As awesome as it can get: An Indian website by and for transgenders

The website aims to educate transgender youth and give them positive role models to look up to.
As awesome as it can get: An Indian website by and for transgenders
As awesome as it can get: An Indian website by and for transgenders
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Neysara Rai was 23 years old when she came out to her family about her gender identity – that of a transgender woman.

“I came out to them after I had completed my engineering and was confident that I could earn a decent livelihood,” Neysara, who has since undergone a sex reassignment surgery and has transitioned, says.

“After the initial shock,” she says, “my family wanted to try if this was something correctable for which they took me to spiritual babajis, doctors, psychiatrists, etc. My sisters and their husbands thought that I was wanting to be a hijra.”

The notion that all transgender persons want to become hijras is not an uncommon one in the country. To bust such stereotypes and educate young transgender individuals, who might believe so too, a group of Indian transgender persons, including Neysara, have launched the website Transgender India.

The website aims to be a platform where transgenders can discuss doubts regarding gender identities and share personal stories and experiences. It also will serve as an information bank that can be referred to at any time.

It is content for transgenders created and put together by transgenders as opposed to the widely common practice of cis people (people who identify with the gender assigned at birth) writing everything from articles to policies on the former community’s issues.

“Most transgender people are considered hijras. Hijra may be a dignified name of an ancient Indian community, but is a derogatory slur when used to refer to a transgender person who doesn't belong to the Hijra community. The hijra community operates as a business model. Majority of the Hijra community is involved in organized sex trade and begging,” she asserts. “We want to educate young people for the challenges that they may face in the future. We want them to know that there are transgender people who have regular jobs and lead ordinary lives,” she states.

Neysara’s story of “gender dysphoria”, she says, is different from that of most people, mainly for one specific reason. She was also abused as a child.

“I went through severe child molestation by a gang of my maternal uncles from the age of 4 to 14 (when I finally gathered courage and muscle strength to stop them). I feel these 10 years of my life affected my child psychology a lot. This fiddled with my psychosexual development as a child. From a very early age I was a lonely child. I was too scared to play with my male cousins or classmates. When I came out to my family about my gender identity, I told them my child abuse history and that I think it could be a reason that I feel this way.”

Her father cried that day – he had never thought a male child could be molested – and apologized to her for failing to protect her.

Today, Neysara runs a business in Mangaluru but no one other than her immediate family knows she is a transsexual woman.

"No one in my social circle knows about it. It is a more dignified way of living. The moment you come out, you are judged. At the end of the day, my private medical information is a personal issue and I may not want to tell it to everybody,” she asserts.

With such stories, the website wants to give young transgender persons “positive role models” to look up to.

Neysara says, "The transgender community is one of the most misrepresented communities in our country. The so-called transgender activists and representative we have in our country now, all of them are hijra representatives. They do a lot of good work but only to help the hijra people. Even though some of them have got honorary doctorates, the reality is that they have not even cleared class 10, hence they do not understand the concept of gender diversity beyond the problems faced by the hijra community."

She states that, "The current hijra activists have failed to help the transgender umbrella meaningfully. Instead because of the organized sex trade and begging that is done by the visible hijra community, young trans kids are afraid of coming out as trans, because they will be immediately misjudged by their parents and society to be hijra."

The idea of starting this non-funded project cropped up from a WhatsApp group that the group had to connect and help the transgender community. 

The website is run by six people from across the country. 

Every month, the group gets calls on its 24x7 helpline from around 10-15 transgender youth facing gender issues. They are then assigned into smaller groups under the mentorship of persons who have transitioned.

When the young trans people first call them they are, as Neysara puts it, in the “hijra” mode. The only form of existence they see is by being part of the hijra community in the future with many of them taking to begging or getting sucked into sex trade. Depression among young transgender people is naturally also very high leading to higher suicide rates, she says.

They are counselled and explained that they too can work in banks or software companies and lead ordinary lives. “It changes their perception towards life.”

Neysara goes on to talk about how not all those who belong to the Hijra community can be viewed as perpetrators. “Just because a person is caught in a system, it does not make them wrong. Two days ago, three hijras were rescued from sex trade by Gopi Shankar Madurai (a transgender activist). Last year a hijra Guru from Vizag burnt a hijra woman to death, after chopping off both her breasts. This was a punishment for trying to run away from him.  But such news never make headlines. If it happens to women, it becomes an issue. But trans lives dont matter much in this country” she says wryly.

After her coming out of the closet, Neysara’s sister asked her why she did not inform them about her child abuse earlier. “Even today I don’t know why I didn’t tell them. Maybe because like any other Indian family, my family too never spoke about sex to children.”

Transgender India’s helpline is 7338321413. The group is looking for volunteers who can help them grow the site with their skills.

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