Transgenders enjoy cultural programmes organised by Punarjani Cultural Society in Kozhikode | File Photo: Mathrubhumi
While the whole world celebrates Women’s Day with all its might and grandeur on March 8, we often fail to notice or deliberately turn a blind eye towards a group of people, who identify themselves as women, yet still awaits the society to feel the same.
Trans women, as we call them, face severe hardships, discrimination and neglect, and are most often forced to go through burdening struggles and hostile conditions in our country. According to 2011 census figures, Kerala was home to 3,902 transgenders 10 years back. In contemporary times, the numbers must have soared with more people finding the courage to burst out of the binary cocoons and accept themselves courageously.
Nevertheless, marginalised from the mainstream, these people are often kicked out from their own families, the very moment they reveal their identity, owing to lack of awareness and acceptance prevailing in our society. Transgenders do not choose to beg in streets or engage in exhausting sexwork. But, when it comes to a mere question of survival, they are left with limited options.
Although there are rules prohibiting discrimination against transgender people (Transgender Persons Protection of Rights Act, 2019), the community is still ostracized in society and cannot take up job offers or continue education due to lack of accommodation facility.
Isn’t it high time that we change these stigma and stereotypes surrounding LGBTQAI community and embrace them as fellow beings, regardless of gender norms? Shouldn’t we be inclusive, rather than finding new means to discriminate one another? Do trans women feel accepted in our so-called progressive society?
On Women’s Day, Mathrubhumi shared these concerns with a few trans women activists, who through their ardent perseverance and dedication have climbed a path towards achievement and acceptance. Here's what they have to say:
Ensure gender justice first, then talk about gender equality: Vijayarajamallika, Transgender poet
The term woman itself needs to be updated. There are many people among us, including cis-genders, who wish to identify themselves as woman. However their problems are not being addressed by anyone. For instance, in my case, I was recently invited to speak at an IT firm in Thiruvananthapuram on Women's Day. They asked me to take a session on 'Journey to Womanhood'. I agreed to do so and booked my tickets. However, later they rang me up and said that I will not be given any payment and should take the session for free.
Our society is still living within the three boundaries of man, woman and reproduction. No one is ready to move out of these preset rules and roam free. As far as I see, people don't want transgender people to rise to positions of authority. That is the reason why no political party in our state has so far accepted the nomination of a trans woman.
We speak a lot about attaining gender equality. But I say, we need to first speak about gender justice and then aim for gender equality. Financial independence, political power and nomination to participatory committees are utmost necessary for the upliftment of trans woman and our community. We have to create visibility for transgenders. Only then, we can bring about changes.
Promises left unfulfilled: Heidi Saadiya, Transgender Journalist
In our patriarchal society, women have been struggling to gain an equal space for a long time now. When it comes to being a trans woman, the situation is a lot worse. For the past seven years, I have been getting professionally busy on Women's Day, taking part in various programmes and activities. However, all of the promises made are still remaining as words. We are going and speaking out loud about our rights, but there aren't many progressive changes.
As far as I have noticed, social acceptance towards our community has gone up to a certain extent in Kerala. It is difficult to break the conditioned norms nourished in a patriarchal society which still finds it wrong for women to do certain things that are casually done by men. However, once we break these norms, accepting the other will become easier.
There are numerous post graduate trans women who are unable to find jobs of their interest and are forced to do sexwork for a livelihood. In addition, sexwork is a job that strains your body too much. Lack of opportunities is a major crisis faced by our community.
In Kerala, even when it comes to renting an apartment, transgender people are generally charged higher rates, often multifold of what is charged from cisgenders. We also have not had any support from the government in terms of employment opportunities.
Social acceptance of transgenders is only bragging: Renju Renjimar, celebrity make-up artist
What needs to be noted is that most people think about transgenders as some ‘other community’. However, in my perspective I don’t belong to another community. I am a woman completely. People have categorised us and that’s the only difference.
I wish to be addressed as a ‘woman’ not 'trans woman'. If I have changed myself into a woman, then I definitely wish to be identified and treated like a woman. Nevertheless, there are a group of people, including mainstream media, who are highlighting the issues of only cis-gender women. In reality, we are struggling more than them. The whole process of undergoing sex reassignment surgery is itself very difficult and dangerous.
Once we step into the society, the situation worsens further. When we desire to begin a family life, we are denied opportunities. We are not able to live a life of our desire or have a partner of our choice. Yet, We cannot change the mentality of people. If they wish to change themselves, then they may. However, I hope that the new generation will bring about changes.
Gender equality should be seen in action, in our families, at workplaces and among partners. I don’t think the term will ever attain its complete meaning in our society. Saying that transgender communities are being accepted nowadays is nothing short of bragging!