In a ‘clarification’, DGCA claimed that there was no restriction on trans persons becoming pilots in India, including those on hormone therapy. Why then did they tell Adam Harry he will have to stop taking hormones to get his medical fitness test?

Trans pilot Adam Harry: Can he become a pilot in India? DGCA’s multiple confusing stands
news LGBTQIA+ Thursday, July 14, 2022 - 17:43

The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), which has been facing severe criticism from many quarters for blocking a transgender man’s ambition of becoming a pilot, has issued a clarification now that “there are no restrictions on Transgender people to obtain Pilot’s License and Ratings; subject to the individual ensuring compliance of relevant provisions of age, educational qualifications, medical fitness, knowledge experience etc. among other things as specified in Aircraft Rules, 1937.” (sic) The DGCA has also said that the trans man in question, Adam Harry, can reapply for a medical fitness examination, so that he can qualify to get a commercial pilot’s licence in India.

Welcoming the statement allowing him to reapply for his medical fitness test, Adam Harry tells TNM that he is happy that the DGCA has said there are no restrictions on transgender persons from becoming pilots in India. “It’s good that they have said this officially as this will give confidence to trans persons who want to pursue their ambitions.” Adam, who has a Private Pilot’s Licence from South Africa, has been fighting to fly in India as a licenced commercial pilot identified as a man.

However, Adam says that the DGCA’s claim that he hasn’t received his licence because he hasn’t finished his ground classes is misleading. “I attended several ground classes at the Rajiv Gandhi Academy for Aviation Technology,” Adam says, “but in order to get my South African Private Pilot’s licence converted here in India, I needed to get my South African licence updated. I went there to do it, and I got the medical clearance done without any trouble. Here, in India, they wanted me to stop taking hormones in order to get a licence, and this has been a tiring battle. I therefore got my academy changed to an aviation school in South Africa.”

The statement by the DGCA, which comes after it was pulled up by the Union Ministry of Social Justice, seems more intent on proving Adam wrong than providing proper redressal on a question of justice. It contradicts itself on many counts, and has also not represented what they told Adam before, as per emails accessed by TNM. The DGCA statement, sent out on July 13, 2022 by Group Captain YS Dahiya, says, “Use of hormonal replacement therapy is not disqualifying if the applicant has no adverse symptoms or reactions. However, flying duties are not permitted while the dose of hormonal treatment is being stabilized or until an adequate physiological response has been achieved and the dose no longer needs changing.”

On July 25, 2020, Adam had emailed Group Captain YS Dahiya, who is the director of medical services in the DGCA, asking, “I would like to know whether I should appear for my next examination with or without undergoing hormone therapy.” In a reply on July 27, 2020, Group Captain YS Dahiya said, “​​You will not be assessed as 'Fitness to Fly', as long as you are on therapy. Hence, requested to review only when off medications.” This is in direct contradiction to the new statement, which claims there is no restriction on trans persons who are taking hormones from getting a fitness certificate.

The DGCA has further disputed that they haven’t followed proper methods for ascertaining Adam’s fitness, claiming that they followed the same guidelines as the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). “On scrutiny of the medical reports submitted by his treating doctor, it was observed that Mr Adam Harry, was undergoing ‘Cross Sex Hormone Therapy’ for change of gender from ‘Female to Male’ and the therapy had to continue. The diagnosis of ‘Gender Dysphoria’ was stated in the same. Additionally, the essential ‘Mental Health Report’ was incomplete as the same was endorsed by his treating endocrinologist and not by a specialised Psychiatrist or Psychologist. In view of the above and owing to the ongoing hormonal therapy, he was assessed as ‘Temporary Unfit’ vide DGCA letter No AV/22025/02/DMS/Med dated 18 Mar 20, for a period of six months, w.e.f 03 Jan 20, so as to enable the individual to complete the treatment process and undergo a ‘Post Temporary Unfitness Review Medical Examination’ at IAM, IAF Bangalore including a detailed opinion of treating Endocrinologist & assessment by Psychiatrist/ Psychologist,” the DGCA says in their latest statement.

