GT (UK) - - LIFE - WORDS daniel mor­ris

Trans­gen­der ac­tivist Ru­drani Chet­tri is at the heart of change. Help­ing lo­cal trans sex work­ers fight against prej­u­dice and vi­o­lence, she’s work­ing to push against the closed minds of In­dian so­ci­ety. Now, the soon-to-be model shares with us her re­mark­able story of hope.

Look­ing back at pho­tos of my­self, I’m amazed at my jour­ney. I was born to grow and be­come a man, but I didn’t.

My sex­u­al­ity al­ways felt nat­u­ral to me, but in my so­ci­ety who I could turn to. And the ones I could came from tra­di­tional Hi­jra clan. I al­ways ex­per­i­mented with my­self to live as true as pos­si­ble, and it al­ways felt like baby steps. My life has been a real jour­ney of recog­ni­tion and tran­si­tion.

I was raised in a con­ven­tional In­dian so­ci­ety. Be­ing trans is hard – be­cause of the vi­o­lence and stigma against us, we’re seen to bring shame to our fam­ily. We’re of­ten dis­owned and found on the streets try­ing to join clans. We’re then easy sex­ual tar­gets, and many of us have faced se­vere abuse. But through all of this, I’ve grown a thick skin. I’ve learnt to ig­nore the taunts and fo­cus my time pos­i­tively. I’ve worked to keep be­liev­ing there WILL be a change, and to stay pos­i­tive for my­self and for the younger trans­gen­der gen­er­a­tion of In­dia.

I don’t feel like a day, month or even year went by when I thought, ‘I’m trans­gen­der.’ It’s been a grad­ual jour­ney, but I’ve been lucky to have a rel­a­tively sup­port­ive fam­ily. More so since the In­dian Supreme Court passed a law recog­nis­ing those who are trans as a third gen­der. This has shown a pos­i­tive step in the right di­rec­tion for in­clu­sion, but also how we’re slowly work­ing to gain more ac­cep­tance.

like me. Their pri­mary goal is to sim­ply to sur­vive. Noth­ing has changed in this sense and, sadly, a law can’t change a thou­sand years of per­cep­tion. I’m still en­coun­ter­ing peo­ple dis­owned by their fam­i­lies and I still see ex­treme vi­o­lence and abuse of trans sex work­ers. I re­cently wasn’t al­lowed into my lo­cal shop­ping mall be­cause of my gen­der. But all this hate gives me hope. It’s in­spired me to cre­ate the MITR Trust in 2005; a safe space where trans peo­ple can truly be them­selves.

I’ve spent my younger days with char­i­ties the trans and Hi­jra com­mu­nity needed a place that was run and man­aged by the com­mu­nity it­self; a place where they could ex­press them­selves and not have to worry. These places they cre­ated al­lowed me to feel I could be my­self.

Hav­ing seen young trans peo­ple suf­fer with de­pres­sion, and even com­mit sui­cide, I know we’ve been able to save a few lives and let them be proud.

Be­ing shunned for cen­turies means that med­i­cal at­ten­tion for the com­mu­nity has been scarce, but we now run a drop-in clinic ev­ery week, which is a safe and easy way for trans peo­ple to ac­cess health care.

Sex work and begging re­main as two of peo­ple. We’re try­ing to work closely with both, but also help iden­tify sex work­ers that are at ten part­ners in one night, so we try to de­liver free con­doms, lube and dis­in­fec­tant wipes. There’s even an emer­gency team that deals with any vi­o­lent in­ci­dent that could hap­pen while they work. The health and safety of our com­mu­nity still re­mains a real top pri­or­ity.

But with a 22 per cent cut in AIDS fund­ing in In­dia, we’ve not re­ceived any form of reg­u­lar fund­ing in more than nine months. It means pro­vide con­doms to some sex work­ers. We sadly face a very real threat of clos­ing down. be­ing pushed back into sex work to sur­vive. Our reach of work has also fallen by 50 per cent in the last year.

achieve­ments has been the steadily-in­creas­ing num­ber of peo­ple we work with. Over the years, num­bers have been ris­ing and we now work with more than 1,500 and even com­mit sui­cide, I know we’ve been able to save a few lives and let them be proud mem­bers of so­ci­ety. And we’re con­stantly work­ing with the media to gain an in­creased ac­cep­tance for trans­gen­der peo­ple within the main­stream so­ci­ety of In­dia.

I’ve al­ways been out­spo­ken in my ap­proach to en­cour­age ev­ery young trans per­son to be vo­cal about their right for safety, dig­nity and the chance of a re­spectable life. Spread­ing knowl­edge around a per­son’s ba­sic so­cial en­ti­tle­ment and rights has been key, as well as pro­vid­ing them with a team of com­mu­nity-based coun­sel­lors that deal with any is­sues they could have with fam­ily, sex­u­al­ity, or even ad­vice on hor­mone ther­apy and is­sues with their part­ners.

But I have goals for my­self still. I al­ways dreamt of be­ing a model, but grow­ing up I was never al­lowed to re­alise that dream. I’ve spent my life be­com­ing a poster model for trans­gen­der rights and is­sues, and it took courage to pave the way, but I think we’re ready to gel fur­ther into the fash­ion world.

I want to en­cour­age ev­ery trans per­son to come out and take a shot at claim­ing their dreams, just like I have. The fash­ion world is one of the strong­est ways to raise aware­ness, so­ci­ety. I’m now work­ing with peo­ple from the in­dus­try that see us as beau­ti­ful. This will have a strong im­pact on the self-im­age of the com­mu­nity and in­spire other trans peo­ple to not give up. Fash­ion, in its el­e­vated po­si­tion, helps bridge the gap of ac­cep­tance with the main­stream so­ci­ety; and we’re hope­ful about this ven­ture.

If I were to make it onto the cover of a fash­ion mag­a­zine as a trans model, it’d be a to­tal dream come true. It would be a mo­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion and try­ing to gain ac­cep­tance. In the fu­ture, I’d love to see more trans mod­els, and turn this ac­cep­tance into work to see trans faces next to male and fe­male mod­els on the run­ways. I hope we can carve our own niche and make it onto bill­boards and ad­verts ev­ery­where in the world.

It would re­mind every­one about the beauty of trans. We’re made to feel like an ugly aber­ra­tion, and this state­ment would be our pride and beauty in main­stream so­ci­ety.

For more on the work of Ru­drani and the MITR Trust, search for “MITR Trust” on Face­book

PORTRIAT nis­hant shukla

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