Drawing Transgender Youth Into the Mainstream

Saying that being a transgender youth in India can be extremely stressful would be a grave understatement. The effects of oscillating between wanting to be accepted in society and wanting to hide one’s identity from the fear of being shunned can be damaging and force many to live a life plagued with depression, stress, and anxiety, and in worse cases contemplating suicide. Not conforming to societal norms can instigate self-hatred and young people are way more prone to it as they are at a tender age where fitting in is extremely important. The struggle with being transgender is not entirely internal either. Too many cases of oppression and physical and sexual violence against trans people have been recorded to be ignored as a mere coincidence which they are definitely not. There is a need then to create that safe space that trans youth can feel like they belong and lead healthy lives without being discriminated against. There is a need to draw them in the mainstream without being subject to stigma or oppression.

Mona Varonica Campbell is one such example of a transgender youth who rose above the hardships of her life and dared to follow her dream even if the odds were stacked against her. Born a boy in a regular old household in Andhra Pradesh, Campbell could always sense a misalignment with her assigned gender. Scoring 90th rank in a medical examination, she was all ready to tread the path that had been already carved for her. But her true passion was fashion and she could no longer ignore her transgender identity. Mona discarded the idea of medical school and instead graduated from NIFT Hyderabad, supporting her education all by herself by working in the retail fashion industry. Not too long after Campbell underwent medical surgery to become a woman. She became India’s first plus-sized transgender model when she walked the ramp for Lakme Fashion Week, in September 2017. At a young age of 28, she is already the very image of body positivity and has broken all kinds of barriers to establish a footing in such a niche field. Even though fashion is a fairly inclusive industry, Campbell has become an inspiration for many who may never even have dreamed of being a part of it.

To have more people like Mona come forward and exhibit their talents it is essential to understand what the term transgender means because several attributes of being a transgender do not conform to the familiar and widely accepted binary classification of gender into male and female, and can, and often does, result in discrimination. According to Wikipedia, the term transgender is used to refer to any individual whose gender identity or gender expression differs from the sex assigned to them at birth. It is also an umbrella term broadly categorizing people whose gender identity is the opposite of their assigned sex and may include people who are not exclusively masculine or feminine. Wanting to fit people into neat boxes of men and women may be the root cause of the problem, masculinity and femininity should instead be looked at as a spectrum with people identifying to be more masculine or feminine independent of the sex they were born with.

Torn between this tug of war of sexes was another trans youth by the name of Angad Gummaraju. Being a constant subject to bullying and harassment through his young years, partly due to not conforming to the gender roles of men and in part due to finding other men attractive, Angad channeled his energy into cracking the entrance exam to one of the most prestigious medical schools in the country. He had battled depression in his young years and medical school has come as a breath of fresh air for the young and intelligent woman that is now Dr. Trinetra Gummaraju. She had never lost touch with her artistic side and had only honed those skills further wearing a doctor’s coat. Moving to the girl’s hostel from the boys’, Trinetra has all kinds of faith in her transformation and her own self, coming from a place of extreme confusion and self-doubt, this is nothing short of a miracle. Dr. Gummaraju’s latest endeavors involve making a short yet graphic film about the reality of transgenders in our country which does not allow the watcher to remain a passive bystander and compels them to listen to all the voices that otherwise go unheard.

On April 14th 2015 a legislation was passed to legally recognize the transgender community. It may not have been much, but it was definitely a step in the right direction. Acceptance in society is no trivial matter when one does not conform to the norm, and this fear of not being accepted and being labelled as a deviant is what forces many transgender people to hide their true identity. Legal recognition can assist them to a degree in exercising their rights. It’s a start, but a lot more work needs to be done institutionally to provide trans youth with opportunities of leading a regular life which may seem like a distant dream to them even after three years of being legally recognized.

After three years, one thing has changed. The year 2017 witnessed the first Trans Queen contest ever to be held in India. And Nitasha Biswas, from kolkata, became the very first trans Queen of India as the winner of the contest. Standing in a place where she can inspire others who may find themselves in similar situations, Nitasha acknowledges that challenges are many, but as she puts it in her own words, “You have to finish your journey, no matter what.” She encourages young transgender people who may be struggling with stigma and harassment to stick it out through those tough years and is a strong advocate for teaching transgender anatomy in school, Education, Nitasha believes can change things at a fundamental level that would otherwise take a long time to take effect in society. She finds solace in the fact that regardless of the hardships and ostracization she may have face people have finally come around and accepted her for who she is. Becoming the first Trans Queen was definitely her biggest achievement so far, but Nitasha has no plans for stopping at that as now she has turned her focus to Bollywood.

The transgender community, especially the youth, needs more role models like Nitasha, Mona, and Trinetra. People that they can look up to who can be a symbol of hope and positivity. Pop culture, and all art in general, can have an overwhelming effect in making people feel represented and, in turn, accepted in a society. If the news is saturated with stories of unwarranted acts of violence against trans community, what message does that send to a young transgender person who wants to share his true identity with his family? It can instill a rather negative outlook towards life at a very young age. There needs to be a constant influx of success stories for a positive reinforcement for trans youth who may not even have the support of their families. Centuries of oppression and neglect puts transgender people at a severe disadvantage and they have to fight much harder for even the most basic of amenities.

Sensitizing the population definitely plays a big role and can improve the status quo by leaps and bounds. It is the society where these transgender people need to live and work, the people have a responsibility towards this minority group, to uplift them and make them a contributing part of the society. The government can pass bills and laws, but real change has to come from changing mindsets and real life examples. There’s a lot of potential at stake here, trans youth are an integral part of the population and with little assistance and acceptance can contribute to the society manifold as was evident from the stories.

Medical and healthcare facilities are another front that need to be upgraded and, in many cases, established from scratch to suit the needs of an estimated 4.8 lakhs of people around the country that identify as being transgender. From counselling by medical professionals including psychiatrists to setting up of gender dysphoria clinics that young trans people can have access to for guidance and appropriate healthcare will really bring them forward. Transgender youth lack almost all forms of support systems and are often driven to pump all kinds of drugs including estrogen the female hormone, in desperate need to be be accepted which obviously deteriorates their health even further. If proper institutions and protocols would be in place, trans youth will feel more at ease in coming out and becoming a part of the society.

Stories. Sometimes of words, sometimes of people.