S Mohana from the transgender community waged a war within herself, fought social bias and sexuality, and finally stood up against all odds to land a job as a receptionist at Kolapasi Takeaway, Choolaimedu
CHENNAI: I was born in Pattukottai, a town in Thanjavur district where most people didn’t even know the meaning of the term, transgender. They used to assume that a transgender person is just a male dressing up as a female, for money. We were four of us in the house including two brothers and my mother.I realised my gender identity when I was 15 but lacked the confidence to tell anyone. Dressed in shirts and trousers, I hid my true identity fearing society. When dramas and dance productions were staged during special occasions, I never used to miss donning the female role — I rejoiced in being my true self.
I later shifted to Coimbatore to pursue higher education and post-graduation (MSc in Chemistry) following which I landed a job as an assistant manager in a courier company. Back then, getting a job was easy because I was still posing as a male. Or should I say, struggling as a male? Imagine this: One day, you wake up to find out you are of the opposite gender but people force you to not react. You have to go everywhere posing as somebody you are not. I used to cry all night and again in the morning, wear trousers and head to work.
It was 2009, a regular day at work. A group of transgenders came up to me and asked if I was one of them. They said they had been observing me and my mannerisms for a while. That moment, I broke down. I finally found somebody who I could open up to. Since then, every Sunday, we would all meet up at a friend’s house and talk our heart out. But, I still posed as a male fearing the flak. Even when I was a male, a few mannerisms of mine — like the way I walked or talked were mocked about often. I could not imagine what would happen if I came out.
The same year, I shifted to Chennai in search of work. The scene in Chennai was completely different. There were many NGOs ready to hear us out and help. But, stepping outside as a transgender was (is) a taboo. After many job trials and rejections because of my sexual identity (despite holding a Master’s degree), I started working at an orphanage in Tambaram in 2012.
Even in the orphanage, I had to dress up like a man because the owners were worried that the children would feel uncomfortable. I wanted to burn the dress I was wearing and scream, “This is not me!” But, to survive in this not-so-inclusive-world, there was no other option. I had heard instances of transgenders being physically assaulted after coming out at their workplaces. So, I did not want to talk, but fight with my own self.
Finally, in 2015, I gathered the courage to get a sex reassignment surgery done at the Rajiv Gandhi Government Hospital and from that moment, though I was at peace with myself, finding jobs became a herculean task.Nobody even looked at my resume because I was a transgender. I could no longer hide it. I stayed at my friend’s home, but I could not depend on her for everything...she was also going through a lot of problems for being a transgender.
I moved to Madurai for two years and till 2017, I earned money by dancing in street plays and other functions. I was humiliated and taunted, but still gathered some courage and came back to Chennai in 2017. Even here, I only managed to get the job of a cook at a ladies hostel in Egmore.
In 2018, help came in the form of a Chennai Corporation shelter home that helped people from the transgender community get jobs. The shelter home gave me hope. With the help of other NGOs, I attended an interview for the post of a receptionist-cum-cashier at Kolapasi Takeaway in Choolaimedu and got the job. That gave a major boost not only to me but many others in my community.But my story is just one among the thousands that have gone unheard. Despite all the awareness, discrimination continues. The delivery boys and visitors of the eatery respect me for what I am. So, all we need is an opportunity to shine. There are other transgenders forced into certain professions due to lack of inclusiveness. I strive to break that someday.
(As told to KV Navya)