Interview, Women

Journey of a Dancing Queen

“I quite jokingly say that rhythm runs inside me as my mother is a dancer and father a drummer. I used to watch all of her shows. So, dance has been a really important part of my life and will always be”, says Abhina Aher, a transgender and trans rights activist.

Born in a middle class Maharashtrian family, Abhina, at a very early age of 3, lost her father. Defying the stigma, her mother, a strong and graceful woman, raised her sole child very elegantly.

While she was at work, I’d pull out her saare and playfully wear it with makeup and jewelry. Embracing that aura, I gazed at my own shadows on the wall and pictured a beautiful woman dancing. That is what I was longing for! But when my mother found out about this craziness, she got really mad. I protested that I wanted to dance! Dance like her. She said. No, Boys do not dance.

Abhina who was an extremely feminine kid, hated wearing boy’s clothes. Like her friends she wanted to wear frocks. People used to make fun of me. At school they called names like chakka and all those lingos they use for female aesthetics.

Growing up, I faced a lot of problems. The teachers insisted me to use the boy’s washroom. So I used to wait till recess got over and stealthily use it during lectures when nobody could harass me.

In India, parents seldom talk about sexuality and sexual behavior. Even girls are not sufficiently made aware about menstrual cycle or body changes. In our patriarchal society women are taught not to have sexual pleasures.

When I was in 9th standard, I was nearly raped by a bunch of boys. They tried to rip my clothes, brutally kicked me and also tried to beat me with a metal ruler. But I was too ignorant to understand that it was a sexual harassment.

I was in total aghast when my own teacher said that the problem is with you. Because you don’t behave like a boy, they tried to punish you. I was too scared to tell my mother. The entire world tried to tell that I am not a girl. But I knew I was a girl.

I would get attracted to males. There was no body I could talk to. I had no friends, felt lonely, afraid and used to sulk all the time. I tried committing suicide 3 times.

But with that 3rd unsuccessful attempt, I knew I wasn’t meant to die. I had some unfinished business and I decided to serve that purpose.

After school, Abhina studied arts and economics from the R D National College in Mumbai. She graduated college in male clothes.

In 2010, Abhina moved to Delhi and worked with a plethora of organizations. She worked for 8 years at Humsafar trust and learned counseling, research, advocacy, capacity building. She also worked with bar girls and sex workers. She has been a part of WHO for HIV issues, tran violence, trans acceptance, gender discrimination, consultant at John Hopkins Univ and India HIV Aids alliance, Family Health International (FHI), International Trans refer group (IRGT) on HIV, Global Action for Trans Equality (GATE).

I want to set a solid foundation for progress of transgender people and give back as much as possible.

After 20 years, today Abhina runs her own organization called Tweet (Transgender Welfare Equity & Empowerment Trust)

But in between this journey there are a lot of sub stories.

8 years before, the Kathak dancer started a dance group called the dancing queens which is a tool to advocate gender and sexuality issues like coming out, family support, main streaming, stigma, violence, employment and education.

The group has done about 67 shows across India. We raise money for pride walks and for HIV positive trans people. 30 % of dancers are HIV+ she states. Recently they did a corporate show for Godrej which was attended by around 600 people. Aftermath, Godrej hired their first Trans person!

At times when we performed people threw pebbles at us. So you are always vulnerable. There are some chapters of my life which I never might talk about. These are miserable times when I had to struggle for Rs 100 a day. There are steep challenges in what we do.

While there are challenges around violence, stigma, health care, education and employment, the biggest of all is poverty. Poverty is killing people, she says worryingly.

The 2012 census reported 5 million trans population but that’s just the tip of iceberg. A lot of people do not declare or come out. A lot of trans men are living as women. As of 2017 there are an estimated 25 million trans people in India.

But as compared to foreign countries India is still ahead. We are the only country which has liberated a third gender acknowledgement. The NALSA verdict by Supreme Court sensitized the judges and it was a huge achievement though a lot of work still remains.

