When was the last time someone asked you, how you knew you’re straight? Or better yet, why were you straight?
When was the last time, an entire society questioned your intentions or morality for liking someone?
When was the last time, you faced discrimination in education, career opportunities, medical treatment, or housing, on the grounds of your identity?
When was the last time, your family or friends called you a freak for being yourself?
Lately, a lot of talks have been flying around, about our lack of tolerance towards certain communities in the society. But the question that boggles my mind is this: Would you rather be tolerated or accepted?
Suhan (Name has been altered for intended purposes) is a 35 year old engineer, living in Bangalore. A Banarasi, whose familial roots stem from Tamilnadu, Suhan identifies himself as a transgender man: a minority within the marginalized LGBTQIA community in India.
Despite the persisting hetero-stereotyping in the society which makes one’s identity crisis, a strenuous affair in itself, Suhan considered himself a boy from his early years. He grew up playing gilli-danda and kanchi-goli, driving auto-rickshaws, and fighting with other boys on the streets. “I never felt like a woman. The stereotypical need of the society, to categorize infants as boys or girls, and dress them and address them accordingly for the rest of their lives, has never made sense to me. It came as a shock to me, growing up, when I realized I wasn’t like the other boys.”
Dressing up in Ganji shirts and shorts, hanging out with the milk and vegetable vendors, or the older boys outside the house, can only makes things worse for a girl born into a conservative family. A tom-boy is widely mocked upon, especially if the woman belongs to the middle class, regardless of the cheesy manner in which Bollywood has employed the term for the macho fuck boy’s benefit; where he “realizes” his feelings for the girl only after the tomboy-to-girly girl transformations (Thus insinuating, that a transformation is ineludible) Exhibit A: Main hoon na; Exhibit B: Kuch Kuch hota hai. (Thank you, Bollywood, for engraving sexism into our society, and resolving our dearth of it.)
Even though the society considers this a phase that wanes off with matters of marriage; the mockery, insults and abuses that follow her like a shadow don’t. Those scars can last a lifetime.
Expecting a girl to be seen in frocks and sarees, asking her to behave in lady-like manners, manipulating anything different into mediocre has been a rule of thumb of the patriarchy. In nature, a flock will attack any bird that is more colorful than the rest. Because being different is seen as a threat. After all, how different are we from animals, right?
As a high-energy child, Suhan knew deep-down that there was something different about him. All of his childhood and most parts of his youth were spent in a pretense to fit in. Distraught with early sexual abuses, Suhan felt lost for over a quarter of his lifetime. “Accepting the fact that I was a transgender and addressing my issues only happened in my early thirties. Until then, I’d lived a choked life. The feeling that I was hiding something from my family made me hate myself further. But I didn’t know whom to look for advice.”
Suhan had experienced sexual abuses, from the age of four. The same hands that showed support had laid the foundation of destruction. “Being different, attracted a lot of attention. I was molested by bhaiyya’s, cousins, uncles, the maid’s husband and her older son. It broke my heart that these father figures were only interested in me, sexually. It neither made sense to me, nor felt right. I didn’t speak up; I didn’t complain. I am ashamed of it. But in my mind, this was a compromise. Else, they wouldn’t talk to me or play with me. The horrifying part was that after a certain time, I think I liked it.”
Suhan was considered a problematic child, in his teens. The scars from his troubled past, coupled with the blackmails and abuses of his older girlfriend threatening to out him to his family, took a drastic toll on his academics and behavior. The people in his life resolved to the easier option of blaming and condemning him when things went south, than understand why. When someone grows to dislike you, even the way you breathe can seem annoying.
“As a 14-15 year old, when everyone in your family gangs up on you to dictate that there’s something wrong with you; you tend to believe it.”
When a child lives the life of an outcast, for no fault of his own; when the friends, family, and teachers in a child’s life, fail to recognize the underlying issue; yet criticizes, corrects and disciplines the child needlessly, how can the child not feel worthless?
“I struggled with my identity around my family. Being the youngest girl, I was my grandmother’s pet. Yet, I felt like a sham. I was betraying them of the truth. But, what could I possibly tell them when I myself didn’t understand why?” In some ways, Suhan was glad that he hadn’t let the cat out of the bag in a time when he was emotionally and financially dependent on the family. He was afraid they would have had him treated.
Alike many trans-men, Suhan initially believed he was a lesbian. It was only after two years of intensive therapy, did he come out to his family as a transgender man. “My sister believed that I was out of my depth. Even when she knew the whole story, she would try to talk me out of it, as though being transgender was a choice. It’s just a phase, she’d said. She was absolutely against the idea of me coming out to our parents. But at the end of the day, family is family. I had to tell them. Whether they chose to accept me, or not, either way, it was okay. So when I’d mustered the courage to come out, I flew out of U.S and met my folks discreetly (without my sister’s knowledge).”
Although his parents didn’t practice physical abuse on Suhan; they simply didn’t want to deal with it, due to the fear of disrupting the family reputation. After months of group-therapy sessions, when they were able to see beyond their deep-seated fears, his parents came around.
“Yet, to convince my sister to refer me by new name was a gargantuan task. Every time I brought it up, she would turn it into a debate. In those periods of my life, it felt as though I was falling into a deep abyss, with no bottom. The one person I wanted to count on didn’t understand me.”
In situations such as these, we only hear about the need for acceptance. But what about forgiveness? Even though, a lot of mistreatment towards the LGBTQIA community is rooted out of fear and ignorance how can we- as a society expect to be forgiven, just because we’ve finally accepted someone; especially when our un-acceptance had put them through years of shame and agony in the first place. Acceptance can only come half-circle; the other half must be forgiveness.
“A few years ago, I’d spoken to an elderly woman, about who I was. I’m not a girl- I’d said. Deep down, I’ve always felt like a boy, although I was born a girl. That’s just the way it is. The old lady neither tried to shame nor did she pass her opinion. She didn’t question me as to why I was- the way I was, or demand any explanations. She didn’t allude it was a phase. Instead, she’d replied- Its okay beta, don’t worry. Live your life the way god intends to, and be happy. And this lady was an illiterate; a villager. She didn’t know what gay, lesbian or transgender was. She hadn’t come across terms such as gender dysphoria, Transphobia, interpersonal relationships, cooperation, stereotyping, discrimination, in her life. But she knew the roots of human existence- compassion. When you have love and compassion for another person, you’ll never question their need for existence, their need for basic rights.”
We want each story to have a beginning, middle, and an end; wrapped up neatly in a bow, so that we can read it and move on with our lives. Our hearts wish for the narration of a tale with a happy ending, as the jigsaw puzzle of a life is put back together, piece by piece, and the picture finally makes sense when the upbeat music starts playing in the background. But real life stories are not made in the chunks of a beginning, middle or an end, although every story will have these, but not in the same order.
The fairy tale of our life is written in the little moments. Oh, those little moments? Yeah they aren’t little, in retrospect. They are the tiny pieces of the jigsaw puzzle, when life chooses to reside in us. Who knows what the big picture is all about, when the future remains an unknown constant. Maybe, we are meant to go about our lives, collecting and celebrating those little moments. After all, who said life is beautiful, only when the picture is complete?
P.S: Suhan hopes to get a sex-reassignment surgery done in the near future, and continues to take each day as it comes.