Amid the coronavirus lockdown, family is THE safest place for most heterosexual cisgender people. But sadly, that’s not the case for several LGBTQ+ persons, globally. For them, family is the exact opposite of a safe place. It’s a space that is a form of violence and trauma generator under the guise of patriarchy, religion or heteronormativity.
Young LGBT people tend to leave their families, once they come out of the closet. This could be due to the fact that most parents react violently and/or try to enroll them into conversion therapy. But, due to the current crisis scenario, LGBTQ people who lost their jobs and cannot afford staying out are forced to move back with families who refuse to accept them. It is greatly hurting them to do so, but they seem to be left with no other choice.
Two weeks ago, we spoke about how the corona pandemic is turning into a nightmare for many LGBTQ kids internationally. This week, Fifty Shades Of Gay interviewed a transman from Bangalore, Ayaan, who decided to lend a helping hand to LGBTQ people stuck at toxic environments, during the coronavirus lockdown. Read on to know how.
When did you realise you were different and at what age? How did you manage coming in terms with your gender identity?
Growing up, I never gave it a thought that I am different from the others. It was around time of puberty that realization hit. I was attracted to girls, although I am a female by birth, while girls felt attraction to guys and vice-versa. “Sexuality” or “gender identity”, such terms I was never aware of, hence decided to stay silent about things. It was finally in the second year of my engineering that I realized that I am completely different from the people around me. While everyone was comfortable with their bodies and expressed love towards it, I had no love towards mine.
It was suffocating. It felt like trapped in a body and I needed out. That’s when all the incidents starting from my childhood began making sense. I was always comfortable in boy’s clothes, I would insist to be the guy while playing “ghar-ghar” or while dancing. Also, I always used male pronouns for myself and I would sit and cry whenever forced to wear girly clothes.
Although I was afraid to come out of my closet, I took the decision to finally live happily as my authentic self. So I decided to cover my identity of a transman, under the veil of a sportsperson.
What was your family/friends reaction, when you expressed the desire to be a man? How long did they take to accept it?
While I was wholeheartedly accepted by my friends, my family’s reaction was something I struggle with till date. They never came to terms with the fact that their kid is a transman. My friends were ready to support me for whoever I am, or I want to be. They took time to understand what does it actually mean to be a transman. But never did they make me feel that I am alone. My family, on the other hand, did not receive enough education regarding the LGBTQIA+ community. Although my folks are highly educated, this is an area where the knowledge of the whole nation is limited.
They couldn’t accept that there kid is a transman. For them, transman is all about begging on roads, trains or working as a sex worker. They thought that I could never live with dignity. And they continuously accused me of “choosing” a very less fortunate life for myself. It has been 5 years that I came out to them and they are slowly getting used to the idea that I am a transman and I have made a very respectable place for myself in the society and that I am inspiring a bunch of other people to live their authentic self.
At what age did you decide to transition?
Most probably this year I am going to start with my transition. But I want to tell you something. Whether I am on hormones or not, whether I get the surgeries or not, whether or whenever I start with my transition, I was always a man and I will always be a man. My physical appearance can never affect the quality of man I am.
Do people treat you differently, when they hear that you’re a transman?
Yes, people do. I won’t say that its a negative experience all the time. Some people look at me with sympathy in their eyes, some look with hatred, some ask their kids to not hang out with me, some take inspiration from me, some appreciate my struggle and some people simply look at me beyond the gender and don’t give a damn about my gender identity, that I am a transman.
What are the problems you’ve had to/still face, because of your gender identity?
Being told “It’s all in your head. You have such a beautiful body, people crave to have such a body and you want to get rid of this? What a fool! Stop thinking about all these things. Why are you choosing this life for yourself?”
Being misgendered is one of the most common things I encounter in everyday life. People call me ma’am, girl, woman and what not. But I correct them in the very next instant and they apologize. Some people don’t apologize. That’s when I have to raise my voice and tell them what’s right and what’s not. Another problem is using washrooms. While I have overcome this problem by using the men’s washroom confidently, I know a lot of trans folks still face this issue. There are very less gender neutral washrooms in India and we think it’s better to drink less water and hold your pee than to go and use a washroom uncomfortably.
Being accepted by my family as their son instead of their daughter is another challenge that I am facing right now. I believe that family’s support matters the most to an individual. But, if your family is not supportive, that doesn’t mean you are wrong.
When I was not out as a transman in my previous company, I was forced to cut the cake for Women’s day. I literally had to shout that I don’t want to be associated with the day. People think it’s their right to invade a person’s personal space.
Please explain to us, how do you provide help to LGBTQ, who are in dire need of it?
