HYDERABAD: For & Bi collective recently organized ‘Translate– Talks by Trans People,’ celebrating trans awareness week, wherein six speakers and two performers shared thoughts and experiences highlighting the need to create safe and inclusive spaces and provide greater opportunity for work.
Hosted by Aditya Raja, the talk was commenced by Dr Kiran B Nayak, a prominent figure in transgender and disability activism. Nayak hails from Narsampet, Warangal and actively works for the issues of transmen visibility and persons with disabilities. “In as much as I was a student union and student rights organizer, as an activist, and as much as I worked on disability rights, I was treated fairly well. But no sooner than my personal life and my love affair with another woman came to the forefront, I ‘fell out of grace and fell out of place.’I had to take up mountainous challenges. I started a volunteer group of 21 people in Karnataka, which is now blossoming into some 300 and more,” he said.
Following Nayak, Suravi Tarafdar shed light on misogyny, bigotry, and discrimination inherent in Indian filmmaking. “Fire, directed by Deepa Mehta, faced backlash for its portrayal of lesbian relationships. The release of My Brother Nikhil, a film highlighting HIV AIDS, and homosexuality, faced challenges in the conservative circles. The film, directed by Onir, received praise for its sensitive portrayal but also ignited debates about societal acceptance. The uproar surrounding this film reflects the deeply rooted biases that persist in our society. Also, the lack of diversity among queer filmmakers is a testament to the barriers that exist. While we celebrate the talent from cities like Mumbai, the voices from small cities often remain unheard,” they said.
This was followed by poignant poetry titled ‘Silences,’ by Debbie Das, which evoked powerful emotions in the audience. Her personal experiences and carefully crafted pauses on stage added depth to a thought-provoking narrative, emphasizing the importance of storytelling in fostering understanding and empathy. “Maybe we need an uprising since our words don’t count. Trans people don’t overthrow governments. They take punch after punch. For breakfast, we have false promises, and for lunch, police brutality. Trans people don’t overthrow governments and that’s why we need an uprising. Maybe we don’t settle for the change tossed at us. Maybe we change everything that’s broken,” she said.
Patricia Chris challenged societal norms by discussing transness beyond binaries. They addressed the invisibilisation of queer individuals who do not conform to cisgender expectations, advocating for a more inclusive and accepting society. “I don’t think clothes have gender, I don’t think hair has gender, I don’t think accessories are put together in gender, I don’t think any of these things have gender. I think, they’re just there, it’s up to you if you want to embrace it. Sadly it comes with such a difficult cost, to embrace your body when society constantly is trying to put you in virulence and you’re just like, you know what, I like it,” she said.
Vyjayanti Vasala Mogli, transgender rights activist, shared the harrowing story of Pandian, a transperson from Tamil Nadu who faced custodial torture and sexual assault by the Vyasarpadi police in Chennai. Vyjayanti underscored that the victory of decriminalization of homosexuality owed much to the courage of Pandian and others who endured similar circumstances. She also informed the audience that the derogatory and dehumanizing Telangana Eunuch’s Act of 1919 has now been brought down from the statute books.
Emphasizing another form of storytelling, Patruni Sastry captivated the audience with an enchanting drag performance titled ‘Ghar,’ drawing attention to the importance of private and safe residential spaces for the transgender community.
“Directors I reach out to tell me that I cannot play the roles of transgender persons onscreen because of my ‘too feminine’ appearance. That in itself is demeaning and invisibilising. I do not give up and further put out a demand for female roles but I am denied for those roles as well,” said Harshini Mekala, who talked about the discrimination and marginalization of transpersons in the filmmaking industry.
The last speaker of the evening was Tashi Choedup, who began with the historical exclusion of women from the Buddhist sangha and highlighted the hypocrisy present in organizations that claim to create inclusive spaces while maintaining power dynamics. Choedup emphasized the need for genuine efforts to sensitize individuals and address the challenges faced by marginalized communities.