I am a woman who was assigned male at birth, i.e., who transitioned from male to female. The bill that our Lok Sabha passed earlier this week, claiming to provide rights for us whose gender identity differs from what was coercively assigned at birth, is actually a violation of our rights. While others have already articulated in great detail the problems with this bill, I am going to talk about it in the context of my day to day experiences.
The NALSA judgment allowed everyone, irrespective of any medical steps taken or not taken towards a physical gender transition, to self-identify as any gender. But in my story below, I am going to talk about how even someone like me who wants to and is willing to jump through all the hoops of a physical transition, is still likely to face problems and dangerous situations because of this bill.
Gender transition is not a quick process, but can take anywhere between a year to several years depending on circumstances. I have been transitioning gradually for nearly four years now, but it was only in the last year and a half that I started presenting as a woman, and using women’s security queues and restrooms etc where I felt safer. Before that, I presented for several years as male even while I was transitioning to female.
I have heard of gender non-conforming friends who have faced trouble on both the men’s and women’s side
I started growing my hair out and experimenting with androgynous clothing over four years ago, at which point I started getting glances while in public. With laser hair removal on my face soon after, the lack of facial hair took the stares up a notch. Strangers (of all genders and ages) looked at me with curiosity or disgust or doubts about how to gender me, and anyone to whom I had to show an ID or who saw me in a gender-segregated space like a restroom, got confused.
I started hormone replacement therapy (HRT) about two and a half years ago, and three months later, I was stopped for the first time in a men’s security queue at an airport when a CISF staff told me, “Ma’am, please go there”. I looked at him and used my old male voice to say “I know what I am doing”. Taken aback, he laughed off his mistake, as did the co-travelers around.
This happened every single time with me in men’s queues after that, and it kept getting worse. It happened at airports across the country, without any exceptions. Sometimes, the situation would be such, that several male co-passengers and CISF staff would all stare at me even as they went about their job, and even after I had used my voice to defend myself.
Some of them would use other tricks, for instance, not just hear my voice for a few words, but try to make a long enough conversation with me to see if I can sustain that voice, or check for a ‘Mr’ on my boarding pass, or ask for my ID (which I would remind them was in the bag going through x-ray screening). Sometimes when I had the ID with me, like my passport during international travel, then they would check it again and again along with my boarding pass. It was annoying all the time, and this happened whether I was in ‘male mode’ or ‘androgynous mode’. Needless to say, this did not happen with the male passengers around me. It was not standard practice for everyone. It was only me who was subjected to it.
I stopped flying alone after 5 months on HRT, not by choice but just by good fortune, as I always had family or friends along, in my numerous flights between 5 and 15 months on HRT. In this phase, even if I was speaking to someone along with me in a clearly audible male voice, and even if my family or friends were clearly treating me as male, I was still subjected to the treatment mentioned above. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had traveled alone as male at that time.
In train journeys, where I did not have to worry about being touched and frisked, I still saw increasing instances of confusion and stares whenever I showed my ID to the ticket checker.
The bill now passed by the Lok Sabha seeks to force everyone to undergo an intrusive screening process.
After a year of HRT, the situation became so bad that I could no longer pass as male no matter what I wore or how I spoke or behaved. Hence, I switched to the female side in all public places, starting with malls and finally airport security. It has been smooth sailing on the women’s side in the year and a half since, compared to the horrible, annoying, and humiliating experiences on the men’s side earlier.
I am well aware of how my class privilege meant that my experiences were much better than others, because with my old demeanour and a visibly educated, urbane appearance, I was able to pass as male for far longer than others, as well as switch to the female side relatively seamlessly. In comparison, I have heard of gender non-conforming friends who have faced trouble on both the men’s and women’s side, who have had to argue and quarrel and cry in front of such staff, and who have been groped or harassed in the name of security checks.
It is important to note that in all these cases, the perception of one’s gender does not depend on genitalia or any intrusive physical examination, but simply on the perception of one’s face and body, and social cues such as clothing, voice and mannerisms.
The NALSA judgment allowed us, if we were willing to, to change our IDs at any point in the transition. On the contrary, the bill now passed by the Lok Sabha seeks to force everyone to undergo an intrusive screening process, possibly be stuck with T as a gender marker even if one does not want it, and only be able to get a binary gender marker after expensive surgeries. Not everyone is willing to undergo or is medically allowed to or can afford expensive surgeries, and not everyone can afford to pause their personal and professional lives while they undergo such a transition.
For most of us who have to be in public places out of necessity, for the sake of our lives and careers, it is imperative that the state’s ID processes take into account our complex lived realities, and try to make things simpler for us, and not more difficult. Instead, this bill not only makes life more difficult for us, but also violates our rights as proclaimed by the NALSA judgment and as enshrined in the promise of equality in our Constitution.
Featured Image Source: KALW