Writing and theatre are very powerful agents of social transformation: A. Revathi

A. Revathi, whose mono-act play 'Vella Mozhi' will be staged as part of the Thirunar Vizha Rainbow Festival segment of Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha on January 18, talks about how art can convey many things to people about a world alien to them

Updated - January 17, 2020 11:19 am IST

Published - January 17, 2020 01:05 am IST

A. Revathi

A. Revathi

My awakening as a writer and transgender child began during adolescence. That was when I was trying to come to terms with my femininity, which was at odds with my male-assigned body and with the expectations that go with being seen as a boy by others. It was also the time I began penning romantic poems to a boy in Class IX on whom I had a crush.

The dual awakening brought with it much agony and self-doubt. First, I had grown up believing that writers had to be highly educated, compliant with grammar and well-defined literary rules. Did I, growing up in a village in Namakkal, have what it takes to be a writer? Second, how could I expect society that privileges masculinity and refuses to treat women on a par with men, accord people like me even a shred of dignity?

It was with time that I grew aware of the distinction between sex and gender: differences that governed the way I felt, how others saw me, and that determined how I was treated by them. Sex, usually assigned ‘male’ or ‘female’ based on the parts we are born with, becomes the arbiter of how society expects us to conduct ourselves, as children and adults. Stereotypes abound, and are enforced to keep everyone on the straight and narrow path. And, in a society where man is deemed superior to woman, a boy behaving in ways that are seen as feminine becomes the target of bullying, and — often — unspeakable violence.

The autobiographical novel Karukku (1992) by Tamil Dalit woman Bama on gender and caste discrimination had a huge impact on me, and motivated me to start writing about the need for liberation of transgender women. Unarvum Uruvamum (Emotions andthe Body) , the book I wrote in 2004, attempted to highlight the tribulations transgender women go through on a daily basis. Finding answers to the fundamental questions I posed in this book around society, gender and trans lives remains a lifelong quest. I have been accepted and acknowledged by society as a sister, a friend as well as a writer of substance.

But, the going has not always been smooth.

My autobiography The Truth About Me – A Hijra Life Story (2010), translated by V. Geetha, and A Life in Trans Activism (2016), translated by Nandini Murali, have gone on to fetch me recognition from the academic and literary communities. Last year I was featured, among other women writers of note in the Butler Banner Project at Columbia University. My autobiography was first adapted into a Kannada play by a theatre group in Shimoga and was staged at nearly 100 venues in 2014-2015.

More recently, it has taken the form of Vellai Mozhi , a mono-act play performed by me, directed by A. Mangai, with music by Shyam Balasubramanian. Featuring my own writing and a powerful poem by Kalki Subramaniam, I have been able to perform it extensively in southern India with support from a SAATHII Fellowship.

Writing and theatre are deeply fulfilling and make me realise that these are very powerful agents of social transformation. On many occasions, I have experienced art can convey many things to people about a world alien to them. It can also resonate strongly with those facing marginalisation like — or unlike — my own.

Vellai Mozhi will be staged as part of the Thirunar Vizha Rainbow Festival segment of Chennai Kalai Theru Vizha on January 18, at Raga Sudha Hall, Mylapore.

This article was translated from Tamil by L. Ramakrishnan.

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