Transcending gender barrier

Transgender rights activist and author Revathi gets candid on her journey for survival and her determination to close the gender gap

November 03, 2014 07:10 pm | Updated 07:17 pm IST

The Truth about Me: “A Hijra Life Story” written by A. Revathi during an interview with ‘The Hindu Metroplus’ in Hyderabad. Photo: Nagara Gopal

The Truth about Me: “A Hijra Life Story” written by A. Revathi during an interview with ‘The Hindu Metroplus’ in Hyderabad. Photo: Nagara Gopal

She belies the image of a hijra. There’s no make-up, no gaudy dressing and no exaggerated mannerisms. In a simple cotton green kurta and a handbag slung from her shoulder, Revathi is your regular working woman one encounters in a local train.

“When I was a boy I was ridiculed for my feminine gait and mannerisms, now people who know me as a woman ask me why I have a manly voice and physique,” laughs Revathi, giving an insight to a life of contrasts and conflicts she has faced.

The author of the first ever book published on transgenders, The Truth about Me: A Hijra Life Story (Penguin Books India), Revathi is in Hyderabad to participate in a series of talks and seminars to mark the release of the Telugu translation of her book (Nijam Cheptunna: Oka Hijra Aatma katha, Hyderabad Book Trust publication).

A tiring train journey notwithstanding, Revathi is full of energy and eager to articulate her thoughts on her book, sexual minorities in society and her vision for her community.

Switching to Tamil and Hindi with ease, Revathi recollects the motivation behind writing her autobiography: “During my initial days of work with Sangama, I was given the task of identifying news regarding sexual minorities in newspapers and periodicals and preserve those news clips. Over a period of time I had realised every bit of news on LGBT community was of the other countries; very less about Indians. So I decided to do my own research and interviewed around 50 members of the community and gathered information. I was also often asked to talk about myself at various forums and would be given very short time. My experiences were so vast I felt I was not doing justice in that five-minute slot. That’s when I thought I should come forward with my story as well. What better way than to write an autobiography?”

“Penguin India commissioned me to write and I took four years to complete it. I had decided I’ll not hide anything, but write every incident of my life, so that people with similar experiences and who are in similar situations will take a leaf out of my book to deal with their lives.”

Not surprisingly, some of the members from her community were critical of her revelations in the book. ‘Why did you have to mention you were raped? Why did you have to reveal you were a sex worker? You shouldn’t have embarrassed your family like that...”

But Revathi is happy she was honest with her book. She mentions of an incident where a girl, encouraged after reading her book went ahead with a sex-change operation and lives a happy life now.

There’s a natural flair and professional touch to Revathi’s writing. Did she ever pursue a dream of becoming a writer? “I wrote a love letter — in poetic form to a boy when I was in 8th standard — my first attempt at creative writing. More than the writing, I was stunned by my feeling towards another boy and realised it can’t be true and tore the paper,” laughs Revathi.

On a serious note, though, she says, through arts, one can reach out to peoples’ hearts and that’s what she intends to do. Fully determined towards working for the cause of the transgenders and creating awareness about their plight in society, Revathi has become the voice of the sexual minorities, especially in the south. “Accept us legally and respect the choice of our gender,” she says and adds, “Will you please consider employing a transgender in your organisation, however small the job might be?”

It was more a challenge than a plea.

The gullible and the gutsy

Born as Dorai Swamy in a remote village near Nammakkal in Salem district of Tamil Nadu, Revathi underwent a sex change operation during her teens and had aspired to live the life of a woman. But her hurdles began at home. When her family refused to accept her, Revathi had no choice but to flee and befriend Aravanis (Hijras in Tamil Nadu) and endure a life of uncertainties. After being subjected to physical abuse, rape and rejection, Revathi turned sex worker but she made continuous efforts to come out and live a life that’s different from hijras. Her travails continued through her travels to Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. Being part of hijra communities in all these cities, Revathi was exposed to society’s darker side. A short-lived marriage later, Revathi was determined to change the course of her life and that of many others of her community. She joined Sangama, an NGO in Bangalore, working towards upliftment of sexual minorities. From being an office assistant to being its director now, Revathi, through Sangama, hopes to see a society that has no age, region, religion and sex barriers.

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