As a Trans Woman, I am in Higher Education Only Because I Lied My Way Through Life; But No More

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, 2019 was passed by the Rajya Sabha on November 26. It is currently awaiting the President’s assent. This Bill reduces many of us transgender people to nothing but bodies. Recently, it was reported in media that the human resource development ministry told the Lok Sabha that there are no transgender students in central universities. Then who am I? I am a trans person, who identifies herself as a trans woman but I did not declare so in my form. HRD minister, I am studying in the Delhi University. Count me! Sadly, the Bill in current form will ensure more of our stigmatisation.

The passing of this Bill marks the start of a time that may make it harder for trans people to be acknowledged in our society. The real reason is also somehow the way in which gender defines our lives, or to say my life every day. Gender is a construct, yes. But it is also a significant aspect of why I am constantly thinking on how to avoid battles even before they prop up.

As a trans woman, the first thing that I usually have to face while travelling is, the Delhi Metro security checks. You no longer are a comfort to people’s eyes, but a sign to be curious and voyeuristic about. Female security guards do not want to check you. Male security guards are offended to check you. There is a CCTV camera which records, so depending on your dress you are pushed to the check where you ‘pass off’ best. Of course this is after facing humiliation, stares and harassment, a 10-20 minute waiting, a check of your card while you are at it and a giggle or two after you get out.

The ID card of course screams ‘male’ which I never was, but that’s how the state identifies me. That’s what I am ‘supposed’ to be. So then, a public space is never legitimately mine if I dare be myself. The washroom is the perfect example of this. From men staring at you, reminding you are a ‘sex object’, to crowds gathering or murmuring on why you are even there, to words ranging from insults to cuss words. So what do I do? I rather not eat or drink the entire day while I am in public.

This consequentially leads me to face stomach infections, a range of health issues and stress. You are made to feel lonelier within your own body. This has been my experience of public washrooms. Inside the Metro station, or often in my university too.

NALSA v Union of India SCI 2014 reaffirmed self-identification of our gender identity as a fundamental right. The judgment also mandated another column in forms while specifying one’s gender- as ‘transgender’. However, that is where it stands.

While many universities have transgender/others on their admission forms, the inclusion is only up to that point. This is piecemeal for a simple reason: almost all the structures, facilities and events that occur in a university or college uphold a gender binary that keeps trans people out. There has been no real attempt to understand how gender works in universities.

Let’s start with a freshers’ party often seen in colleges – Mr Fresher or Ms Fresher? Which of these would you ‘allow’ me to participate in? The gender that I identify with? Or the gender that I never was and am? Universities and colleges do not do their duty of conducting sensitisation workshops, definitely not related to transgender and queer people. UGC regulations on ragging (3rdamendment) state that abuse based on sexual orientation and gender identity is not allowed and can constitute ragging.

However, I am called names every day. Often made to feel like I don’t belong, stalked and laughed at. A hostile study space, that’s every day for me. I am often misgendered. It is not viewed with seriousness. Especially of how triggering it can be for someone, whose identity is being denied every day.

Every student society, competition, event in a university has only two categories: male or female. So for a year and half, I have stayed away because none of those made any space for me to be there. It does affect my career, my morale.

University hostels do not admit transgender persons, irrespective of whether or not they identify within or outside the binary. Hostels are often male or female hostels. The moment a demand for gender-neutral hostels, in addition to gender-binary hostels is made, people wonder what it means. However, when rooms at your home are not openly labelled based on gender, why can’t universities open just another room without labelling it?

That is what the Bill also tends to do, forget our rights, keep us in our families, or simply ghettoise us. Insensitive binary hostels and the lack of gender-neutral hostels also achieve this, reminding us that we have no place in universities. If you are a cisgender person, you are entitled to apply to a hostel.

If you are openly a trans person, you better not! Some people say we need ‘transgender toilets’ and ‘transgender hostels’. This is the problem. That people don’t realise transgender identity is not like just another category, the way we understand ‘male’ or ‘female’. It is about whoever or whatever we want to be.

It is about realising that for some binary is where they see themselves. But for some, the binary is just not them. The Bill here privileges and erects the binary by making it mandatory for me to go through a sex reassignment surgery, get it certified by the ‘chief medical officer’ and then reapply, as well ‘satisfy’ the district magistrate.

This process, of insisting on surgery for recognition of gender identity violates the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) judgment which terms it unconstitutional. However, this is the crucial question: Why should I as a student go through the surgery to identify as a woman? Has the government thought through how it will affect our lives? Has anyone thought about how costly the surgery is going to be?

There are many transgender persons who do not wish to go through the surgery. Then why should be they forced to, by putting that in a law? The sex reassignment surgery has many side effects, it is a complicated and a life altering surgery. Why should as crucial a decision, not be left to the person?

Why should our bodies matter so much to the state? My identity is sexualised, put through criminalisation and seen through the prism of someone who should not be in a university. This reflects right from the lack of gender and queer affirmative counsellors, doctors, medical leave policies that aren’t inclusive of gender affirmative procedures and administration which usually isn’t sensitive.

There is no reservation or scholarships for transgender persons. NALSA judgment (albeit wrongly) classifies us exclusively under socially and educationally backward classes, but its spirit never made it to the Bill. Syllabuses are not drafted with any sensitivity to gender and sexual orientation.

So even in law schools, unfortunately, people don’t know what NALSA judgment is. However, every one tends to attribute trans people’s rights only to the recent Navtej Singh Johar & others v Union of India (2018) case. Everyone tends to ask, how life has been after Section 377. Not NALSA. Erasure of trans people begins there.

At least till I survive in a university, I have some legal safeguards. But in the workplace, I have nothing much. A Bill which has poorly drafted anti-discrimination provisions, no definition of discrimination and an Indian Penal Code which is again binary (man or woman), hence doesn’t protect me. That’s what I am staring at, as I write this piece. Perhaps unequal employment or denial of job opportunities.

But yes, I have managed to access higher education only because I lied my way through life. Not anymore.

(The author is pursuing LLB from Campus Law Centre, University of Delhi. Views are personal.)