I lend people a shoulder to cry on, patient ears that can listen to everything they have to talk about. Overthinking about things take you a different world. And that world is dark, once you enter it, it’s hard to escape it. I am just try to prevent people from entering it.
I help people over calls/texts/video calls and make them feel they are not alone and that we are all together in this fight.
Some people who are stuck in suffocating in non-supportive homes in horrible situations, I try to shift them to safe places. Yes, I have helped people run away from their houses because the suffocation was killing them.
What situation/thought inspired you to become the helping hand to other LGBTQ people?
When I discovered that I am a transman, I literally thought that I am committing a sin because that’s what we have been taught in India. I was so depressed about being a sin, a transman, that I just wanted to talk to someone. I needed someone to tell me that “it’s okay, you are not a sin. Its normal. You didn’t choose this. This is natural. Don’t blame yourself for something that’s not in your control.”
While I came out of that strong and handled myself, I believe a lot of folks give up somewhere in the middle. I just want to be there for these folks and tell them that life is worth living, it’s beautiful. The more the struggle, the more beautiful life is.
How long has it been since you started this initiative/project? How is the response?
I started this campaign on 4th April 2020. It was with the belief that when cisgender straight people are suffocating at homes, imagine what would the people from the LGBTQIA+ community from the entire world will be facing. I took the initiative, asked my friends to spread the word. I can say I am very lucky to have friends who understand that this is an important issue.
Since the time I started, I have been able to prevent 8 suicides and several others moved to a safer place.
Everything has its own pros and cons. Did/do you face any hardships while providing help?
Yes, facing hardships is a part of doing good in the society.
I asked for help from many instagram influencers because then it would be easy and effective to spread the word. But they denied saying, “We are taking care of ourselves and we can’t take care of anyone else right now. But you have our blessings, you will do great.” Oh and these are the same people who get on a stage and say out loud that they want to do something good for the society, they want to change the lives of people.
A lot of people must have reached out to you with their stories. Were any of those lies/made up? Did anyone try to take advantage of you in the wrong way?
Oh yes, I have had a case where the person who approached us was lying to us. She had made up a long sad story. And I was a fool enough to believe what she was telling without conducting a background check for her. She asked me for help saying that she is homeless in a new city. Luckily I had a friend who was in the same city and I shifted her to their place.
The real problem started then, she started acting all crazy, she started telling them different stories and started accusing them for things that they didn’t even do. When we conducted a background check on her, we found out that she has caused a lot of trouble to a number of shelter homes. That’s when we decided that once she is fine, we will shift her to a shelter home.
There are always tales that squeeze your heart. Did you get to help someone out of a really horrible situation?
Yes, I was approached by a lady from Delhi. She is a transwoman. She was being ill-treated by her family. And that ill-treatment has already crossed all the limits. She was taken to a mental asylum, put their for several months, she was given electric shocks and what not!
She went through a lot of physical, emotional, mental and verbal abuse that I don’t think anyone can ever imagine.
I straightaway moved her to a safe place, helped her file a case against her own family. No human deserves to go through what she went through.
Among all of the people who’ve spoken to you so far, did anyone have a happy story to share with you?
Apparently, this is sad but in all the phone calls so far, I have not come across a single happy story. People are not accepting themselves, not living themselves and when they do, they are being rejected by their own families.
Did anyone tell you that they are perfectly fine with stuck in isolation with family?
No, not even a single phone call or text saying that they are perfectly fine with being isolated with their family. Every single person I spoke to, is suffocating at home and they just want to get out of their place.
Section 377 was abolished in the year 2018. How much do you think our country has changed since then?
I don’t think that much has changed since then. The problem before section 377 was active was not that it’s not legal, the problem was “It’s not natural”. And that continues till date. What’s ethically and legally acceptable now, is not accepted by people because they think it’s not natural and can be corrected. People who were afraid of the society are still afraid.
Yes, it brought confidence in the people from community. But not a lot has changed in the society.
Please give us the ways through which, any LGBTQ people who need help, can reach out to you?
People can reach out to me on my instagram handle @charlie_1195, or contact me on my phone number +91-7877863762.
What is your opinion on LGBTQIA+ platforms such as Fifty Shades of Gay? Any advice you would want to give our readers?
I think it’s important that we have more such platforms because people need to be educated more and more about the issues faced by LGBTQIA+ community.
Advice to the readers : I want to tell you, love yourself. Believe in yourself. Because if you don’t, no one else will. Once you do, what others think and feel won’t matter anymore. If you ever feel like giving up, just imagine if you had a kid, would you want them to give up on a beautiful life? Would you not want them to fight for their happiness? Life is beautiful if you choose to see the brighter side, every day. Their will be dark nights, for sure. But a dark night is always followed by a sunny day.