“There are no transgenders in Kerala,” says a social welfare officer in the State. Immediately, he clarifies what he was trying to convey through this shocking statement – that transpeople in the State have been oppressed to the point of invisibility. “There are few people in the State who come out openly about their transgender identity. Our society simply does not accept transgenders,” he says.
Living in Kerala as a transperson, someone who identifies with a gender different from that assigned at birth, is an experience filled with trauma.
Boys who dress in women’s clothing or girls who identify themselves as male are either bullied or dismissed casually. When they grow up and assert their gender identities, relatives often turn hostile and banish transpersons from their homes.
Many transgenders in Kerala migrate to cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, or Delhi as people in their home State do not accept them. But life isn’t easy for a transperson there either. They are forced into begging or prostitution as they find no other means of livelihood. Working with NGOs is now another option before transpersons.
Gee Ameena Suleiman is a transperson hailing from Thrissur. Named Gayatri at birth, Suleiman now writes about trans-identity and has also made a documentary advocating the rights of transpersons.
Suleiman is among those advocating reservation in government jobs for Dalit transpersons. “Gender is a struggle for a transperson, everyday. Gender identity is set before even sexual desire sets in. But there are fixed gender rules in society. These force some people to lead double lives,” says Suleiman.
Tamil Nadu has implemented some steps that make life a little easier for transpersons.
“Even though transgenders are marginalised all over the country, other places are still better than Kerala,” says Kalki Subramaniam, a male to female transperson living in Tamil Nadu. Kalki’s impression of Kerala as a progressive State changed when she came here for a dance performance with her group of transgender girls. Waiting at a bus stand in Kottayam, they were subjected to snide remarks and constant staring. “I felt threatened. That’s when I realised that education and humanity are two different things,” she says.