Life and death: A transgender picture

Life and death: A transgender picture

All human beings go through trauma at some point of time or the other. But the trauma of reaching adolescence and going through a crisis that involves something as sensitive as gender is unsurpassed.

Add to this societal stigma, rejection by family and general discrimination, molestation and harassment on the streets, ridicule from an insensitive society, being beaten up by cops and turned away from jobs…most transgender persons live a tortured life.

“Right from childhood, transgender persons go through a lot of trauma.  For many of us, it becomes impossible to face life; every transgender person has at some point of time or the other thought of suicide. So many of us have killed ourselves.

The deaths are not reported, or just get reported as a man’s death.  Through this film on the life and suicide of Sowmiya, I wanted to draw attention to the traumatised lives and suicides forced upon transgenders by society”, says writer, actor and transgender activist, Kalki Subramaniam.

There is no official data on transgender suicides, but if somebody were to do a survey, the numbers would turn out staggering, agrees Mahesh Thiagarajan, writer and social scientist. Kalki’s 10 minute film on Sowmiya ‘Aval Peyar Sowmiya’ (Her name is Sowmiya) has generated widespread attention. This short and simple film has brought the plight of India’s transgender community into focus.

The making of the film

A few days before she killed herself, Sowmiya had called up Kalki, saying that she needed to chat with her. But as it happened, Kalki was in Punjab at that time and couldn’t meet her right away. “There was none Sowmiya could turn to — her family disapproved of her; her fiancée had ditched her; there is no medical infrastructure for transgenders, no support system, no legal help, no social solace, none to lend a ear… that sums up the situation that we face,” remarks Kalki, before continuing, “As for ourselves, we are powerless and are victims ourselves, to be able to help out other transgenders.”

For those who knew her, Sowmiya is missed as a lively and wonderful person who just wanted to be left alone to live, and to work at a decent job that didn’t involve begging or sex work. “Was that too much to aspire for?” questions Kalki. Sowmiya was 26 when she killed herself in December 2010. Kalki had known her for just three years by then. When Kalki heard of her suicide, she was devastated. “I felt I had to do something”.

The something turned out to be a short 10 minute film that is pivoted on the life and thoughts of Sowmiya, but yet addresses the issues troubling transgenders simultaneously. “Knowingly or unknowingly, I had taken a lot of footage on her — on handy-cam, mobile phones, and still camera, because she was such a warm and wonderful person so full of life”, reminisces Kalki. This footage has been put together in the film with script, direction ad narration by Kalki. The film was first screened at the Chennai Press Club and is set to enter international film festivals.

Help at the crossroads

During adolescence, our sexual facets surface out. “Puberty puts us in a lot of confusion. The child hates body hair, the breaking of voice, etc. Unfortunately, we are not given counseling then; rather, we just get threats and are pushed into a particular orientation. But parents and society must understand that not every transgender person wants to go in for SRS or sexual reassignment surgery. Some might just get satisfied with transgender clothes”, says Kalki. The trauma that a transgender person experiences in life has no parallels. Granted, parents would be distraught as well. But, is there something that can be done, some way the trauma can be averted?

Our society sees cross-sexual behaviour as wrong; it demands that boys behave in one way and girls in another. “This pushes adolescents with transgender tendencies to the wall, forcing them to decisions on sexual orientation, and forcing them to run away from home and fall into the clutches of the ruthless world outside. But if the parent were to just let the child be and not fit the child into a pre-conceived slot, the child will make a sensible decision once it is mature enough, and decide one way or the other. In the meantime, parents have to be patient and instead of threats and punishments, they should do the best they can to help the child,” says Kalki.

The video ‘Her name is Sowmiya’ can be seen at after its YouTube release on August 5.

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