This is an article about how I lost two of my transsexual friends who died in the prime of their youth and how both of them could have been saved only if our social, legal and family systems had been more supportive to transpeople.
When I migrated from Auroville to Chennai, Sathya was one of the first few transgender persons I met. Transwoman and friend Rose and I used to visit Sahodaran to meet and socialize with other transgender and gay people. It is here that I met Sathya. She was a beautiful and plumpy girl. She was warm and had a lovely smile on her face. She was friendly to me. I spoke sweet nothings to her, conversations on sex and love broke into laughter and we all laid ourselves on the mattresses, piling up on each other, saying silly jokes about boys and were laughing. Sathya was fun to be with.
A few weeks later, when I visited Sahodaran again. Sathya was there. She was a different girl. She seemed to be lost in herself. She looked visibly disturbed and sad. She was on the phone arguing with her boyfriend and Oh my God!, there were bloody marks on her wrist. She told me that she had cut her wrist several times with blade. The reason why she did this obviously was love. She wanted to prove a point to her boyfriend and this was her way. What can I say? She was an emotional girl. She was pure. She was possessive. The intensity of her love for the man she loved shocked me.
Another month had gone and I was in an event to meet Nepal’s openly gay Member of Parliament Sunil Pant who had come down to Chennai. Suddenly there was restlessness among my friends and I was wondering what was wrong. It was a news of death. The death of Sathya. She wanted to change her sex but could not afford Sex reassignment surgery as it was very costly. She chose to undergo penectomy. She admitted herself in a reputed quack doctor’s place where more than a hundred transwomen had already done their surgeries and removed their male genitals. Unfortunately, during anesthesia, she died of heart attack. The news of her death shocked me so much. She could have been saved only if our legal systems had been in favour of transpeople. During the times of her death, there was so support of any kind for people who wanted to change their sex through surgery. The SRS was costing almost one lakh rupees. The government hadn’t passed a G.O to provide free SRS services and the medical support hadn’t been started by the government hospitals in Chennai then.
All Sathya could do was go to a quack doctor and do a penectomy. She was overweight but not fat. Though she was healthy, she died due to complications unknown. One of the reasons could also be that, like thousands of transwomen in India who take hormone pills and injections for breast development with out any medical check up and without any prescriptions by endocrinologist, she also took hormones. An improper hormone regimen could also have been the cause of her heart attack.
If she had had the much needed acceptance from her family, her life might have been saved, and if she had had proper counseling and the right medicines for her transition from a friendly doctor, her life might have been saved. She couldn’t have it and she lost her life.
Has the problem been solved now for people like Sathya? No. At least in Tamilnadu, the SRS is now done in government hospital in Chennai free of cost, but improper hormone regimens still exist, yes, the hormone pills and injection mess continues among transwomen. Our transcommunity will come to know the consequences and side effects of all the culpable medications only in the coming years.
Like Sathya, many girls are dying every year in India. We do not have the numbers, but we know it is happening. How will the government protect us? Does the Indian ministry of health know about this problem It is time they knew it and stepped in to protect the lives of the vulnerable transsexual people. We need gender disphoric clinics. We need psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors who have in-depth knowledge on gender and sex issues, particularly transgender issues.
If our medical systems had been more supportive to transsexual people, if only our laws pertaining to gender and sex change had been more defined and friendly, we wouldn’t have lost a beautiful person like Sathya.
owmiya and I were soul sisters. She was a cute, dusky beautiful girl. I first met her in a gay men’s sexual health project office called Social Welfare Association for Men (SWAM). We instantly liked each other. Her home was in the very next street to my office. The first time I saw her, she was wearing a beautiful yellow saree which had rainbow colour polka dots all over. She looked graceful. She was a school drop out who and ran away to Mumbai, lived there for a few years, did her penectomy and came back to Chennai to live with her parents. She had long jet black hair. She wore gold in her pierced nose and earlobes. She lived with her parents and was unemployed. She was into begging for her needs. At home, she would wear white shirt and white dhoti. It was due to her father’s compulsion. To him, she was still his son. She looked lovely and sexy in shirt and dhoti too. Boys in her area went mad after her. She would come to SWAM and change into sarees or tops and jeans and then go for begging with other girls.
