Wednesday, July 14, 2004

WHERE ARE ALL THE F2MS?: TRANS VISIBILITY AND ORGANISING IN INDIA - By Satya Rai Nagpaul

I address this to all those who are worrying about the lack of visibility and organizing of transgendered people living in India. This is specifically about non-hijra transgendered persons. I share below briefly:

A. my personal process as a 32 year old, post-op,Indian, f2m.
B. my attempts at f2m/TG visibility, seeking support from existing Indian queer groups, their responses and gestures.
C. issues that arise out of these events and experiences: my queries and fears.


A) MY PERSONAL PROCESS AS A 32 YEAR OLD, POST-OP,
   INDIAN, F2M.

1976-77/4-5 years old/play school:
my first memory: I want to grow up to have the long side burns my father has.

13 years old/seventh class:
My girlfriend has heard of the possibility of ‘sex change’. I laugh.

16 years old/tenth class:
my parent finds me and my girlfriend,necking. I am called a lesbian; told that I should be taken to a psychiatrist as this is an abnormality. I say I am not abnormal. That I know I am not a lesbian. And that I don’t know what/who I am.

19 years old/First year,College :
I begin my search. I go through abnormal psychology textbooks at the Dixit Library of the All India Institute Of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi. I see the word “Transsexual” listed in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders,)Document. I have found the word that I know names me.

1991-1997:
I do research for 6 years. Meet surgeons and psychiatrists I have lost count of. Between 1995 and 1997, I have been assessed by two independent psychiatrists. Neither can give me leads to any other f2m person. They claim to have assessed some who don’t want to be contacted. I begin talking to my parents. The parent who once called me a lesbian, now calls me a ‘hijra’. I begin talking to extended family, to my lover, to professional collegues.

1997/26 years old/Working:
I start hormone therapy at AIIMS. This is their first f2m case. I get to know about a queer space for the first time. I go to one of its meets. It is a gay support group - Humrahi, at the Naz Foundation (India) Trust in Delhi.

27 years old/Working:
I share my research with the surgeon at AIIMS. We decide on the surgical approach. I have top surgery (mastectomy;chest surgery). This is their first f2m surgery.

28 years old/Working:
I meet the first other trans-identified person who wants to undergo sex reassignment. I begin the process of getting my gender identity legally changed.

Present/32 years old/Professional College:
Since my own reassignment,I have till date met 12 trans-identified persons living in India. Recently, I have initiated a yahoo group for transgenders, transsexuals and intersexuals of asian/diasporic
origin. (sampoorna@yahoogroups.com)


B) MY ATTEMPTS AT F2M/TG VISIBILITY, SEEKING SUPPORT
FROM EXISTING QUEER GROUPS, RESPONSES AND GESTURES:

Naz Foundation,(India)Trust:
In 1998-99, while undergoing sex reassignment,I was interested to start a space for transgender persons in Delhi. I approached the Naz Foundation,(India) Trust but their infrastructure was already blocked with exisiting groups/committments. Ms Anjali Gopalan however extended access to their internet facility to start collating information which I was to co-ordinate with the Project officer Incharge. Inspite of repeated phone calls and numerous visits where I was kept waiting endlessly, the Project Officer made it impossible for me to undertake the research work. Finally, I gave up.

Sangini/TARSHI:
Subsequently I approached Sangini, the queer women support group then with Naz (India). They did not feel ready for transgender persons to be part of the group. However, I started receiving phone calls from transpersons/those considering reassignment,forwarded by Sangini and another Delhi organization TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues). A couple of years later, Sangini invited me to hold information sessions for both their key persons and group members. Apparently, they have since opened up their space to
transgender women, but only those who have sexually reassigned.

Sampoorn:
From the many referrals by Sangini and Tarshi, there are three persons (2 f2ms and one m2f)who have actively pursued their desires for transition. Together with them I have formed a network in Delhi. We have been interacting and supporting each other and those who get in touch with us on various fronts. This has been a journey of some years together since the entire process of transition is a long drawn-out one and involves all kinds of undertakings from informational, emotional, financial, legal, medical, physical, social and family support. My parents have also become a part of this network, benefiting parents of other group members. Three of us are listed in the Humjinsi Book, with our permissions, under the
group name ‘Sampoorn’.

