ from person to person. Apart from that, there are tissues, wet wipes, V-wash and period underwear. Before my transition, I used to get infections wuite often, so I started using prescribed products. Even within Whisper pads, there are variations. I get mine from a nearby pharmacist, but they aren’t always available in all medical shops.

RN: As you said, medicines are costly but crucial for your health. Could you tell me more about the economic aspect of it?

SSM: I have several health issues — sinusitis, abnormal bleeding, hormonal imbalance, and back and joint pains. For all this, I need proper treatment that costs around Rs 7,000-8,000 per month. My parents and some organisations help me bear its cost sometimes. But other times, the treatment isn’t possible due to my economic condition, so I shall be glad if I get help from some organisation for my medicines.

Image has been provided by the author.

RN: How has the lockdown affected health and healthcare for you?

SSM: The lockdown has affected me both physically and mentally. I fell into depression and even fell sick. My sinusitis has become severe, but I am unable to go to the hospital due to the pandemic. Pharmacies have run out of stock too so I still have trouble getting medicines. I am working, but getting paid less due to the lockdown. So all circumstances combined give me a tough time mentally. I also have my family to take care of — my mother, father, brother  and my daughter. I adopted her from my cousin. She is four years old.

RN: That is beautiful. Please share your experience of being a mother.

SSM: I completed my transition a year ago and always wanted to adopt a girl child. Two years ago, my mother asked me, “What about your lineage? Your heritage is complete in itself. Since you won’t get married and cannot conceive, how do you want to deal with it?” In that situation, I decided to adopt, though not legally, because I don’t have a job as stable as I would like it to be, and have other commitments like completing my transition properly, which needs one more surgery as I’m facing some health issues.

So I discussed with my mother that I can take care of a girl, so right now, I am taking care of my daughter completely. We talked to her parents and my mother explained to them my situation, and they happily agreed. I love her and she loves me too.

Lives of not just intersex persons, but also that of people from other identities within the LGBTIQA+ community entail many struggles. I faced a lot of discrimination in my life from my family, friends and society; it’s everywhere. But when I see my daughter, I feel so happy. I forget everything immediately, feel positive and think that no matter what I face, I need to go ahead because there are obstacles in everybody’s lives. So I should face them and I should shine.

Note: This article is the second part of a two-part series. You can read the first part here

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