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"We are women too..."

By Moushumi Basu

Like other women, transgender women too crave romantic relationships and family, but they have to fight for their rights to these. Helping them is Kalki Subhramanium’s first-of-its-kind initiative – a matrimonial website for transgender women in search of Mr Right

transgender women too crave romantic relationships
“We are women… so what if we are of a different kind?”

“We are women, so what if we are of a different kind…we, as transgender women, too crave love and the cocoon of a family life,” says Kalki Subhramanium.  

A transgender from the state of Tamil Nadu, she is pioneering the rights of the third gender across the country. Such forthright words would never have been heard even five years ago, but the winds of change are certainly blowing across India. “We are proud to be transgenders,” Kalki asserts, “and we certainly do not feel cowed down any more by so-called social stigma or discrimination.”  

Kalki has started Thirunangai.net, the first-ever portal for transgender women in quest of marital bliss. A master’s in mass communication, she is also the founder of Sahodari Foundation, an NGO espousing the rights of transsexual women.  

“We are receiving a good response from countries such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, UK, USA, Sweden, Malaysia, Singapore and, of course, from our very own land. Men are waking up to our cause. The first wedding may actually take place in February,” Kalki says. 

More than 200 proposals have poured in so far. “Our biological sex is different from our psychological sex – that is, we may not be born as women biologically, but our psychological and emotional needs are not different from theirs,” explains Soumya, one of the six candidates featured on the website. 

The website, apart from carrying detailed profiles of the six would-be transgender brides, also allays misconceptions about the sexual orientation of transgender women. “Most commonly, they are not homosexual, but are heterosexual and are attracted to men, just as women are. By soul and heart we are real women and celebrate our femininity,” says Thenmozhi, another eligible candidate. 

"Te website is an attempt to fulfil two objectives. One is, of course, to find the right person for transsexuals. The other is to raise issues such as matrimonial and adoption rights for transsexual women," asserts Kalki  

Kalki Subhramanium
Bringing the winds of change: Kalki Subhramanium

Transsexuals are often abandoned by their parents. Family and lasting relationships are distant dreams for them, as are love and marriage. Men may have clandestine romantic relationships with them, but when it comes to giving social recognition to such relationships, transsexual women are still considered pariahs. In a relationship they are just used for sex, money and exploitation. For many, these relationships often prove to be nightmares culminating in harrowing tales of exploitation.  

“We live a life of our own in pursuit of our identity. We want to be honest with ourselves and we should be treated with dignity. Marriages between a man and transgender woman should be legalised and so should the adoption of children by such couples or even by single transgender women,” says Dipika, whose profile features on the website.  

“I am not on the lookout for Prince Charming, but yes, he should treat me with dignity and respect, he should give me the social status of his wife in front of his family and friends and should not in any way feel embarrassed. 

Thirunangai.net has a committee that processes every proposal and organises a face-to-face interview with the man who has responded and expressed an interest in any of the profiles featured on the site,” says Kalki.  

This matrimonial website probably probes deeper than most. “We ferret out information about the man; his creed, caste and religion are not of any importance. The man should have a stable source of livelihood that will enable him to support a family. And, yes, we insist on meeting up with his closest kinsmen,” Kalki says. 

The confidence of these women has not been won overnight, but is the result of a long struggle for recognition and for their right to be treated with dignity and respect. Speaking from personal experience, Soundharya says transgender students have a tough life in school and college in India. Many of them drop out because they are unable to cope with the humiliation, harassment and ignorance of fellow students and sometimes even the teachers.  

“We often organise sensitisation programmes through seminars, lectures, workshops, presentations and talks on Gender Variant People in schools, colleges and universities,” she adds. But more than anything, the parents of transgender children need to be sensitised first. “These children are often deserted and left to face the cruel world alone —I myself was a victim of such circumstances,” Soundharya recalls 

“We also organise street plays as a part of our social battle for dignity and equality,” Kalki says. It is very important that transgender women eventually mingle in the social mainstream and enjoy equal social participation. The economic condition of most transgenders is very poor and it is essential that they too have access to good jobs and opportunities.” 

Though Thirunangai.com is presently a transsexual women's matrimonial website, in future, the site will also feature jobs and careers, government announcements, policies and welfare schemes for transgenders, information regarding sexual reassignment surgery and news and videos related to the transgender community.  

“We are spearheading a campaign in our community to get transgenders nominated to Parliament, state assemblies and local bodies,” says Kalki. “This will enable our issues to be focused and discussed at the highest level.  

These brave women have taken the first steps on a long and hard road, but they are determined to reach their journey’s end.  

Scripting success stories 

Kalki has set a courageous example, but her road to liberation wasn't easy. She came out to her parents as a transgendered child when she was 14. Her parents, she says, didn't accept her sexual orientation and forced her to take male hormone tablets. Away from home she was often a victim of sexual abuse. Having gone through the usual nightmares all transgendered children go through, she had a tough time in school and college.  

Far from repressing her, such constraints only inspired her to dream big. She managed to graduate in English followed by a master’s in journalism and mass communication. Currently she is working towards a second master’s degree in international relations.  

Her Sahodari Foundation has given the third gender a forum to raise its voice against oppression. Kalki works within her community through her writings and she works with the public -- especially youth -- by creating awareness on transgender issues. She hopes to break the myths and wipe out the misconceptions about transgenders. Her cherished goal is to work as a cultural ambassador for India at UNESCO. 

Priya Babu from Chennai whose profile is up on the matrimonial website is a successful author. She wants to develop a resource centre for the third gender. ''Education is my biggest strength and the pen my strongest weapon,'' she says.  

Rose has also carved a niche for herself as the first transgender TV presenter. She too has battled social and family stigma to emerge successful in her field. “But unfortunately, a majority of us are still pushed into prostitution and social exploitation, leading to extreme poverty,” she says.  

(Moushumi Basu is a freelance journalist based in Jharkhand) 

Infochange News & Features, January 2010