Humsafar Trust:
I think it was in 2002 when Mr Ashok Row Kavi mentioned to me telephonically about setting up a board and wanting a trans person on it. I asked him to write the details to me but have not heard from him
again.

Aaj Tak: Around this time, as I recall, Ms Rukmini Sen, from the queer community, working with Aaj Tak, wanted me to feature on Television. I was not at all clear as to what this `visibility’ would do? For whom? And on whose terms? I declined.

Lawyers Collective: Mr Alok Gupta interviewed me for the article "Transgender,law and civil rights" for the magazine,THE LAWYERS, published by the Lawyers Collective.On the request of Mr Vivek Diwan from the Collective, I have shared with him affidavits submitted for the legal change of my gender identity. Currently I am also mediating between a TG person and Lawyers Collective on the request of the former who wishes to enter into a legal contract of marriage.

Combat Law: Ms Ashwini Sukhtankar interviewed me for the article "Complicating Gender: Rights Of Transsexuals In India" for the Combat Law issue: Vol.2 Issue 4/October-November,2003.

Ms Venu Arora. This documentary filmmaker, a co-student attending the course at the Sexuality Institute organized by TARSHI and CREA (Creating Resources For Empowerment In Action),in Pune, during March, 2004, asked for email ids of other transsexual persons I knew. I asked for a written statement ensuring confidentiality and her specific queries. I haven’t heard from her yet.

Aanchal Trust:
At the 2nd International Conference Of Masculinities, Sexualities and Cultures, Bangalore, June 2004, I put up a photographic Exhibition titled: “Miscellaneous-Daily Masculinities”. Ms Geeta Kumana,from Aanchal Trust had serious issues with one of the exhibits titled “Packing”, a photographic narrative on the dildo. Infact her issue was with one particular photograph out of a series of 5 of this narrative. In this photograph the dildo is in the palm, held close to the primary genital area. She commented to the effect that:

   You are violating me by publically displaying the photograph of a phallus. It is like flaunting the phallus in my face. Any ordinary Indian woman will have the response I am having.

While, on the one hand Ms Kumana’s response to the Dildo narrative illustrates a complete lack of a trans perspective, on the other, in a response to Raj Joshi’s email of 5th July, 2004, on the lgbt-india e-list, she invites F2Ms to join the Aanchal Trust.Such an invitation appears to be mere tokenism.

Sangama:
July 2004, Sangama Office, Bangalore. Kokila, a hijra person was gang raped by 10 men and later tortured by the police. I got involved on day one. During the F.I.R. Mr E. Manohar, head of  Sangama, outs me and another trans-identified person working in his office, to the investigating Lady Police Officer, without our permissions. I withdraw my active support and participate from outside. Before my leaving Bangalore, Mr E. Manohar extends the following invitation:
 
“Come some time again. Let this (Kokila’s case) die down. We will see then, what can be done about f2ms.”

The tokenism never seems to end.


C) ISSUES THAT ARISE OUT OF THE ABOVE EVENTS AND EXPERIENCES: MY QUERIES AND FEARS:

On Organising:Ground Realities:

1. F2ms and m2fs are two very specific and statisticaly small groups within the larger one of ‘transgenders’. Infact, f2ms are in even a greater minority when compared to the m2fs. By transgenders here, I mean, all persons who are gender transgressing and whose gender expression does not fit into the binary of man/woman-male/female.

2. Sex reassignment surgery (S.R.S)is a complicated, time consuming and an expensive process. The Medical community in India is just beginning to undertake it in a professional and accountable manner. All the surgeries (except one) of members of our group were performed in Delhi and conducted under international guidelines. Persons undergoing S.R.S. must take responsibility of whom they are asking it from. If the person goes to a knife-happy surgeon, the person will get what a knife happy surgeon can deliver. The belief that any cosmetic surgeon can perform these surgeries is completely unfounded. These are highly specialized surgeries that have to be co-ordinated across medical departments of Gynecology, Andrology, Cosmetic and Reconstructive Surgery and Endocrinology.

