Systemic (trans)gender injustice yet again!

This illustration is a combination of Beyonce’s face picture and accompanying text, which says: “Beyonce’s story, like many other trans persons’ stories, is one of relentless struggle. At home she had to deal with her father’s expectations. During MBBS studies in Imphal, it was not just the class mates who teased her, but also faculty who demeaned her. Even the patients had a laugh at her expense. When she joined her first job in Delhi, she somehow escaped a physical screening that could have put her in trouble right at the start. And now, she has had to give up her job in Delhi and return to Manipur as she couldn’t arrange fresh identity documents in time to reflect her transgender identity.” In the photograph, Beyonce can be seen in long black hair and makeup, both markers of her initial steps in coming out as a transgender woman while she was in university. Photo courtesy: Beyonce

Manipur Diary, People, Jun '18
Santa Khurai narrates medical doctor Beyonce’s struggles around her transgender identity

Inset: This narrative is based on an interview conducted with Beyonce by Santa Khurai over telephone in April 2018. At that time Beyonce was working in Delhi, but now she has relocated to Imphal. The narrative ending has been modified to reflect her latest situation – Editor.My name is Boboi Laishram but my other people know me as Beyonce, which is my preferred name. I’m now 27 years old and the only child of my parents. When I was growing up, my father didn’t accept my femininity. He even tried to kill himself once, when I was in the 10th standard, to stop me from ‘acting girlish’.

Rejection and torture have been an inevitable part of my life journey. But I didn’t compromise with my inner sense of being a woman – in spite of all the negative reactions and attitudes.

In 2011, I passed the medical entrance examination and started the MBBS course at the Regional Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS) in Imphal, Manipur. During the six years of my medical studies, I was compelled to disguise myself as a man because of my father.

However, I used to cross dress when I was in transgender community spaces and during community events in Manipur – specifically in the beauty parlours run by transgender women, and during the Thabal Chongba events organized especially for transgender people at the time of Sajibu Cheiraoba, the Meitei New Year.

It was a difficult time for me as I used to borrow female attire from other transgender friends, which I wasn’t able to take back home. In the process, the dresses would often be lost or misplaced.

I came out openly as a transgender person in 2016, which was the last year of the MBBS studies. My coming out began with keeping my hair long and putting on light makeup. I found both supportive and non-supportive college mates. The insensitive ones often asked me why I was ruining my life after having gained so much education!

In 2016, I appeared for the viva voce under the MBBS Third Professional (Part II) Examination. I had by now decided to be fully out. I was interviewed by a key official of the Department of Medicine. When I sat down in front of her, she was startled. I still remember the questions she asked me because it still hurts me deep inside.

Quote: In 2016, I appeared for the viva voce under the MBBS Third Professional (Part II) Examination. I had by now decided to be fully out. I was interviewed by a key official of the Department of Medicine. When I sat down in front of her, she was startled. I still remember the questions she asked me because it still hurts me deep inside.The first question she asked me was if I was a man or a woman, and she also asked me what gender I had filled up in the MBBS course admission form. I said ‘male’, with the clarification that there was no option other than male and female in the admission form.

She then asked me if I had undergone hormonal and genetic tests, and I answered that I had undergone the hormonal test for hormone replacement therapy (HRT) but not the genetic test. She also asked me if I had gynaecomastia and testicular atrophy. I answered yes because since puberty I had experienced the development of my breasts and had what seemed like one small testicle. But my ordeal didn’t end here.

To my utter shock and anger, the official asked me to remove my clothes, and this when there was another professor present interviewing a student. I was so disturbed and out of control, I just pulled up my shirt to show her my breasts. She said “Okay” and asked me to pull down my shirt. I felt like a lifeless doll in spite of being a medical student.

She didn’t stop asking me irrelevant questions. The last question she asked me was if I had a boy friend and “did MSM” with him [‘MSM’ stands for ‘men who have sex with men’ in sexual health jargon]. I said yes but I added that I didn’t have multiple partners.

Finally, she said that I had done well in the written examination and advised me to cut my hair and present myself like a man next time. I came across the same official again during the university examination. By that time, I was six months into HRT. Luckily, no medical professor asked any irritating questions during this examination. [Beyonce had to depend on advice from the author for HRT because she couldn’t find any endocrinologist in Manipur who was knowledgeable about HRT for transgender persons].

