Transgender doctor and influencer fights intolerance in India – 11/25/2021

“I’ve always been the woman I am,” says 24-year-old Indian Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, a physician and future surgeon, transgender activist and Instagram star.

Few saw her the way she wanted. On the contrary, from the age of four, she was ridiculed and embarrassed whenever she tried to put on her mother’s saris or heels, or did anything considered feminine.

“My parents saw me as a disabled man,” explains Gummaraju, now a doctor at KMC Manipal, one of the country’s leading university hospitals.

Older boys teased her, teachers humiliated her, and a psychologist advised her family to expose her to “more masculine influences.”

No one considered the possibility that she was transgender, not even her.

“I didn’t allow myself to question my gender identity because in this country there is a very negative image of trans people. They are seen as sinister, abusive, dangerous”, he recognizes.

Although the vast majority of Indians pray to Hindu gods, who often change from male to female, the transgender community is marginalized from society, with many of its members forced to beg or engage in sex work.

When Gummaraju was a teenager, he hated himself to the point that he self-mutilated.

Hope came with her admission to medical school, an achievement that inspired respect among those who rejected her.

There she found a more understanding community, including a therapist who suggested experimenting with her gender expression.

And that’s when Instagram appeared, “an online space where I could be myself”.

Today she has about 220,000 followers, but her first posts were not well received by her conservative professors and colleagues.

She persisted and ended up revealing herself as transgender to her family, who supported her, and then to hundreds of people on Facebook.

The transition began with her new name Trinetra – after a Hindu goddess – hormone replacement therapy in 2018 and surgery in February 2019.

It was a moment of euphoria, he remembers, although afterward he spent a month in bed to recover.

“Seeing your body change shape is like a curtain going up,” he explains. “I could recognize myself in the mirror,” he adds.

Side effects

Some side effects were unexpected and troublesome.

“It was hard to see that one of the things that made me realize that I was now a woman was getting whistled and being harassed,” she says.

She also faced threats of rape when she posted self-portraits online, something that cisgender women, those whose gender identity matches their birth sex, can empathize with.

“I experienced a lot of things in common with cisgender women,” she says.

But the growing debate over transgender rights threatens to make their collective’s existence even more precarious, with cisgender feminists calling for them to be removed from women-only spaces, Trinetra laments.

After hospital security forced her to leave the women’s restroom in 2017, Gummaraju contracted a urinary tract infection from not drinking water for hours to avoid going to the public restroom.

“Some women don’t seem to understand that we’re not cisgender men. It’s not us who pose a threat to them,” he argues. “The alarmist speeches have to end”, he adds.

Despite the many challenges facing the community, she hopes her rising profile will help transgender youth realize that “life just gets better”.

“As doctors, we know that humans are resistant by default. Have faith in your ability to heal,” he sums up.

About Abhishek Pratap

Food maven. Unapologetic travel fanatic. MCU's fan. Infuriatingly humble creator. Award-winning pop culture ninja.

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