A room of one’s own

Finding a decent house for rent is every transgender’s dream, writes LIVING SMILE VIDYA

Published - October 19, 2015 11:44 am IST - Chennai

Living Smile Vidya Photo: Special Arrangement

Living Smile Vidya Photo: Special Arrangement

When I realised who I was — a transgender, a trans-woman — my only concern was that I create a decent livelihood for myself. From the time I left my family in 2004, the biggest challenge I’ve been facing till date is finding a house for rent. Because of this, I live like a nomad across Chennai, Mumbai, Tiruchi and Madurai.

My search began in 2005, when I decided to work in mainstream society. With an unbearably heavy bag in hand, I roamed the streets of Madurai to first find a place to stay. I can never forget those days spent scouring the city with a few kind-hearted friends. I couldn’t get accommodation for even three days in a hotel. No one came to my help, let alone human rights organisations. I ended up staying on the sly at the place of a friend, whose family was out of town.

And then I found refuge in Vijaya aunty, with whom I stayed for a few days while I looked for a job. But I was back to square one when I came to Chennai in 2007, looking for opportunities in theatre. After a lot of struggle, I got a chance to work and stay at a children’s NGO near the Central station. Soon, I was expected to share a room with a male colleague. I was uncomfortable and stepped out, since I wanted a place of my own.

I started the search with a fellow trans-woman — we wanted to save on rent and hence decided to share a room. Tondiarpet, Korukkupet… we looked all over North Chennai. We approached an agent who showed us several houses in Saidapet. But no luck; we couldn’t even find a house in places that transgenders occupied.

I can never forget a landlord I encountered during those times. When we were at his house, a young woman, who was also house-hunting, was there. The man was confused as to whom to rent out the house. Finally, when he realised we were transgenders, he hurriedly asked the woman to give a token advance of Rs. 1,000. We were ready to pay the full advance of Rs. 10,000 and told him so. But he shrugged, saying he’d already committed to the woman.

This story continued, not just in Tamil Nadu, but in London as well. During the six months I spent there, I changed houses four times. It can’t be denied that my sexual identity had a major role to play in this. When I was back in Chennai, I decided to take a new route — I lied that I was married, my husband was abroad and that I was living with my sister-in-law for the time being. But soon, when the landlord and neighbours realised who I was from my newspaper interviews, I was under immense pressure from them neighbours to vacate. I finally gave up.

It was then that it struck me: I could be dumped on the streets just like that by complete strangers. Perhaps, this is a defining factor for people of my gender.

When I go house-hunting, most house-owners state amusing reasons such as ‘neighbours won’t agree’; ‘this is a decent neighbourhood’; ‘we let out only for families’. Does this mean that we’re ‘indecent’? To prove this notion wrong, I searched relentlessly across North, South and central Chennai and the suburbs, to no avail. I posted ads on Facebook, property websites, newspapers… In each of these places, the fact that I was a theatre actor, a writer and an artist, meant nothing. All that stood out was my identity as a transgender. This is what people chose to see.

India’s first transgender engineering student and my good friend Banu lives some 30 kilometres from her college in Arakkonam.

She had to travel up and down every day and was recently asked to vacate the house. Today, instead of studying, she spends all her days house-hunting.

We’ve suffered enough because of our gender identity. When we are refused education and job opportunities, we somehow manage to provide ourselves with food and clothes. But, what about a place to stay?

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