Published: 17th May 2018
International Day Against Homophobia: A day in the life of a transwoman
This is what 22-year-old Tharika Banu, a student in a Siddha College in Chennai, faces on a typical day
Every morning I wake up at around 5 am. It's a habit I've had since my school days and even though I know college starts only at 9.30 am, I'm always up early. The first thing I see in the morning is my mother's sweet smiling face - she's not my birth mother though. My birth mother knows that I'm safe and sound and under someone's care but we don't have a regular relationship anymore.
But life with my new mother and my two sisters brings me great joy because I get to live in my own skin. We are all transwomen and all from families that don't think of us as their own anymore.
But ANYWAY, I'm the only student in our family and that's why I am the first to get out of the house in the mornings. I do try to help around the house and with some of the cooking in the morning and then I leave for college. My house is in Aminjikarai and college is in Arumbakkam, which isn't too much of a distance, so I mostly walk it. Sometimes I take the bus. It doesn't really matter what mode of transport I choose, I'll get the same kind of stares everywhere. In the neighbourhood it's not too bad these days. Everyone knows me now and they know I study - so that somehow validates my existence to society.
When I get out of the neighbourhood, the staring starts. I don't really look up at these people anymore but I can constantly feel those peering eyes on me. Sometimes I feel I have reached a point where it doesn't affect me anymore and sometimes I realise that I might be far from reaching that stage. But I must say that things have definitely improved since I was in school, before I transitioned. People would ask me to "walk like a man" and it was worse then because I myself felt so uncomfortable with who I was. Now, of course, I am who I always wanted to be - a woman. But turns out, that still isn't enough for society.
If they're not staring then they're whispering in each other's ears and they don't try to be subtle about it either. Their eyes will be looking at me and their mouth will be in someone's ear and I can almost hear them discussing me - wondering if I was going to approach them for money, or if it's a man then if I'm going to approach them with an offer for paid sex. I think that maybe if they knew I was a student then they would treat me with respect. But then again I don't know and I never will, if that is true.
I know that our society looks down upon a girl talking to a boy unless the two are discussing studies. But God forbid, I speak to a male friend that's the end of it. They are convinced I'm asking him for sex. There is absolutely NO OTHER reason why I would need to talk to the male gender, right? The thing is that I have no one to speak up for me and in case I do so myself, they'll immediately say I'm getting aggressive, that I show "rowdy" behaviour and that I scare them.
But things change when I go to college. Everyone is nice to me — especially my teachers and my classmates. So from 9.30 am to 5 pm, I have no one giving me weird stares or asking me uncomfortable questions. I can calmly go about my work. But that's just in my college. When I go to other colleges, it's a whole other story. People look at me and pass remarks or snigger at me and they again wonder whether I actually "belong" there. Sometimes they'll come up to me and actually ask me things like how I got the admission and if it was even legal.
I'm quite grateful that such people are not in my college and I get to feel secure within those four walls. After I finish classes, I go home straight. Very rarely, I go with my friends to the mall but it's funny what happens there. Nobody will say anything to my face but the minute I pass them I'll hear a snarky remark and giggles.
My sisters also face similar issues, one of them said that many times people will get up from the seat if they know that they are going to sit down next to them or random people will come up to them and say "Polama?". But how many battles can you fight? That's why I wait to just get home, back to my family. I go back the earliest, so I usually cook some dinner and then sit down with my books. At 12, it's lights out. And then it's the next day and I always hope that it is better.
Sometimes it is.
- Tharika Banu