By Aleksandr Chandra
In a world where identities are hailed for us and power is projected onto the surfaces of our bodies, Celia immediately hailed her own identity and proclaimed her own power as a practicing transevangelical at the beginning of our conversation.
A brilliant raconteur, Celia began the conversation by going back to the very beginning of her story, by opening up about her more open relationship with her sexuality and the more intimate one with her spirituality. By speaking from her scars and not her wounds, Celia sutures together a beautiful story about the power of loving thyself and others.
“Not many trans-Indians of Christians faith focus on spirituality and sexuality. Since my parents were traditional christians and highly respected in the society, i was afraid to talk to them about this. I did not want to do anything that would bring disgrace to my family. I lived with this guilt and shame. I felt hopeless and thought I was heading straight to hell”.
According to Celia, however, religion played a large part in stymieing her self-expression.
“While growing up I did not understand the true meaning of God’s love to the fullest extent. It was all about following the laws instead of understanding the love of God. I was blinded by my owns thoughts of sin than the grace of God. I spent most of my life constantly battling with these issues. Though I was with friends and family, I felt so lonely. I cried constantly asking God to forgive me for these thoughts and take away this desire. In fact I thought my sins were too big for God’s forgiveness. It kept me away from what Jesus preached about loving your God and loving one another. “
The sin aspect of life compelled Celia to begin questioning her own identity: why was I born this way? why am I doing this? Moments recounted dressing up in her mother’s clothes when she was just 5-years old and covering her head with her mother’s saree began pretending to be a girl. Thoughts she had in her mind about her own womanhood since she was in preschool began feeling more and more like a pathology. Thoughts about her femininty she wished would fade away overtime but it never did even after four decades.
“I even spoke to a few counsellors. One told me that I was a confused gay and another famous doctor advised me to take hormones and change my sex because I looked like a girl. Deep inside I knew ….I wasn’t gay and I had no desire of changing my sex”.
Celia’s self-expression became deliberate subterfuge. She remembered times when she would run to the beach donning a loose dress or skirt that covered a pair of trousers, hoping that she would be a girl just for that moment. Thoughts of sin and guilt started having a toll on Celia’s spirituality, self-esteem and confidence.
“Gender Identity affected me as a teen. I started pretending to be more masculine. I worked extra hard to be a boy. In school I had to hide every aspect of my femininity in a male dominated society. I never talked about this to anyone, being afraid that they would consider me a sissy, humiliate and exclude me from their friendship circle.”
While Celia struggled with her sexuality, she again struggled with her faith. She wanted to live like a girl, she wanted to be a girl and was attracted to them. “Would Jesus accept a person like me?“, thought Celia. As much as she tried to suppress Celia, the desire to be her authentic self never went away.
After coming to the US in the late 90s, Celia was officially born. But, there were still complications.
“When I got married, I sincerely thought my wife would take away my femininity. I was afraid to have sex because I thought I was impotent.”
Finally, after two years of marriage, Celia had a child. She was torn between her family and her feminity. She found a lot of folks like herself who were struggling with their identity and sexuality.
Understanding the need, Celia and her friend started a cross-dressing chat room in India. Within a few years more than One-thousand cross dressers joined the group. Until then I felt like I was the only person.
I found every opportunity to explore my feminity. While my wife and child were away on vacation, I lived the whole month as Celia. I rekindled the girl inside of me during my business trips. At that time, spirituality started coming back again and I started to question if I was doing the right thing, if I was taking my belief in God seriously. But this time was a little different. It felt right. I realized that God doesn’t care how your external appearance but what’s inside your heart.
For more than 30 years Celia prayed to God to take away the femininity from her, but God was silent. His silence was the answer to make Celia realize that what she was asking God to take away was what God wanted her to keep. It took a long for me to accept that I was different and its ok.
After Celia confided to her family about her struggles and Gender identity. Her wife was initially sad that she had lost her husband, but she has taken time to accept Celia for who she is. But Celia’s daughter accepted her in 30mins. When “My wife was upset,” Celia recalled, “but my daughter said that it wasn’t a big deal.”
Instead of focusing on her scars, she found healing in helping others.
“I felt that I should do something to honor my feminity instead of hiding it. I started participating in various TG events, workshops, rallies, support groups where various trans issues were discussed. I had the opportunity to interact and make friends with a lot of them in the gender spectrum. With help of a local pastor, I was able to revive the transgender community in their church”.
“I want to be involved and bring more transgender awareness in our community pertaining to jobs, healthcare social identity and immigration I am glad that some churches, organizations and corporate firms have understood and accepted the Transgender community, instead of dismissing them as drag queens, performers or sex workers. We still have more work to do with the churches.”
The journey still continues for Celia, she continuously empowers the trans community and is working to bring trans awareness to the churches. Her closing statement goes,
“I realised that it is not the physical appearance or surgical transformation that gives you a gender identity, but it is deep within your heart and mind. I just wanted to accept myself and live as a person, instead of worrying about how I identify to others.”
“Love thy neighbor as thyself and love God with all your heart.”
Please check out this video of Celia here.