CHENNAI : Thirty-four-year-old Nila M is a huge fan of actor Suriya. When she watched his film, Unai Ninaithu, she swooned every time he came on screen and could not stop herself from picturing herself as his love interest in the movie. The catch was that she was a woman trapped in a man’s body at that time.
“I was constantly teased in school for the way I walked, talked and behaved,” the transwoman said. “Growing up was very tough because I would always want to wear my cousin sister’s clothes but my family just did not accept it. My father tried very hard to ‘make me a man’ because people had begun to say all sorts of things about me. As a part of his efforts to instill masculinity in me, he enrolled me in a Karate class that I never enjoyed.”
Though Karate wasn’t her cup of tea, dance certainly was.
“I felt like myself when I danced. It still brings me great joy when I dance but the art form is not considered ‘masculine’.”If going to school was tough, college was even harder. She enrolled for a Diploma in Pharmacy but had to discontinue the course within six months of joining due to ragging about her sexuality.
“It was a nightmare,” she said. “People would call me all sorts of dirty names. They made me feel like I was unworthy and my confidence took a real beating. I slipped into depression.” To make ends meet, Nila joined a BPO and a chance encounter with few transwomen in Tambaram changed her life, she said. For the first time, she felt she had found people who understood her. She used to work at the office during the day and spent the nights with the transwomen.
“I did get into prostitution at that point,” she recounted. “I was leading a double life then. At work, I was trying to be a man, but with the transpeople at night, I felt like myself.” Soon she quit her job at the BPO and was involved in prostitution for a few years and there was a point where she was begging on the streets too. However, she said she did not like doing sex work so she decided to get back to pursuing a Bachelors in Pharmacy and this time, she completed it. Though this instilled self confidence in her, she was still ‘acting like a man’ in front of her family.
She worked in Pudukottai at the Adhayam Trust where she was adopted by her transmother Jayabharati in Thanjavur district and used the money she earned to pay her college fee. On one of her trips to Chennai, she mustered the courage to tell her family that she was a transwoman. “My mother’s immediate reaction was, ‘Is there some injection that we can give you that could possibly change things?’”
It took a while for her mother to come to terms with her identity but when she finally did, she only had two conditions for her — no begging and no sex work. She wanted Nila to be a role model. And that is what Nila is. She has a foundation — PHARM (People Health Action And Research Management Organization) and also works for Periferry as a community manager. She looks at uplifting the community and providing opportunities to them by promoting diversity and inclusion in workplaces apart from organising various sensitisation programmes.