Transphobia can be overcome only if people have an open mind

It is a step forward but is it enough Akkai first transgender person to get a state award
news Saturday, October 31, 2015 - 16:46

"It is not an award for Akkai, but an award for the entire civil society movement,” says Akkai Padmashali, the first transgender to be awarded the Rajyotsava in the history of the state.

Awarded the second-higest honour in the award in the category of social service, Akkai adds, “Now the responsibility has increased. When a state like ours is talking about secularism it is somewhere coming close to talking about marginalised communities and it needs to keep up this image.”

Through her organisation Ondede (loosely meaning marginalized), which focuses on creating awareness about sexuality, sexual diversity and right to choose one’s sexual orientation, Akkai has time and again focused attention on problems that transgender people face.

"I am really honoured by the state award. This is the second largest civilian award (in Karnataka) which talks about sections of people who are a part of human society. Through this Karnataka is making an effort to recognise state of sexuality and gender identity,” she says.

Thirty-two-year-old Akkai was born male in a conservative family. "When I decided to open up about my sexual identity to my family at the age of 16, it was only my brother who understood. My relatives, teachers, government, police only subjected me to humiliation at every level," she says.

Her parents took her to various astrologers and conducted poojas, believing them to be a ‘cure’ for her state of being. 

"At every point I had to face discrimination and unspeakable oppression. I couldn’t walk freely in anywhere,” she says.

Curiously, although she speaks of the harassment and trouble caused by the government, or by society, she always refers to them as “my government” or “my police”.

However, like many other transgenders Akkai too worked as a sex-worker for four years. “At that point, it was a given for transgenders to get into flesh trade even if they were capable of doing a lot more,”she says.

One of her major turning points in her life was joining an NGO called Sangama where she realised that transgender community must come together and unitedly fight for their rights and justice.

"We are happy that Akkai is getting this award for amount of social service she has done for 15 years. However, civil society only makes motions of supporting transgenders by sheer tokenism but a lot of things need to change on the ground,” Rakshetha a member of Ondede and a close friend of Akkai. 

People think that there is a lot of mystery attached to a transgender's life which in turn is expressed in the form of transphobia. They can only overcome this ignorance by having an open mind, says Rakshetha.

Asked about why more transgender people do not open up about their gender-orientation, Akkai says courage alone isn’t enough for a person to open up about their sexual conflict. “It takes a lot of motivation and support of the immediate environment to make them go on with their lives,” Akkai says, adding “I was lucky to find it.”

"We don't want the sympathy of a section of people. And asking for inclusivity in the maintstream society is a far cry considering how much people know of a transgender's life. All we are asking people to do is to treat us as human beings with a little more dignity,"Rakshetha said.  

Akkai says that the award is a good step, but wonders how effective it will be in bringing about change in attitudes. “Even today we are made fun of, treated as aliens, unnatural creatures- all this is because of social conditioning," she says.

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