After passing the university examination, I did a year of internship at RIMS beginning in February 2016. During my internship, the patients weren’t able to make out that I was a transgender woman. But the moment I spoke, they were able to make out that I was ‘different’. Some used to giggle at me and whisper something to each other, which made me feel bad. But I continued to do my job – providing them moral support and guidance for following their routine and taking medicines on time. Ultimately, I did get appreciation and love from the patients.

In early June 2017, I applied online to the Delhi Medical Council (DMC) to find a job in Delhi. There I found no column for gender or sex in the documents required. The mark sheets for the school final and higher secondary examinations and the MBBS degree certificate were the only documents required. I was approved but since getting a Permanent Registration Certificate (PRC) would take a long time, the DMC provided me an acknowledgement certificate.

Later, in the same month, I moved to Delhi and joined the Babu Jagjivan Ram Memorial Hospital, a government institution in Jahangirpuri. The hospital asked for a health check-up, for which the men were sent to the section for surgery and the women to the gynaecology section. This was to check if the new doctors had any problems in their reproductive organs.

I was confused where to go and scared thinking of the consequences irrespective of the choice I made. Finally, I decided to go to the surgery section, but the doctor there advised me to go to the gynaecology section. The doctor in the gynaecology section asked me about my menstrual cycle and I answered that it was normal. Then she asked me to pull up my shirt. I followed the instructions and she touched and pressed my breasts. But when she asked me to remove my pants to check for vaginal problems, I disagreed.

I didn’t have a vagina and I was worried that if she got to know that I was so called ‘male’, my dreams of becoming a professional doctor could end up with stories of insults and mockery. I requested her to skip the vaginal examination. After much convincing, she agreed and I was spared another terrible incident.

Inset: About the ‘Manipur Diary’ column: 'Manipur Diary' brings you news and analysis on issues concerning queer and other marginalized communities in Manipur. Content published under this new monthly column is contributed by participants in the Varta Community Reporters (VCR) Training and Citizen Journalism Programme. The VCR programme aims to build communication, documentation and journalistic skills among youth and other groups marginalized around gender, sexuality or other parameters. In the process, the idea is also to enhance the employability of the participants. Training workshops, mentoring, and writers workshops on issues around gender, sexuality, human rights, communication, documentation and story writing are part of the programme. A six-month pilot of this programme started in March 2018 in Manipur. There are five VCRs, all queer individuals, engaged in the programme. The VCR pilot programme in Manipur aims to provide continuity to outreach and advocacy started under a 20-month training, research and advocacy project to support economic inclusion of queer people in Manipur. The economic inclusion advocacy project was called Sexual and Gender Diversity, Welfare and Precarity in India: Impact, Advocacy and Process. The project ran from August 2016 to March 2018, and was led by AMaNA, a collective of transgender women’s community groups in Manipur, and ETA, a support forum for transgender men, lesbians and bisexual women in Manipur. Implementation was supported by ally NGOs SAATHII, Imphal; CORE Manipur, Imphal; and Varta Trust, Kolkata. The project was supported financially and technically by the Sussex Social Science Impact Fund, University of Sussex, UK. Future editions of the VCR programme will be organized in other parts of India as well – Editor.

On April 5 this year, I went to the DMC to get the PRC. In the process I had to show all the original documents where my gender marker was male. When the registration official went through the documents, he said my gender issue would be brought up before the higher authorities. He added that it would take at least one week to have the matter resolved and I could get the PRC only after that.

I felt extremely disappointed and upset and asked him if the reason was my being a transgender person. He said yes and advised me to submit all my educational and medical certificates, and identity proof documents (including the Aadhaar card) with the gender mentioned as ‘transgender’. I was told that an affidavit in support of my legal gender identity change would also be needed.

This situation put me at a frightening crossroads. None of the documents I was asked for could be arranged in a rush. Eventually, I returned to Imphal to try and have all the necessary documents arranged as required. I was assured by my employers that I would be called back, but till date I haven’t heard from them.

I’m now working in a private hospital in Manipur, where fortunately I haven’t had any problems in acquiring a PRC. It’s been a tiring journey, but I’m here for now.
 
Main photo courtesy: Beyonce

Author Photo

Santa Khurai

Santa Khurai is a queer activist and champion of transgender rights based in Manipur. She is associated with civil society organizations All Manipur Nupi Maanbi Association (AMaNA) and Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII). Writing poems and stories on queer issues is one of her many passions.

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