It is imperative to state here that contrary to another misinformation circulating within the lgbt community in India, and in particular reference to communications over this e-list in recent days, I think I can say on behalf of all 4 members of Sampoorn (this email is being forwarded to the other 3), that

· NONE OF US REGRETS ANY OF THE SURGERY/INTERVENTION THAT WE HAVE UNDERTAKEN. 

· WE ARE HAPPY FOR THE DECISIONS THAT WE HAVE TAKEN W.R.T THE REASSIGNMENT. 

Perhaps it is a matter of time, and much more, before we have the organized numbers to ask what is our right from law, from medicine, from professional organizations, from families, from lovers.

There are lessons for us to learn from the history of lgbt organising the world over.There are identities which get left out or subsumed by the existing queer spaces. For example, the presence of trans-identified female bodied persons in lesbian spaces. Trans needs have not been met, even recongnised, in such spaces. Prevalent lesbian notions of ways of being are inadequate for trans needs. These notions do not enable/empower the trans-identified members of lesbian spaces. Another example would be the ongoing debate about who is the ‘koti’ ? (a male bodied person with female gender identity) The ‘Koti” is being understood as the ‘vernacular gay-identified person’ where as ‘she’ is clearly a transgender person.

Tied up with gender identity and expression are issues of class.  Female-bodied transgender persons, specifically those who desire but cannot economically/otherwise afford part or the whole gamut of reassignment, are the ones really being left out in the whole discourse/activism on sexuality and gender.

In addition, the intimacies of social and cultural relationships that create and nurture personhood are being taken away from trans-persons. We are losing lovers for not being man-enough or women-enough, both in straight and queer relationships. Recently a transperson was threatened by his lover’s siblings. Another is being hasseled for property; he is now a threat to the male-born child of his parents. Yet another is being forced into marriage as a “cure”. The documentation of non-hijra transgendered lives in
India is yet to begin.

To say that f2m trans persons are hardly visible/organized is unfair without understanding what it means and what it would take. When existing queer support spaces don’t have any trans perspective, when the medical community is still being located and educated, when law is still being dealt with, when dealing with family and friends is still being undertaken, it will take time and a lot more before meaningful coming together can happen.


VISIBILITY - WHERE ARE THE TRANSGENDERS? WHERE ARE THE F2MS?
 
   “How come you don’t see disabled people in spaces that you are in? It is not that they don’t exist?! Its that they can’t get to where you are”

This was shared, by a teacher at the earlier mentioned Sexuality Institute, on the subject of ‘Disability and Sexuality’.

Where are the T.G.s? Where are the f2ms? It is not that they don’t exist.

Why are the T.G.s and f2ms hardly seen in existing queer spaces? Why are they invisible even when they are there? Something about theses spaces is not offering them what they need. What could this be?

The conceptual foundations of most of the queer spaces in India is built on a sexual identity primarily determined by the sex of the one who is desired. This constructs the identity of being gay; of being lesbian.

What then constructs the identity of a Transgender? It is an identity of self. It is an identity of gender. Most of the exisiting queer spaces in India are not addressing Gender. They are primarily focused on Sexual Orientation.

Trans persons are not finding any meaningful space within existing queer/lgbt groups. These have infact been and are increasingly being trans-unfriendly; even transphobic. Two days ago, I was told by a transperson, who belongs to a lesbian support group, about what the key person there said to him: “the day you reassign, you count yourself out of the group”. Yet another lesbian support group asks m2fs to cross-dress to prove their credentials for claiming membership. In January, 2004, at the World Social Forum, Bombay, I was asked to leave a meeting, the topic of which was “Lesbian Torture” even after some of my lesbian friends there introduced me as a post-op f2m.

