Beauty parlour was a stop-gap, my real goal is still ahead!

bonitaI’m Bonita. I’m a trans woman. I’m 30 years old and live in a small locality in Imphal West district.

I was a good student, above average if not a topper. I sat for my high school examinations in 2005 and passed with high marks. At that time I didn’t know what my gender identity was. I didn’t feel myself to be a boy. I wasn’t able to show any masculinity; rather I transfigured myself as girlish. This made people laugh at me, and the laughter became harsh to my mind. So I didn’t want the company of my friends and mates. I felt isolated and became secluded. At the same time my parents also restricted me from playing and associating with girls. They didn’t want me to behave like a girl. They thought of me as their son, which was contrary to my inner sense and feelings.

After my matriculation I was admitted to a co-educational higher secondary school by my parents. But I felt odd sitting with boys on the same bench. I was always silent, never uttering a single word to my bench mates. With each passing day I felt more and more reluctant to attend classes. I wasn’t able to pay attention to my studies and feared expressing what I felt inside. So I started bunking school, telling lies to my parents.

Somehow I passed my 12th standard and got admitted to a premier college in Imphal. Here too, the same thing happened. My classmates started avoiding me because of my gender identity and gender expressions. Even when it came to sitting on a bench, it became a problem. I found it unpleasant to sit with the boys, but also couldn’t sit with the girls. I bore it for some time. But the sense of isolation grew and I dropped out in the second year of college.

I also began expressing my trans identity as I could no longer bear hiding it. I kept my hair long and dressed up as a girl. My family members scolded me and thrashed me whenever they saw me like this. When I couldn’t bear it anymore, I ran away from home and took shelter in a beauty parlour run by some of my trans sisters. I learnt the trade from them and soon after started my own beauty parlour. I also learnt tailoring and made dresses.

When I started earning and helped my family financially, they too started accepting me gradually. But in my heart I knew I wanted more from life. The beauty parlour was a refuge but not my real goal in life. So after a few years, I enrolled myself in another college and completed my graduation. Now I have become a transgender rights advocate, trying to address those discriminatory issues that not only I but most transgender people face in Manipur. It’s a long journey, but I’m not one to run away!

Written by Bonita Pebam with support from Thingnam Anjulika Samom, freelance journalist and gender rights activist.

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Evicted from my own house because I’m gay and HIV positive

I’m Khaba, a college student. I’m 23 years old and a person living with HIV. I’m gay.

Both my parents were also infected with HIV. My father passed away when I was very young. My mother too has passed away. She used to be a government school teacher, and struggled single-handedly to feed and clothe me and my two sisters. When I was young, I would throw tantrums when my mother fed me a white pill every day. At that time I would question her why she fed me the pill. It was only after I threw the pill away one evening that she explained how the pill was my life, and if I stopped taking the pill I wouldn’t see her and my sisters again. After that I agreed to the daily medication.

As a result of my HIV status, stigma and discrimination was part of my life from an early age. There were times when my schoolmates would tell me not to turn my face towards them in the school van fearing that I might infect them. As I grew up I realized the meaning of my friends’ fear and the white pill, and became determined to live long and support my mother. I would go to the market to purchase items for the small grocery shop that she also ran.

At the same time I started avoiding friends who discriminated against me and by the time I reached secondary school, I found a few understanding friends who accepted my HIV status. Many among them were also gay. With them I was happy and felt as if the world was with me.

My happiness was short-lived. In February 2016, my mother passed away, and with that started a new path of difficulties and hindrances in my life. Less than a year after mother’s death, I came to know that she had mortgaged our land. The money-lender now insisted that we pay up five lakh rupees, which included both principal and interest, within a few days to free up the land.

Somehow my aunts and uncles collected the amount, and gave it to my eldest sister. But the next day itself she eloped with her boyfriend, taking the money with her. When she refused to return the money, my second sister, then already married, paid the money-lender and retrieved the land patta from mortgage. Thereafter she insisted that the land deeds should be transferred to her name. Though I offered her the daughter’s share, as traditionally given in Meitei society, she wanted to own the entire property.

Seeing no way out, I sought help from my trans aunty who gave me two lakh rupees which she had been saving up for her sex change surgery. I thought of mortgaging my father’s pension book for another three lakh rupees. But this too was in my second sister’s custody. Even when I offered her the two lakh rupees and requested her to give me back the pension book so that I could mortgage it and repay her money, she didn’t agree. Rather she told me that she had discussed the matter with my eldest sister and they both had decided not to register the land in my name as I had relations with males and they feared that one day I would give away all the property to them.

I had never expected such words from my sisters, especially to a brother who was always downtrodden by the society. Their attitude affected me so much that many a time I even forgot to take my antiretroviral therapy pills (the same white pills).

I’m in mental torture day and night. Without telling anything to anyone I just collected some personal stuff and left my house. Now I don’t know what to do and where to go. My trans aunty, who always supported me, asked me to live with her. But I’m human. I don’t want to leave my house with which all my memories are associated for so long just because of my sexual identity.

Written by Santa Khurai with support from Thingnam Anjulika Samom, freelance journalist and gender rights activist.

What is a normal couple?

I’m Meme. I’m 49 years old and a lesbian. I live with my partner, a trans man in a small village in Imphal West district.

I met my partner through a common friend when I was around 27 years old. Initially my parents didn’t say anything when he used to visit my house, eat with us or even stay overnight at times, perhaps because he is ‘biologically’ a ‘woman’. But later when neighbours and locals started commenting on his gender identity as trans man, my family started showing signs of annoyance, and tried to distance me from him. They tried to find male matches for me, and once even tried to forcibly get me eloped with a man [marriage based on elopement]. Luckily my partner heard about it and rescued me.

Matters came to a head when I stayed at my partner’s house for a few days to nurse him during an illness. My family was very angry with me, and locked me up for the day when I returned. That decided things for me. I came out of the house and stayed with a relative. My partner too came to stay with me and we have stayed together since then.

In between we stayed at my partner’s house in an adjoining village for a few years to help his younger siblings. When they grew up a bit, we built a small shop-cum-home in my own village to survive. I sell cigarettes, biscuits, toffees and paan. In a lean-to adjoining the house, he sells fish and chicken.

Initially friends and relatives would tell me, “Get married, it is sad to see you living like this.” I would tell them, “Right now I have no thoughts of marriage. Later when I do, I will ask you to find me a match.” Now they have stopped saying all these things to me.

Our relationship is full of love though we fight too sometimes. But we also make up as we realize this is our destiny in this life. Our sole worry now is who would look after us in our old age. We have discussed adoption for a long time, but are yet to come to a conclusion on whether we should adopt a relative’s child or an orphan. We don’t even know if we would be allowed to legally adopt a child as people still don’t look at us as a ‘normal couple’.

Even the house we live in now is built on village common land. People from our village can stay here but not outsiders. We have requested for a house number so that we can avail of social security schemes like food security, but we have been told that it may not be possible since we’re not a ‘normal couple’.

What or who is a ‘normal couple’? We love each other, we live together like husband and wife, and we want children. Is that not normal enough?

As told to Thingnam Anjulika Samom, freelance journalist and gender rights activist.