National

We Are Not The Others: Tale Of An Artivist Transwoman

Kalki Subramaniam sews poetry, art and even a matrimony website together to reflect on and mitigate trans struggles.

Advertisement

We Are Not The Others: Tale Of An Artivist Transwoman
info_icon

In recent years, India has seen quite a few progressive measures in favour of wom­en, trans and the LGBTQIA+ community. A question that persists is whether these pen-and-paper rules percolate through the (un)conscious bias, superstitious beliefs and other­ing that surrounds the trans community.

As a teenager, Kalki Subramaniam recalls her struggle while coming out to her parents. But the celebrated transwoman ‘artivist’ from Pollachi, Tamil Nadu, considers herself ‘lucky’. Unlike many from the queer community, she was not banished from home and allowed to complete her education. “Trans activism is growing every day, but we have to figure out why the needs of the trans community are not reaching those at the top. It could be because education does not reach our community and our people are not taken seriously,” says Subramaniam.

Advertisement

In her book, We Are Not The Others, a collection of poems, art and articles, which is the reflection of an ‘artivist’, Subrama­niam resorts to artistic activism to talk about the victims of ‘age-old propaganda’ that makes a trans-identified person feel like a ‘misfit within the norms of a society’.

‘Some fathers menstruate
And some mothers can’t breastfeed’

—We Are Not The Others

In August, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) and the Department of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) signed a MoU to provide an inclusive and composite health package for transgenders under Ayushman Bharat-PMJAY. MoSJE will fund a Rs 5 lakh insurance cover per transgender beneficiary, per annum.

Advertisement

Under the scheme, more hospitals will be empanelled to provide sex reassignment surgeries. “In 2008, Tamil Nadu became the first state government to provide free sex reassignment surgeries to trans people. But there’s one big problem. There are enough qualified doctors. But none qualified in sex-change operations,” says Subramaniam. Terming her own surgery “disaster”, she recalls feeling as if the doctors were merely experimenting on her body. “They performed surgeries and learnt from our bodies, but we did not know we were being turned into another set of victims.” She further alleges that the surgeons failed to produce any official document as proof of training. “I assume they were in consultation with doctors from across borders or resorting to videos online. I doubt if the government is even aware of this!”

“...That is how those idiots or should I call them smart doctors learned to do sex reassignment surgeries. They still do, but I heard they make better vaginas these days. As for my vagina, it is only three inches deep and with much difficulty and some great tricks, it could qualify for intercourse. But no, I am not interested in sex anymore and so the shape of my vagina doesn’t really matter to me anymore. I want to get rid of what I didn’t want, and I got rid of it. That’s all that matters to me.”

—My Perfectly Imperfect Vagina, We Are Not The Others
 
Trans-identified men and women often opt for “any sex-change surgery”, given the lack of education to figure out a good doctor, coupled with meagre resources. Sadly, they find satisfaction with ‘something is better than nothing’ despite putting their health at risk.

Advertisement

In 2009, when a popular matrimonial website rejected Subramaniam’s profile, she overnight started Thirunangai Transgender Matrimonial website for transwomen. “I launched the website with just six profiles. In no time, we were flooded with 2,000 marriage proposals from respectable professions,” says Subrama­niam. But all the men wanted a “secret marriage”. In her book, Subra­maniam writes, “From princes to paupers, the Indian men who sent their marriage proposals had no issues about marrying a trans woman, but all wanted a ‘secret marriage’, ‘secret relationship’, ‘secret love’, ‘secret wife’…!” A secured marriage and adopting a child remain a distant dream for transwomen.

Advertisement

‘If this and this   
is what strictly defines me as a woman,   
then I am not one.   
I shall remain half a woman.’

—Half A Woman, We Are Not The Others 

(This appeared in the print edition as "What Every Woman Dreams")

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement

Advertisement