Trigger Warning: Graphic violence, rape, murder
We sit inside the cosy room of Treebo Select Grand Bhabendra Alay, in Beltola Road in Guwahati. The weather outside is pleasant, breezy enough to keep the room airy, so we open the window and sat comfortably on the queen sized bed. While I test the recorder, she pours herself whisky in a glass and mixes it with water. She takes few sips as I ask my first question. “What is Shillong like for you?” She pauses for a moment while still holding the whisky glass and replies in a soft tone, “I don’t know!” Then I simply ask her to tell me about her life as she wishes.
This is her story.
My life started on a bitter note. My father left my mother when I was just three months old and I was told that it was because my mother was from the Presbyterian church as opposed to the Catholic church my father belonged to. His persistent efforts to convert her was opposed by my grandmother and it led to the breakup of the marriage.
So, I was raised by my grandmother and mother, two single mothers to an extent, though my mother remarried later. So, my childhood was one filled with broken ties, attachment issues, parenting crisis, and most importantly poverty that drove me into circumstances that I had never imagined in my life – from going hungry for days to being torn between conflicted parents. These are life challenges that I continue to deal with besides bearing the harsh brunt of being a trans woman in Shillong – an identity still misunderstood and discriminated in this city called Scotland of the East.
Before life hit me real bad I did have my ‘fairy tale years’, however short it was. When I was a little child, I used to play with my kitchen set and dolls that my grandmother used to get me, every now and then. She loved me the way I was, my mother also didn’t say much and my father had left us by that time.
Once during their absence in the house, a 13 year old boy tried to strip off my clothes and see ‘if I were a boy or girl’.
Once during their absence in the house, a 13 year old boy tried to strip off my clothes and see ‘if I were a boy or girl’. He molested me and that must be the first time I experienced abuse, but not the last time. The next few years were filled with life changing experiences that wrecked my own family though there were better times as well in between. The bullying, fear, isolation and identity crisis that I experienced during the first year of my schooling in St. Xavier in class 6 brought more burden into life that was already falling apart.
I was a very punctual student who always reached school on time. Morning assembly was such an integral part of the school I never dared to miss it initially. However, students started bullying me, calling me out for neither being a real girl or a boy but a ‘fake woman’ or a ‘second hand’ and sometimes boys even pushed me or pulled me out of the assembly. I started getting confused and worried about my place in the assembly. I felt that I belonged neither in the boys’ nor the girls’ line, but strangely somewhere in between. But I had no clear answers about my identity crisis back then. I invented ways to skip school assembly and I would wait for everyone to leave in order to pee all alone in the washroom. By the end of the year, I realised I was coming face to face with my identity crisis.
At home my mother was caught up with my stepfather and her work. She didn’t have time for me. I was probably hated by my stepfather because I was barely productive in his eyes except for doing household chores in my mother’s absence. I felt I wasn’t loved nor cared for. And at school, I was falling in a circle of young people who would bring alcohol to school. Sooner or later, I tasted and never gave up after that.
I didn’t acquire just the taste of alcohol, but also sex around the same time. It was almost like alcoholism paved the way to sexual indulgence. I lost my virginity to a distant relative. We would drink alcohol together followed by regular sex every night. Initially, it was painful and hard for me but over time he helped me learn the art of it, I started liking it as well. There were times I felt like a girl during those moments of lust and intimacy, he did know how to bring out the sexual being in me. I am not sure if I was overpowered or manipulated, but I participated.
During the day I was still a very young school-going kid, at night I was a fully grown person indulging in an intensely sexual relationship with an adult, who was way older than me. It lasted for some good years. By the time I was in class 9, my studies were severely affected and my life was constantly getting out of hands and my family kept disintegrating further. I also found out my mother had been a victim of domestic abuse for a long time. It broke my heart and yet I was helpless. My life went on aimlessly.
In 2004, my mother abruptly went to Shillong and left me alone in Nongstoin, a village in West Khasi hills. My sister and brother were already married by then and had moved out. That drove me mad; I felt alone, sad, and clueless. I was literally drinking alcohol regularly, roaming the city at night with random guys, and getting wasted. I failed in school that year in class 9. I requested the Principal to allow me to study in class 10 which I was granted miraculously. But I continued to get drunk, wasted, and hung around with those guys and that severely affected my schooling.
as the last last ray of hope, I finally found a community that has given me some strength to thrive.
I didn’t attend classes and halfway through the year, I was expelled from school. That was around the time I also found out that my mother left me alone in the village because she could no longer bear domestic violence at the hands of my then stepfather. I couldn’t figure out what devastated me more – my mother’s pain or my slowly deteriorating life. But life simply continued.
The early years of playing with kitchen set and dolls, the first abuse experience at the age of 3, the bullying and harassment in school, the subsequent years of sexual relationship with an older man, the repeated call out in my society, and the first trans women friends I came to befriend, culminated in shaping my initial journey as a trans woman in Shillong.
In 2006, a trans woman I knew personally was allegedly gang-raped and murdered in my locality. The dead body was found in the drain. That day I was stepping out of my aunt’s house after eating jadok (Khasi pulao). I met a man from my neighborhood, who came up to me and threatened to my face saying “you will be the next”. Another man came up and told me, “you too act like a girl, you will also get killed”. I was stunned and scared. Then few moments later I came across the dead body of the trans woman lying in the drain, her head bruised as if hit by a stone and her clothes ripped apart. The death of my fellow trans friend and the threats to me that followed left me scarred and horrified.
In 2008, I came to know about Samakami, a community based organisation in Shillong that works in providing health services and legal aid to LGBTQIA+ community. I joined Samakami that year and in 2012, 2013, and 2014 I participated in the Transqueen Contest held in Manipur through which I came to befriend trans women from other states including Santa Khurai from Manipur. In 2016, I went to my first national LGBTQIA+ event in Delhi. I came to be associated with SAATHI as well with support from Santa.
Also read: A Trans Daughter‘s Open Letter To Her Family
My association with the LGBTQIA+ movement increased as it opened up new avenues and prospects and fostering the growth of my personhood. Wherever I stand today, is the outcome of my personal struggles and circumstances alike and as the last last ray of hope, I finally found a community that has given me some strength to thrive. However, I continue to face harassment, threats, violence, and hate speech both from within and outside Shillong.
The testimonial was shared by Dona Marven to Kumam Davidson. Dona is a trans woman from Shillong. She can be reached at email@example.com
This article was originally published in The Chinky Homo Project and has been republished here with permission.