She has been a part of various new initiatives and believes in creating history.  We are trying to create work for Trans people. We run online campaigns on trans phobia focusing the main stream society. Unawareness is the biggest form of stigma. Which is quite contradictory as our culture goes back to 7000 years. We had a dignified positioning in the society. We were the fortune tellers, dancers, makeup artists. There’s a temple in Mehsana, Gujrat called the Bhaucharaji mata temple where the priest is also a trans person. Unfortunately today we are only mimicked in movies and TV shows.

Trans people also have a heart and are struggling for dignity and respect. The community has given us role models like Laxmi narayan tripathi, Akkai padmashali, Manabi Bandopadhyay who are pushing the boundaries and defeating the taboos.

From a shy, lonely person to an eloquent speaker addressing a crowd of a lakh people, Abhina too has come a long way.  She says, I will be proud when a lot of people would come to show strength when I die. We don’t take anything with us but only the good deeds. I may not be the best looking person, but I have the best heart inside me and that is what I would cherish all my life.

She then hums a song… Ghir ghir aayi badariya kaari… as she wipes a premature tear in her eye.

Women

Hey Woman…

Its International Women’s day. 8th March.

So they will give chocolates and flowers to the female staff. I also heard the girls are gonna wear “PINK” to distinguish the day. How cutely remarkable!

That’s it? Is that all makes you happy? You are proud to be a woman. Sure!

There are a dozen things I’d rather have which make a difference than just being patronized with a candy and a rose. I would ask for a lot of mentality shift that would make me happier.

So my address is to the fellow gender. (Reader’s discretion advised)

I have a love hate relationship with women. But I still find them more powerful, more endearing, more sacrificing, and hence more respect worthy.

This women’s day rise above chocolates and flowers, Valentine’s Day is gone!

On PAY:  Ask for equal pay. You are twice the brains and thrice sincere when you take up a job.

On Progress:  You climb up the corporate ladder because you work hard for it. Shut them who woof mediocrity.

On Periods: Ask for a monthly day off. Yes, those cramps fucking hurt.

On Health: Stay Fit, case closed

On Body: Flaunt the curves, love the flesh on your body, and eat that red velvet because YOU love to.

On Weight reduction:  Get slimmer if you feel like it. Not because one day you’d fit in those college pants.

On Color: You CAN wear a red fucking lipstick to work because you can rock it and it is NOT slutty

On Shoes: You wear those heels because it feels confident and classy, not because it grabs attention.

On What to wear: Wear what comforts you. Wear sari, a kurti, a skirt, a jeans, or wear a cow if you want. Your comfort is ALL that matters.

On “How am I looking”: Don’t seek validation, your mirror and your sexy fucking mind has all the answers.

On Hygiene: You shave because you like to be hygienic and smooth, not because “had to hook up”

ON Bra: Spend on sassy lingerie because you love your body in that. Not to impress in bed. You are a lady. A Goddess as it is.

On Waxing: You go through the pain of waxing so you sure as hell can DEMAND him to fucking shave if you don’t like the hairy territory.

ON “the word SLUT”: It is overrated, they will never come up with a glorified word for a female stud.

On Sisterhood: Real queens fix each others crowns, don’t attack each other. Don’t back bite. Say it in the face.

On “Being Single”: Trust me, It is not a miserable state and I am not necessarily hunting. If I am interested, I will make the move and just say I like you. There is no “dropping hints’’.

On “Being a relationship” : Be a lover. Be a partner. Be a best friend.  Just don’t be a Mother taking care of the Man child.

On Breakups: Get your shit together and get some fucking UNITY in the GENDER. A guy is NEVER worth losing a sister.

On “Can She cook”: It is not quintessentially a girl thing. I can know a lot about food and it is OKAY if I am not good at kitchen. But hey, I am good at grammar, spellings, anagrams, teaching, writing and dancing!

You are a lot more than you think and you deserve much more.

Don’t settle for less please. You are worth the wait darling.

So once again, Rise over chocolates and flowers. Rise above THEM.

Happy Women’s day!