25 February 2006

I Choose To Be A Woman

A confused identity. A quest to find herself. A woman trapped inside a man’s body. It has taken incredible courage for Hirak Subhra alias Sohini Bagchi to be what she has always desired to be... a woman. She tells us her story.

The Early Years
Even as a child, I preferred playing with dolls and kitchen toys rather than being outdoors. My father was a vigilance officer and my mother taught psychology at Victoria College in Kolkata.

At the time, they brushed aside fears of my effeminate behaviour as harmless. It was only in the seventh standard that I became further aware of my confused sexuality, when I preferred to have girls as friends, instead of boys, and my female mannerisms made me the butt of quite a few jokes.

You know, I feel happy for those who say that their days at school were their best years, because for me it was sheer torment, fear and mental agony. I dreaded going to school and many times my parents intervened and complained to the principal, so that boys wouldn’t tease me or rag me, but the complaints only made it worse. They would come after me more fiercely after each complaint.

The First Signs
I was in class six when I first wore my mother’s sari. I also frequented the neighbour’s house to smear lipstick and kohl and to colour my nails. Our neighbours overlooked the whole thing as they treated it as a childish prank.

My mother, who was my best friend, did not gauge the extent of my confused sexuality, where I felt like a woman, but had to live life as a man. She would react strongly when relatives introduced me as the only girl in our clan, or egged me to dance like a woman at get-togethers. She felt they were trying to make fun of my effeminate ways. She would even ask me to behave like a boy.

Coming Out Of The Closet
During my college years at the Maulana Azad College and the Government Arts College in Kolkata, I made a tremendous effort to be a man. I stayed away from the canteen and other hang-outs at colleges to save myself from all the jeering I had experienced in school.

However, my girlfriends at the art college were very protective of me and made sure that I was never harassed. It was here that I became physically and emotionally involved with a male student. But the affair was short-lived and when I broke up, it left me depressed and suicidal.
It was out of frustration, then, that I told my parents the truth about my sexuality, my transsexual life and my continuous effort to keep up pretences. I urged them to take me for a sex-change treatment that I had read about in a magazine. We met quite a few doctors and psychologists to identify my problem so they could determine if I was a passive gay or a transsexual.

I went to several psychologists, many of whom refused to recommend me for a sex-change operation as one of their earlier patients, unable to cope with the change, committed suicide.

The Battle Begins
Once my parents passed away, I was left to fight my own battle. I found a soulmate in the manager at the textile-printing firm, where I was employed as a textile designer. In sharp contrast to my youth, I faced no harassment here. People were friendly and the staff, co-operative. In fact, they stood by me during the transformation process.

Surprisingly, help also came from the illiterate household help, Malati Giri, who instead of fleeing the scene, stood by me throughout, encouraging me to go through whatever was necessary to realise my true sexuality and self-identity.

Finally, I met Dr Sheila Rohatgi, a plastic surgeon, who, on the basis of my past medical and psychological records, and in consulatation with another psychologist, finally agreed that I was not a man, but a transsexual and recommended the sex-change operation as a possible cure.

The Transformation
The process began with hormonal injections in Kolkata and laser treatment for facial hair removal in Delhi. Let me tell you that the supposedly ‘painless’ laser treatment was unbearably painful.

But I went through it keeping the end in mind. It meant I had to travel 13 times between the two cities and ignore the stares of fellow passengers. I knew they were curious about me, but I continued to be reserved and unfriendly.

At the first sex-change operation, breasts were implanted. I had my reservations about this at first, but Dr Rohatgi pointed out that without breasts I would never be able to feel like a woman. Then, after a gap of 15 days, the second operation was performed, where a vagina was created.

The previous night, as I lay alone in the nursing home bed, it did cross my mind to run away from it all. Not because I was afraid of the operation, but I was suddenly confused, about whether I actually wanted to see myself as a woman. But then, I realised it was, in fact, all I wanted from life and went for it.

The first time I urinated after the operation, I was really happy. It seemed to me that a foreign body was removed and I had finally found my true identity — that of a woman.

Life Goes On...
Well, the man who had fought my battle with me disappeared, afraid to marry the transformed ‘man’. The factory where I worked became unbearable without him, so I quit and took on jobs at two different factories as a freelancer.