One of our critiques of heteropatriarchy has been that it has constructed and enforced only two genders. How are we doing any better when we too ask for the same gender conformity within existing queer spaces?! And what of those who do not want to reassign? Of those who want to but can’t; either due to money or disability or other health concerns or even social reasons? Or those who want to reassign partially? What about intersexuals? And what about transgenders/transsexuals/intersexuals who are gay/lesbian/bisexual/pansexual?

Where is the 't' in l.g.b.t?

satya
ekdoorbeen@yahoo.co.in

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Satya,

I am really impressed by your blog, which I found quite by accident. Actually, I remember meeting you at WSF this Jan - you were with Alok, who is a friend of mine from Xaviers days and I was with Rajesh, a fellow FTIIan. I had also worked with Lawyers Collective a few years back as an intern. Anyway, enough of connections!

I just wanted to say that I think you have addressed a variety of really vital issues around the LGBT community.
Questions of ownership of space, in particular with lesbian groups, of the notions of visibility and invisibility and how the former might not always be preferable, and also a fundamental issue of where is the T in LGBT?

The LGBT movement in India is still unfortunately dominated by middle and upper class gays, lesbians and bis, all mostly from urban elite India.

While this is changing to some extent, I think that organising around trans-issues is really valuable- also how one can form alliances with other groups, without compromising fundamental principles is the second issue. I really feel that the dialogue in the community should go far beyond the converted, but without compromising the way in which representation is done.

Is there anyway u can host the show u put up at the masculinities in B'lore in Mumbai? I would be happy to help in any way in this and any other endeavour.

Best,

Aditi Thorat
taditi@hotmail.com

2:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Satya
I have to say that this page has been a find for me ;)
As a 29 years old gender dysphoric male struggling right now through therapies and meetings with surgeons, I have been pretty much on the net every night reading up on various aspects of this condition and personalities who have successfuly transitioned. However, there is little or no information available which is specifically beneficial to an indian transsexual. In fact, one of my biggest concerns was just to figure out how the hell to go about it, even though I am probably in the most progressive city in india, mumbai.
Going through the process of arbidly meeting therapists, being led on to or passed over to other people...and finally seeming to be making some breakthroughs, I think i am finally going to start on hormones soon. But i think the whole struggle of even getting here coupled with the personal struggle that any gender dysphoric person whould have had to deal with since his/her childhood, has left me not defeated but rather fuelled to make it less difficult for other people suffering from gender dysphoria...especially those who come from extremely rigid backgrounds or are themselves too afraid or not assertive enoug to even seek help. I think the quality of desperation in this condition ultimately would lead one to the net, where i feel an area with the largest visibility at least in terms of information can be created. I intend to use my transition as and when i get down to it, every experience through it, the costs involved,etc as a resource of info on the net ultimately. I am also planning a documentary on my transition for limited circulation for NGOs, medical and psychiatric seminars and workshops and educational institutes. Of course, this all i hope i can achieve if i can afford it.
However, whether i will want anonymity or not is still a decision i have kept open for myself to evaluate through my transition experience.
Just thought i would share what i have to tell since your writing and conviction has been rather inspiring. Keep up the good work and may you achieve all your noble goals.
Thank you
regards
happy;)

11:17 AM  
Blogger jas said...

Satya I am seeing this 6 years later. Globally the T in the LGBT is just a token. And if you want a network create one yourself. Also having once associated with the aforementioned groups who represent the lesbian and gay community in Mumbai, you would be shocked to know that they were once upon a time clueless about Gender Identity being seperate from Sexual Identity.

My ex is a pre op FTM, so that is why many years after we broke up, I wanted to understand Transmen's issues better and I got online. I realise there is no place for them in the Indian LGBT scene. Trust me, straight and bi transmen are better off without any association with the lesbian and gay communities of India or the world.

Also politics has taken over. It's not a support group for anyone! Least of all transmen. Of course its 2010 now and there are many support groups online. So let us hope that FTMs in India get the help support they need. I'm glad you guys exist. But I wish it was less lonely for you all. There is the Dhillon Khosla book that detailed his transition and a whole lot of books online. In a way time has made it easier to get the help one needs. I sincerely hope that all Indian transmen get the help they need to make a smooth transition.

7:20 AM  

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