Dress has always been a hindrance to my financial empowerment

I’m Hemabati, a trans man. From my childhood, I preferred cropped hair and pants. But as I was born a biological woman, my dress and gender expression was often not socially accepted, resulting in many setbacks to my education and livelihood opportunities.

Till the fifth standard, I wore half-pants like the boys. Because of this many, including some of the teachers, teased me, saying, “Since you are wearing a boy’s dress, you must sit with the boys and not with the girls.” When I attended middle school, I was transferred to another school where I had to necessarily wear a school uniform. But I still kept my hair short. My brother frequently scolded me for cutting my hair short, and once even shaved off my hair totally so that I didn’t go out. But I continued to go to school, telling everyone that I shaved off my hair to make them more lustrous!

Around this time I started karate classes. Seeing my good technique, my teachers selected me for participating in a tournament in Mumbai. I ran home to tell my family. As I was excitedly breaking the news, one of my uncles came to visit. He asked what the hullaballoo was all about, and my sister told him about my selection. This uncle retorted, “A girl taking up such kind of sports is inauspicious. What nonsense is this?”

His objection was not just against my biological identity of being a girl, but also against my firm decision to be true to my actual gender identity, which to many conservative people like him was considered “inauspicious.”

Following my uncle’s advice, my family not only stopped me from going to Mumbai but also from taking up sports. The tournament was a great opportunity which could have changed my life, and so I was very disappointed.

Through the years, I realized that the road is always full of such disappointments and discrimination for the transgender community. After graduation I have tried many jobs. I taught in a school, but they wanted me to wear a sari, phanek, etc. I tried to become a medical representative, but my senior bosses wanted me to wear nice girly dresses to lure the customers.

I left all these jobs as I wanted to be true to my gender identity. One, however, needs money to eat and survive, and earning money has been an uphill struggle for me and my partner. There haven’t been many jobs I haven’t tried – from working as daily wage labourer during my school days to selling toys on the roadside during festivals with my partner.

Many times I hate my situation so much, and even start to hate my own existence sometimes. But I have also learnt to persevere and fight for my rights through Empowering Trans Ability, a support organization for trans men, lesbians and bisexual women that some of us have started in Manipur.

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

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