I now earn a cool Rs 30,000 per month and repay the loan I incurred for the operation. The sum of Rs 4,50,000 came from my savings and an office loan.

Today, life is a lot different; looking at men is like a legal right, the done thing. Earlier, whenever I looked at men, my interest in them was misread and women with whom I became too friendly thought I was making a pass at them. Really, if only they knew!”

As told to Jeena Mitra-Banik
Appeared in the FEMINA magazine

23 February 2006

21 February 2006

Kaaya Beyond Gender

“Transgender communities have existed in our society despite continued marginalisation they face from mainstream society. They have created a world of their own comprising of relationships, unusual means of livelihood and importantly an identity which constantly underlines their exclusion.”

An exhibition of photographs by the transgender community of Delhi ran from May 5th to 23rd 2005 at Max Mueller Bhawan's Siddartha Hall in New Delhi.

This collection images you are about to see will hopefully motivate you to shed your fears, anxieties and insecurities about hijras, or transgender people.

"As a photographer, I always find it challenging to work with marginalised communities. One of the reasons they are marginalised is due to the way they get represented in society. Whether it is the transgender community, sex workers, the diasporic community, tribal groups or religious minorities, they all face similar problems. Living on the periphery of mainstream society not only a physical reality but also invades their psyche. And due to little or no information about them they are regarded “Exotica”. Things that are unknown often romanticised. This then is an issue of identity, pushed outside of the normative - the parameters of which are determined by the mainstream society.

Transgender communities are a part of our society and have created a world of their own. They have their own kinds of relationships, unusual means of livelihood and importantly an identity which constantly underlines their exclusion. For many years now the community has been subjugated to roving eye of anthropologists, photographers and their ilk who made them subject of their study and represented them most of the time in a context which is not theirs. A single photograph projects an image of a person/ situation mostly out of context. Even a small article with few images cannot in most instances do justice to this community.

Hijras or the transgender community enjoys the mystery which surrounds them. This helps them in their business of cruising in zones created by them for themselves. They not only like to appear different in the body sense but also their mannerisms are idiosyncratic. They use this performance/act to iterate the identity that mainstream society has cast them in. To represent the true character of such a group for an outsider is a humongous task. They might allow you to help them in their territory on their terms and conditions for a purpose which they have no control over. In other words they might seek an outsider’s help for lets say health care, education or even legal advice but they never are sure about how they would like the world at large to look at them.

In the 1990’s I conducted a workshop with children in Mangolpuri, a resettlement colony in outskirts of Delhi. In that workshop I had given aim and shoot cameras to participants who were in the age group 9 to 15. The participants - all children, had not taken a photograph or even held a camera in their lives. It was my first attempt to understand how children look at things through a camera, how they frame their subject and how they perceive things. The results were astounding. We first printed and exhibited their prints in a Baarat ghar (Community Centre) where they proudly invited their parents for the inauguration. The exhibition traveled to one of the most prestigious galleries in India at the Centre for photography as an art form at NCPA, Mumbai. I am not sure how much my participants from the workshop learnt about photography but they sure had lot of fun exploring the world of looking and telling! For me - I discovered a new vision - a vision that was beyond my own.

When I started on this project I had imagined that the Mangolpuri experience would give me some directions in working with the transgender community. But that was clearly not the case. As I started out I discovered that there have been many attempts to showcase transgender community through photographs, documentaries, books and exhibitions by outsiders. It took several discussions to explore the idea that they are perhaps in a better position to communicate to the world outside of theirs the many facets of their existence. Unfolding the layers of misinformation, exposing and showcasing their lives would perhaps be the best way to bridge the disconnect. In the process they got involved thoroughly and had one goal in mind that they should be seen as human beings and no less or more.For the first meeting when I entered the SAHARA clinic at Yamuna Pushta, the largest slum of Delhi, with Anjalee and Shantanu from SAHARA we heard lot of music and laughter. Not knowing what to expect, I found we were greeted by a room full of hijras. They were as anxious as we were. As I greeted them I realized in this project there are going to be no directors, no experts, no subjects and no underdogs. To break the ice I had taken few books which I shared with them. As they started looking at images they got interested in the costumes and makeup of people in those images, the situation in which it was taken and started laughing and sometimes even quarreling. After some discussion they told me that they would like to do this project. They were very willing to participate but will have to take permissions from their respective Gurus.