She was 26 and in love with a guy for more than seven years. She had known him since her childhood days. He was also madly in love with her. His parents knew Sowmiya but to them she was still a ‘he’. They liked her but never liked or approved the love tangle. Once, when the love was too intense and going strong, their love heated up her boy’s family. His mother pleaded Sowmiya to leave him. Sowmiya promised the lady that she’d never spoil her son’s life. She never did. Instead she spoilt her own.
She loved her guru and gurubhais immensely and would do anything for them. I was a sister to her. In another gharana, she would be my daughter. But in Chennai, I was the elder sister she looked up to. We shared a true bond of sisterhood. She loved me with full heart. She was younger to me and I truly cared for her.One fine day, Sowmiya heard the news from her boy that his family had selected a bride for him. She gulped the disappointment and shock and urged him to marry that girl. At first he didn’t want to. Her persuasion to get married worked and he got married to the girl his mother chose. ‘But you are my true love and my first wife’ he said.
He married the girl, stopped talking to Sowmiya, didn’t pick up her calls and never came back. She was heart broken. This is also the time a few betrayals among the transfamily left her in to the hollow of sadness and depression. Her chosen path to escape was also the path which was leading her to her end.
Alcohol is the elixir of transwomen which makes them slip into pure fleeting moments of bliss. First she basked herself into it and a few months later she was whirling her life in liquor and never cared to come back. Alcohol is a celebration and our girls gather in gangs to slip into the oblivion if they were offered.
My love, my care, my persuasion and advice to change her never worked. She would charm me with her smile and giggles and say, ‘Leave me for a few months, I will come back to you’.
I went to the United States for 3 weeks. Back from the U.S, I shifted my home to the east coast border of the city. I tried to reach her and couldn’t. I was unaware that I was slowly losing her. I signed up to do the film Narthaki and was busy in front of the camera. On the night just before my last day of shoot in Thanjavur, I got a call from my other friend Soundharya. ‘Akka, Sowmiya has hung herself. She is dead’.
I was devastated. I cried out loud and was sobbing over the phone. I could not cancel my shoot and come to Chennai. There was only one day left more and I couldn’t waste the time and money of other people. My eyes were filled with tears and I was weeping in bed, sobbing and rolling. ‘My loveliest one! Sweetest one! When am I going to see you again? I have no courage to see your dead body’. I didn’t know what time I slept. On my last day of film shoot in Thanjavur, I worked with deep sadness. I shared the news only with my director. My friends called me to say that her postmortem was done and she was being taken to electric crematorium. She is going to be ashes.
What went wrong? How did I lose my sweet beautiful sister? What were the reasons behind the self destruction of a beautiful human being? The reasons for her death were too many in her life. Her alcoholic father, her boyfriend who betrayed her, the social system that wouldn’t care for her and do justice to her wounded life, transgender folks who never tried to look in to her weeping heart and console her, her solace the bottle which turned into an obsession. And me, with my busy life, who didn’t see her during her last days and waited for her to change herself and come back.
Sowmiya and Sathya, they both died young. Their deaths reflect the ignorance, the corruptness and the lack of support of our legal, social, and family systems. We, as people in their lives, ignored to give them what they needed. We could have rescued them. What blocked us? All they needed was love and care, a shoulder to cry on, a hand to console, an ear to listen to, few words to cheer them up and concern with their wellness. If we don’t do this to people around us, people who connect our lives like brothers and sisters and who need help desperately, what is love, humanity and compassion all about?
Change. That is what we need. In ourselves and in the system we live in. For transpeople, we need laws that protect us, the assurance and hope for a secure future. We need amendments to our laws which should clearly speak of equal rights of transpeople, of protection against violence and discrimination. We need permanent medical support and intervention which promise and provide quality transgender care.
Transgender rights activist/Actor/Writer
Founder, Sahodari Foundation