Adam however says he has submitted letters from both a psychiatrist and an endocrinologist to the DGCA. (TNM has seen copies of the medical reports.) Further, the DGCA’s requirement of ‘completing the treatment process’ lacks an understanding of how hormone replacement therapy works. There seems to be an assumption that once Adam’s transition is ‘complete’, including when his ‘physiology’ matches that of persons who are assigned male at birth, he will not need to take hormones. However, this is not the reality of trans lives — many of them must continue to be hormones for the rest of their lives. Dr Sanjay Kalra, an endocrinologist and President Elect of the Indian Professional Association for Transgender Health (IPATH), explains that there is very real harm to transgender lives from trying to fit people into binaries of man and woman. “It is one thing to use the binary classification for convenience, but the reality is that not everyone conforms to it. And when a person realises that they do not identify with their assigned gender, they experience gender dysphoria, which is extremely challenging. It takes a long time to find the strength and support to go through it and come out of it, and then, also opt for gender affirmative hormone intervention (GAHI) if they wish to,” he says.

Dr Sanjay prefers using the word ‘intervention’ over ‘therapy’ because the latter suggests treatment, and, he clarifies, transgender persons are not sick because they are trans. Adding to the World Health Organisation’s definition of health — “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” — Dr Sanjay says that a state of sustainable physical, mental and social well-being would make a person healthy. “A transgender person would need to be take hormones long-term because it is necessary for their health; much like water and air are essential. When a person starts transitioning, the intervention helps make them happy and healthy. And, when they are compelled to be taken off those hormones, it is a direct assault on their health, happiness and wellbeing. For a trans person to be sustainably emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy, they could require to be on hormones lifelong. Hormones do not just affect one part of the body. Even if a person who is transitioning to male has had top or bottom surgery, hormones would be required for them to maintain bone density, develop a deeper voice, drow facial hair, mould their physique, among other things, and maintain those,” he explains.

Experts like Dr Sanjay maintain that there is no arbitrary line that marks when a transition of a transgender person is “complete”, and whether they intake hormones or get gender affirming surgeries are not necessarily indications of the same. “What is happening with Adam directly affects his health and wellbeing. Besides, if a man can fly a plane and a woman can fly a plane, why can’t a trans person do the same? Endocrinologists need to sensitise authorities like the DGCA to view trans persons through a humane lens,” Dr Sanjay states.

The confused understanding of gender, sexuality, HRT and SOGIESC (sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics) is apparent in another part of DGCA’s statement. “Mr Adam Harry got his medical review done at IAM, IAF on 24 Aug 20 for Class 2 Initial Medical Assessment, while he was off hormone therapy treatment for ‘Gender Re-appropriation’. Hence, physiologically, he was a female at the time of examination. At that time, since Mr Adam Harry had not completed ‘Gender Reappropriation’ and the fact that he did not suffer ‘Gender Dysphoria’ due to ‘Gender NonConformity’, he was granted unrestricted Class-2 Fit Medical Assessment valid up to 23 Aug 22 on his then sexuality and name,” the statement says.

Sheethal Shyam, a member of the Kerala Transgender Justice Board called out the DGCA for its unfair and discriminatory approach towards Adam’s situation. She also pointed out that a lot of jobs like pilots and police personnel, for instance, are seen as hypermasculine occupations, which exclude trans people. Sheethal says that this sort of thinking is a result of popular perceptions that give prominence to heteronormative and conventional ideas of men and women’s roles according to their assigned gender.

Acknowledging that the Kerala government has shown support to Adam by providing him with a scholarship to study in South Africa, Sheethal says that the government should also lay down some norms to ensure that trans persons are treated humanely when they apply for work in government bodies, like to be a pilot. “Adam has gone through harassment at the hands of DGCA authorities, who also deadnamed him. Things like this should be illegal. The DGCA needs to be sensitised about transgender persons, have representation in making decisions about them, and have proper guidelines that ensure they are treated with dignity. We also want to work, study, and live with dignity in society,” Sheethal says. 

Adam, who has stuck to his conviction that he will not give up his identity for his ambition, has also been assured help from the Kerala government. Depending on whether the DGCA gives him a licence and removes the roadblocks on his way to becoming a commercial pilot in India, he may have to raise funds to complete his studies in South Africa. Adam believes it’s important that the DGCA gives out proper guidelines to ensure that there is no confusion in future, and other trans persons who want to become pilots don’t face the same issues.

With inputs from Anjana George.

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