Integrating into society at large and finding a job continues to be a challenge for transgenders in the city, but they have not given up. Instead, they have begun finding self-sustaining, innovative ways of earning a livelihood.
Transgenders in the city have been working in self-help groups with the hope of making some money and becoming economically independent. Vasantham, Vanavil and Seven Stars are three such groups that are helping empower lives.
Initially S. Sudha, like any other woman, was welcomed into the Bharatiyar SHG for women in Porur, where she resided. She learnt the rules of the game, but felt that many like her were not lucky enough to be part of a similar group. “All the women in my neighbourhood were great friends and considered me one among them. But then I decided to move ahead and form a group which had only transgenders ,” she says. With seven members and a loan of Rs. 1 lakh, she founded the SHG ‘Seven Stars'. Members took up hand work, pottery and glass painting and sold the items produced.
Some SHGs buy products in wholesale and sell them to shops. Komathi of Vasantham sells saris while her friends sell snacks and other food items. This alternative income prevents them from begging or taking to commercial sex. “They told us that our repayment was much better than most other women's SHGs,” says Sudha.
Like any business, they have their lean days and days when they have made good profit. The groups sell handmade products at exhibitions and other places where people assemble. “Sometimes it is discouraging when there are no sales and we think about quitting. We cannot say that the earning are enough to meet our needs, but this is just a small step towards improving our lives,” says a member of Seven Stars.
While such efforts make them slightly more confident about moving ahead in a society that has, for long, been insensitive to them, the women are also making efforts to become part of women's SHGs. President of the Tamil Nadu Aravanigal Association, Priya Babu, says that non-governmental organisations too, assist them in the process of integration.