Posted by Ariana Ramachandran
Okay, it is time to talk about the “T” word. Nope, it’s not the tea that many South Asians love to drink daily despite the sweltering heat. The correct answer is the word “transgender.” Now, some people might see that word & think that they have a faint idea or be completely oblivious to the actual definition.
According to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) website, “Transgender” is defined as: an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or gender expression differs from what is typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth. Delving further into this, it is important to note what exactly gender identity & gender expression are. The former term is how an individual views their own gender & whether it agrees with their assigned sex at birth. For transgender people, this may not be the case. Gender expression is the sum of all the visible manifestations of a particular gender through clothing, hairstyle, pronouns, behaviour, voice and so forth.
There are 2 more sets of terms that are key to note & they are non-binary/genderqueer & gender non-conforming. Being outside the box of male & female places an individual in the non-binary/genderqueer one. These individuals’ identities lie somewhere between male & female or completely existing as unique. And, finally, we have the term “gender non-conforming.” This means that one’s gender expression is incongruent with those of traditional masculinity & femininity. A gender non-conforming person may or may not be transgender.
So, what is the point of this didactic introduction? It is to simply underscore how wide a scope gender truly is outside of the binaries, male/female & staying cognizant of the fact that someone you may or may not know, like me, actually fits in to all this…..to a T.
I was assigned male at birth. I grew up like any other typical male in the United States, playing sports, wrestling with my friends, always remaining active & aggressive like a typical boy would be. However, I felt inside this feeling that something was slightly amiss. This feeling essentially was dormant in me since my elementary school days. I knew that I had a feminine side within me (like I believe we all do) but it was never really nurtured, just casually dismissed by me for fear of embarrassment or because I would look like a woman.
However, I began to start catering to that sentiment a few times around the late teenage to young adult years such as going to my mother’s closet and trying on her high heels, putting on various dresses and even going so far as to trying on a bra. I do have a medical condition called gynecomastia (slightly enlarged male breasts) so it did furnish me a reason to wear one that was nice. All I could remember that it was a rush of adrenaline.
I felt so empowered, beautiful & pretty just thinking about it. This felt right in my eyes. Wearing nail polish on my toes for the first time was something that made me smile though a risk to do so as it was difficult to remove. I ended up wearing socks around the house to hide it until I found a way to scrape it off. All in all, I felt innately happy being able to dabble into this & think how fortunate women can be to have all these items at their disposal. It was not difficult for a person looking like a male to ever dream of things like these.
I was tacitly aware of how our society perpetuates this double standard that women can express themselves as masculine to any extent possible but it was sinful for men to do the same. Argh! I hated that. I despised the patriarchy that suffocates the life out of men who wished to express their femininity or their authentic selves as transgender.
I began to go to my mother’s closet and try on her high heels, and dresses and even tried on a bra.
Personally, I was fortunate to have parents who had created strong spiritual underpinnings for me to establish myself as long as I was happy. They encouraged me to play sports I enjoyed, while also stay in touch with my feminine side – gender roles were never discussed.
When I came out to them in October 2014, they keenly listened and understood. There were no restrictions, just unconditional love. There was no question that an adjustment period had to happen for them, and I remember myself wearing a kurta with red coloured leggings to a local temple. People would glance or snicker, but I know that my happiness was most important in their eyes. It helped me to be at ease of the situation and always making sure to calmly explain what being transgender/gender non-conforming is to others who enquire.
I hate patriarchy that suffocates men who wish to express their femininity or authentic selves as transgender.
Getting past that “hurdle” with my folks, the natural growing desire to express myself as more feminine in public spaces became even more bold. This feeling was heightened even more so after I really understood who a person named Ariana Grande was. I am an ardent fan of her after listening to her songs and discovering that in addition to being a spectacular singer, she has been hugely supportive of the LGBTQ community and its needs, as her brother is also gay. Her song “Break Free” has been a gay anthem for many in the US even so much so that Ariana was invited in 2015 to perform at the New York City Pride Parade. I gravitate towards those who spread a positive, open message about a fruitful, fulfilled life. It does not mean that I have eliminated all ideas of masculinity that I had bouncing around my mind, but to mix/match/fuse and unleash my true self.
Subsequently, with careful introspection & also doing research & reading, it evolved into an honest acceptance being as being listed under the umbrella term, “transgender” – more specifically “gender non-conforming.” I realized that this was who I am while the circumstances around me helped to expedite my awareness of it. Not everyone was going to understand but I think that anyone with genuine curiosity would ask me about it, thereby, becoming better educated.
On the flip side, there are always going to be ignorant people who will look down and shame those who identify as transgender or as part of the LGBTQ community, throwing hurtful invectives like “faggot” or “pussy”, etc. However, one has to move on and stay positive. Much like how the word “queer” has gained positive currency in the LGBTQ community as a term of empowerment, I took pussy & linked it with Ariana, cats & princess to think imagine myself as a “pussycat princess” and to believe with every fibre of my being that there should never be any negative connotation with a vagina. I have heard my share of such vitriol and had people stare at me, thinking I was a disgrace or deserved to be looked down upon. I had to be mentally tough, rely on God, have that “thick skin” and move on.
My personal philosophy is to surround myself with individuals and things that make me happy, and be ruthless in eliminating the negatives in my life. I owe a great deal to my friends, Sathya and Bharathy, for their continuous strong encouragement and loving words.
Sathya blessed with the nickname “Princess K” which is one nickname I am referred to this day by her & others. I am free to live my life, be a productive member of society and make my family proud through my work, character & overall comportment taught by them and our spiritual guru, Sathya Sai Baba.
This is my narrative that is not extraordinary to say the least. It is my belief that many such South Asian males maintain such surreptitious sentiments. What is gained if a male child deals with such feelings by suffocating himself just to please society? Could he be at risk for depressive symptoms or even become suicidal? Maybe. It is imperative that South Asian parents teach their male children at the youngest age possible because in a misguided quest to be “real men”, many males may cease being real humans. As Indians, we should encourage our sons to conduct their lives with freedom even if they do not encapsulate the expectations society holds of them.
Also Read: Boyhood And The Dangers Of Toxic Masculinity
Archaic ideas of gender roles should be vanquished as was polio in India. We should help our developing boys understand that being sensitive, nurturing, artistic or less sexually focused does not compromise their masculinity in any way; character development is most essential. My question to Indian parents is the following: Would you not desire a son that is responsible to the family, is academically sound and contributes to the betterment of society – regardless of whether he willingly undertakes roles traditionally assigned to a female, expresses himself uniquely, defers important decisions to his wife and is not a dominant figure in a relationship?
This is my narrative that is not extraordinary to say the least.
On a macro level, imagine how gender functions in the real world: From homosexual men and women, to the transgender community, to masculine women or feminine men and all the majestic shades of gender ambiguity in between, gender is not an absolute quantity so much as it is a spectrum – a rainbow coalition if you will. In the country’s poetry and ancient mythologies, Indians have conceded the fluidity of gender; it is only in the laws that we stick with the binary system of male and female. A change in India’s thought process where gender is thought of as one of the various hues in a rainbow would offer a more dynamic and hearty nation that would be on the ascent because its children. Here’s hoping for that change – change that is good.
For more information regarding LGBTQ terminology, please check out the GLAAD website.
Ariana is a medical professional who is passionate about issues such as Global Health, Human Rights, LGBTQ rights, Feminism, Education & Spirituality. They are a gastronome & follower of Sai Baba, Ramana Maharshi & Ariana Grande. They believe gender is a social construct rather than a biological one.
Featured Image Credit: Young Teacher’s Collective