I took this to be a good sign as they were all willing and excited about this newfound activity. This was not just to be an experience of clicking photographs and looking at themselves only, but also about meeting new people like us. In next meeting we discussed further about how to proceed. We discussed some themes which would allow them to look at things around them. The group of participants was never the same. They would come and go. I realized that this is going to be pattern and I will have to accept the situation. The good rapport that Sahara had with the community facilitated the discussions on many instances. The Hijra community lives all across Delhi and they have their areas marked for their business/work. It became easy for us to distribute cameras according the area they stayed. We made pairs of two and they took their first film rolls with great excitement. Two weeks later I received about 10 film rolls, each one labeled with names. When I saw prints I was amazed with the results, also because I did not know what to expect! I took these prints for our next rendezvous and I shared them with both the groups the one who shot these images and the next group who would be shooting. They were really excited and wanted to shoot more. They talked about each of these images they had selected and why. This was then recorded and translated for the catalogue and exhibition. They were asked to select two to three photographs, which they would like to exhibit. They also created the narration for each of the photographs that they selected.

When I see these images which are photographed, modeled and selected by Hijra’s themselves I feel reassured that our decision to make them part of this entire process was completely valid. These images work at many levels. For one in it allows you to journey into their lives from their point of view. It is clear from the pictures that they want to share, want others to know how they live - that this is how they eat, bathe, dance, feel sad, and survive. I kept my role as minimal as possible as I wanted very little outside influence in this venture. This visual journey defines their very identity. The transgender community in this project has unveiled their lives into the public space. This is one of those rare instances where they have modeled, photographed and written about themselves for a book and exhibition which is meant for a world outside their own. I personally believe that this effort will contribute to doing away with stigmas. An increased understanding of their lives, will foster the realization that they are people first and transgender afterward."

Imaging Self,
by Parthiv Shah
Centre for Media and Altrernative Communciation (CMAC)
Delhi, India

Only a few of his works are featured here.

20 February 2006

Nepal accused of 'sexual cleansing'

An international human rights organization has joined local LGBT activists in accusing the government of Nepal of trying to wipe out gays and transsexuals.

In a harshly worded letter to the Home Ministry, Human Rights Watch calls on the government " to intervene to ensure that allegations of police abuse are fully investigated."

"Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned by a continuing pattern of arbitrary arrest and police violence against metis (men by birth who identify as women, and might in different cultural circumstances be called transgender people), men who have sex with men, and activists for sexual rights in Kathmandu," the letter signed by Scott Long, the director of HRW's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Program.

The latest reported incident occurred on January 3 when four police officers reportedly spotteda group of metis on the street in Katmandu.and shouted, "Metis! Kill them!"

One woman was beaten with a baton. A police officer pulled his gun and pointed it at her, threatening that "These [transsexuals] pollute the society and must be cleaned out". The two other metis also were beaten severely.

Last month, in another incident, soldiers were accused of threatening metis and lesbians in the capital. The women are all members of a support group organized by Nepal's LGBT rights organization Blue Diamond Society.

The women have been running a small grocery store in an affluent area of the city, not far from the home of the Prime Minister and other government leaders.

Most of the women have been disowned by their families once it became known they are lesbians. Because of their sexuality many businesses refuse to hire them. The women say the tiny store is their only means of support.

They say that men claiming to be soldiers of the Royal Nepalese Army routinely harass and threaten them. The men identify themselves as "RNA soldiers stationed at the Baluwatar base".

In 2004 police in Kathmandu rushed a peaceful demonstration of gays seeking equal rights beating the protestors and dispersing the crowd.

The demonstration, in front of the Himalayan nation's Parliament, the Singha Durbar, had been organized by the Blue Diamond Society. The protestors had gathered to submit a petition to the Prime Minister calling for an end to laws against gay sex and for civil rights.

Last April, police in Kathmandu attacked a group of transgender people.

Human Rights Watch detailed the all of the allegations in its letter and called for swift action.

