K. Sahana remembers how schools that had vacancies would reach out to her once they saw her qualifications listed in her resume. “When I would introduce myself over the phone and tell them I’m a transwoman, they would immediately come with an excuse and promise to contact me later. Those calls never came again,” she says.
Things, however, have changed over the last three months, and 28-year-old Sahana is now a science teacher at the Saint Vincent Pallotti Matriculation Higher Secondary School in Pallavaram, teaching students of Classes IX and X. It is a job she loves and she has always been passionate about teaching. But it has not been an easy journey for her.
An M. Sc., M. Ed. graduate, Sahana completed her education as a man and then underwent a gender reassignment surgery. She soon moved out of her house and into the Garima Greh Shelter Home for Transgender Persons near Periyar Nagar. “I was aware of all the discrimination and hardships that would follow and hence waited till I completed my degree. I was very particular right from the beginning that I should be well qualified and get a good job,” she says.
The situation changed for the better once she joined Saint Vincent Pallotti Matriculation Higher Secondary School as a teacher. “I feel proud to say that my students are kind and sensitive. I have never been the subject of insensitive remarks or teasing from them,” she says.
Sahana is thankful to the parents in particular for being so supportive. “My students often tell me that their parents have spoken to them about me and how they should be respectful. This is the sort of positive change that is heartening. I feel accepted among my colleagues as well,” she says
She credits her college teachers for being among the main reasons why she wanted to become a teacher. “Teachers are the ones who have the power to influence and mould students in the right way.” Her students too have become much more aware about transgender persons. “If I have a free hour, I encourage them to ask questions. Most of them are curious about why they see transgender persons beg and about the discrimination we face,” she says.
Fr. J. Aroon, Correspondent and Principal of the school, says Sahana is a highly dedicated and efficient teacher. “As schools, we should practice acceptance and inclusion and it is only then that children will learn. She was an excellent candidate and I personally felt when I interviewed her that she should not be sidelined,” he says. The management hopes to pave the way for more schools to recognise talent and merit over everything else.
While she has found a job she loves, Sahana says the battle is far from over. “It is rare that transgender persons are given jobs that match their qualifications. Many are stuck doing jobs that do not match their qualification.”
Schools in particular, she says, need to change. “Instead of just rejecting us over the phone, why not call us to the school and ask us to take a trial class? Judge us based on our skills, talent and qualifications, and not merely our gender,” she says.
Her current struggle, she says, is to find a house close to the school where she can move to. “I travel for over two hours every day to get to the job I love. House owners should not discriminate against us,” she says.