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The journey from Abhijit to Abhina
Growing up in a Maharashtrian family in Mumbai in the 1980s, I loved watching my mother dance. I wanted to be just like her, but she told me firmly that dancing wasn't for men. I persisted. When she wasn't at home, I would slip on a pair of ghungroos, dress in her sari and dance the way she did. One day, she came home early, caught me in the act and fired the domestic help for allowing me to dance. I was made to recite a thousand times that I would never do it again.
Well into my teens, I knew there was something wrong with me. I just didn't feel like a boy. I was awkward wearing male clothes at the popular Marathi school I attended. I much preferred the white-andblue skirts that girls wore. All my friends were girls. I was a tad offended when a boy in class confided his love for a girl to me. I wanted to know why he didn't feel that way about me.
As a child I loved dressing as a girl and playing with dolls. My mannerisms were effeminate. But like all families, mine, too, thought it was something I would grow out of.
I am now a proud member of the transgender hijra community and have come a long way from the confused boy I once was. I now work for India HIV/AIDS Alliance in Delhi as programme manager for Pehchan, a project in 17 states working with men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender and hijras, with a focus on HIV/AIDS awareness.
I am amused at the reaction I elicit from people. People are taken aback to meet an intellectual hijra. I recall how frightened I was the first time I saw a hijra as a child. My parents would tell me never to talk to hijras. I felt that if I became a hijra I would lose all dignity and put my parents to shame.
My journey from Abhijit Aher to Abhina Aher was far from easy. With no sex education in school, I had very little knowledge of gender issues while growing up. Whenever I told boys that I liked them, they would insult me and call me a faggot. But I never thought I was gay. I always felt like a woman. Once a bunch of boys got together and tried to rape me in school. I wasn't able to explain the situation to the principal. I have struggled for love, as the men I came in contact with often wanted nothing more than a physical relationship or money.
While working as a software engineer, I came across Bombay Dost, India's first LGBT magazine, through which I got in touch with Humsafar Trust started by gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi. When I met Kavi, I realised for the first time that I wasn't the only one to feel the way I did. He said to me, "Abhi, Vikruti Evam Prakriti - whatever nature gives us is natural. So why do we insult Mother Nature and say that what she has bestowed on us is unnatural?"
I worked for Humsafar Trust for eight years. I began cross-dressing at the time. When people asked me why I did so, I told them that I felt I was in my own skin. Through the articles I read and people I interacted with, I found out about the process of changing one's gender from male to female. I learnt of the surgeries one has to undergo in the process. That's how I became transgender.
I came out to my mother, first that I was homosexual and then that I was transgender. It took my mother 10 years to accept me the way I am, because like me, she too lacked a thorough understanding of gender and sexuality. But now, she calls me her daughter. She is both supportive and protective of me and even attends queer cinema screenings, panel discussions and rallies.
My relatives took a while longer to accept me. For 17 years I never attended a single wedding or ceremony in the family. But now my relatives google my name and read of my achievements online.
While I have had my share of success, I must admit it's not easy being transgender in a transphobic world. I have been rejected by 17 hotels on a trip to Kerala and humiliated by the ground staff at several airports. While commuting on a daily basis, I am used to women giving me the once-over in a bid to figure out which gender I belong to, and men trying to take advantage of me.
But I have had the odd, poignant moment where my identity earns me some respect. Like the time I was walking down the road and a father and mother asked me to bless their son, who was appearing for the class X examination. They gave me a ten-rupee note. I was earning Rs 50, 000 a month at the time, working with John Hopkins University Centre for community programmes as technical specialist on marginalised groups. But I accepted the ten-rupee note as payment for my blessings.
As told to Anahita Mukherji
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