It calls on the government to release any sexual minorities being held in jail, that persons found responsible for abuse are punished, and that police and other criminal-justice officials "are trained in respect for all people's human rights, including the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people."

The government has refused to comment.

These pictures are from various sources taken during the "Nepal Gay jatra" (Nepal Gay Pride) organised by the Blue Diamond Society.

This site is down... gouvernment pressure tactics??

13 February 2006

TRANSAMERICA - A film by Duncan Tucker

Complex Metamorphosis of the Most Fundamental Sort
Excerpted from a review published: New York Times December 2, 2005

Felicity Huffman's performance in "Transamerica" persuasive would be an understatement, as well as somewhat misleading. Her character, Bree (short for Sabrina), is a pre-operative transsexual who lives in a modest bungalow in Los Angeles and in a condition she refers to as "stealth." In other words, though still technically male, Bree passes for a woman, though there is nothing very stealthy about her elaborate, almost theatrical displays of femininity. In her tasteful pink outfits and meticulously applied makeup, she presents an image of womanliness that harks back to an earlier era. Her voice soft and breathy, she avoids cursing and peppers her conversation with Latinate words and foreign phrases.

In this debut feature by Duncan Tucker, who wrote and directed it, "Transamerica" sets out to affirm Bree's dignity, to liberate her and others like her from any association with camp or freakishness. That the film succeeds without slipping too far into sentimentality or didacticism is in no small measure the result of Ms. Huffman's wit and grace. (She may also be the first film actor of either sex to do frontal nudity, in a single movie, as both.) Her work on "Desperate Housewives," for which she won an Emmy earlier this year, suggests a knack for gender parody, since that series is in essence a drag show that happens to star real women. The challenge Ms. Huffman faces here is more complicated: she must convey the layers of Bree's identity and the spaces between those layers. It is not just that the actress must play a man who is playing a woman - that much is a matter of technique (with some prosthetic assistance, to be sure) - but also that she must impersonate a performer in the midst of learning a complicated role. Her performance is a complex metamorphosis, and it is thrilling to watch.
A week before her gender-reassignment surgery, Bree, formerly and reluctantly known as Stanley, discovers that a long-ago relationship has produced a previously unknown son named Toby (Kevin Zegers), who is now a teenage street hustler living in New York. Told by her therapist (Elizabeth Peña) that this is a loose end that must be tied up, Bree flies East to help the boy, who has run away from home after his mother's suicide. Allowing him to think that she is a Christian missionary - her upright, churchly bearing makes it easy to believe - she decides to take him back to rural Kentucky, where his stepfather lives.

Mr. Tucker is a subtle and conscientious writer; he takes care to treat Bree as a person rather than a case study…. Ms. Huffman carries herself with such sensitivity and authority that you never doubt Bree for an instant.


06 February 2006

Bobby Darling wins Monaco film festival award

Bobby Darling can't believe his luck after winning the best supporting actor award at the Monaco International Film Festival for his performance in "Navarasa".

"And to think that I almost didn't do Santosh Sivan's 'Navarasa'. Look at the kind of recognition it has got me!" Bobby told IANS.

The film is based on the life of eunuchs.

"I had to do my own makeup, wear my own clothes and even the dialogues were improvised. I had to dig a lot into my own life to make the character feasible. But finally it's all come together. I feel so elated.

"I couldn't be in Monaco to collect my award. But my producer Sunil Doshi has collected it on my behalf. I'm excited because it's my first award, and that too at an international venue."

Bobby says there's no regret about not getting the awarded as an actress.

"Yes, I do like to think of myself as a woman. Unfortunately in our country the gay community is looked on as only male. But I'm going for a sex-change operation in 2007. The process towards gender reversal has already started. I'm very optimistic about my future."

Bobby feels he has come a long way since his arrival in Bollywood six years ago.

"I started my career with a small role in Subhash Ghai's 'Taal'. And now he has given me a really fabulous role in his new production 'Apna Sapna Money Money'."

Bobby has also patched up with his father in Delhi who had disowned him for "the way I am".

"But now we're in touch every day. He's very proud of what I've achieved. I've struggled hard to be given a place of dignity. And I think I've achieved that."