CHENNAI : It started in 2006 when I was studying journalism in UK. That was the time when civil partnerships between gay and lesbian couples were being recognised and trans movement was gaining momentum. I thought looking at trans rights would be interesting. So, I chose trans rights in India vs the UK as the topic for my documentary — ‘M/F/?’,” says author Nandini Krishnan, who is set to launch her book, Invisible Men —Inside India’s Tansmasculine Network on December 14.
In 2006, Nandini visited a transgender settlement in Pukkathurai near Chengelpet to gather details for the documentary. Here, she met Selvam, a transman, who is one of the prominent characters in the book. “He claimed that he was the only transman on earth, and when I said that I have met many transmen in the West, he looked visibly confused. There was no awareness. That’s how unknown transmen were to transmen.”
Working on the documentary opened up unexplored perspectives and startling facts for Nandini. “In India, because of the Jamaad system, the transgender community could organise themselves and lobby more powerfully. Arguably, they faced relatively less prejudice and hatred in India than in the West. Transphobia in the UK is a terrible thing. There have been instances when transwomen have been beaten up in bathrooms.” The Jamaads or dormitories are places of refuge for the transgender children as the only recourse for them is to run away from their homes.
After the submission of the college project, Nandini got another opportunity to interact with the community in 2016 when she was working as a journalist. “I bumped into Selvam again and this time, he introduced me to other transmen. What started off as a long form ended up as a book,” she laughs.
Narrating a memorable interaction with a Kashmiri transman in Delhi, she says, “During his childhood (in the 90s), military checks were common in Kashmir. Indian soldiers would ask men to go out to the fields with ID cards. Even his brothers and male cousins would head out, but as he was trapped in a female body, he would be asked to stay inside. I remember this very fondly because probably he is the only Kashmiri who wanted the Indian army to search him.”
Talking about trans rights, she shares that there are rights on paper which are often not implemented. For example, the National Legal Services Authority Union of India (NALSA) judgement of 2014 gives people the right to choose their gender identity. In order to change your gender, people ask for all sorts of things. For instance, the gazette office demands sex reassignment surgery (SRS) certificate, which is unnecessary in my opinion. Even to place an advertisement in papers, many national dailies demand for a SRS certificate. In terms of rights, a lot exists on paper and a lot is celebrated, but nothing is implemented.
“The surgery is more expensive compared to that of a transwoman. Even though many can afford surgery, they do not want it. You might want to identify yourself as a non-binary rather than a male or a female,” she shares. The terms sex, gender, and sexual orientation are different, and they do not necessarily reflect on each other. Sex is biologically assigned — male, female or intersex.
Gender is one’s identification — male, female, non-binary, gender-fluid, or binary but tending towards any part of a spectrum, broadly cis or trans. Sexual orientation has to do with one’s attraction to a particular gender, not necessarily sex. You could be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, queer, or pansexual. And you could be any combination of sex, gender, and sexual orientation. “For both cis people and transpeople who are reading this, all of us need to be more open. It is about being open to the fact that there is a lot that we do not know,” says Nandini.
As per the free sex reassignment surgery (SRS) scheme, which some states have, the surgery is free but not the medicines or hospital charges. So, you eventually end up spending at least `50,000