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Navigating Transition: 3 Transwomen Tell Us Their Story

Apr 15, 2024

8 min read

Despite the transgender bill in India, the journey for trans individuals is not an easy one. Through the personal accounts of three women, we get a glimpse at how they navigated their identities and societal pressures to own their trans identities.

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An image with photographs of Glamika, Avantika and Nikita; three transwomen who shared their transition experience and quotes from them.
Rhea Kadakia, Junior Writer, Fluent Health

RHEA

KADAKIA

India took a step towards progression with the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act introduced in 2019. The Supreme Court of India legally recognised “third gender”/transgender persons for the first time, entitling them to fundamental rights under the Constitution and International law. The court also upheld the right to gender self-identification.

However, despite the law, the community doesn’t have it easy. The struggles of transgender individuals highlight the challenges they face when navigating the complexities of gender identity, societal pressures and acceptance. 

It is important to note the distinction between sex assigned at birth and gender identity to understand the core of being transgender. Sex refers to the physical difference between people who are male, female or intersex. It is purely anatomical. A person has their sex assigned at birth based on physiological characteristics, including their genitalia, chromosomal make-up, hormonal prevalence and internal anatomy. 

Gender, on the other hand, is how a person identifies themselves. It exists outside of the binary and instead is made up of a spectrum. Gender is about how a person feels inside, whether they feel like a boy, a girl, both, neither or something else entirely. It is based on an individual’s perception of themselves and what they refer to themselves as. Your gender identity can be the same or different from your sex assigned at birth.

It starts with acceptance: I am a woman

Avantika Gurung, a transwoman, one of the first to get a passport as a woman even without gender-affirming procedures, shares a little bit about her experience with identity. She was young when she first heard about gender affirmation surgeries through an episode of Satyamev Jayate featuring Gazal Dhaliwal. 

“At the time, obviously, I didn’t have the guts or the monetary funds to go about and get the surgery. I didn’t even have the courage to come out to my parents. It was all very hush-hush then. I was gathering the courage,” she recalled. A few years later, while attending college at NIFT, she came out to her parents as gay. Being in college gave her the exposure and freedom to be true to herself, “I began defiantly proving my gender identity. Whether it was wearing harems, piercing one ear, or holding multiple bracelets on one hand.”

She continued to affirm her gender identity even after graduating while working at a popular high street brand, “The retail manager informed me of the uniform policy on my first day. I asked to be allowed to wear clothes from the women’s department of the store. He allowed me this as long as I agreed to continue wearing the same clothes every day while in the store. I was perfectly fine with it and went with the women’s clothes. After this incident I came out to my family. As I said, I was defiantly coming out.”

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I began defiantly proving my gender identity. Whether it was wearing harems, piercing one ear, or holding multiple bracelets on one hand.

Avantika Gurung, Visual Merchandiser and Stylist

Nikita Bandre, a law student, identifies as a transgirl; her pronouns are she/her. She talks about her experience with gender identity. Although she began expressing herself at a young age, “Since my childhood, I was a bit girlish.” But she was shut down by those around her. She had problems in school and society and was constantly judged for her appearance and behaviour. “When I used to go to my teachers, they used to ignore my problems and instead of giving solutions they used to call me a ‘complaint box’. If teachers would have heard or even supported me at that time, things would have been different for me.”

However, when she got to college, she came to terms with her gender identity, “When I reached college, I realised I was in the wrong body. I felt more like a girl, not like a boy. It made me realise my choices are different. So slowly, slowly, things were changing.”

Glamika Patel, a transwoman currently pursuing her MBA, faced similar challenges in being judged by her school teachers and not being accepted. “When I started going to school, I always wanted to wear girl dresses; however, due to pressure from the teachers, I always wore male clothes. At home, I had full freedom from my parents, and they never used to say anything about my dresses. Then I started getting a feeling of why, in school, they were stopping me from wearing female dresses. That’s when I began thinking, why am I male? I should’ve been a female.”

Managing mental health while owning your gender identity

Despite the passing of the transgender bill, fear of the unknown and lack of understanding and education can have an impact on the transgender community. Often, this causes them to question themselves, their gender and their choices.

In the case of Nikita, while she had no constant struggles with her mental health, she spent the time before her surgery confused and upset. Societal pressures and the fear of being unaccepted gave rise to her depression. But she didn’t let it hold her back and chose to get her sex reassignment surgery, “I am a fighter, and I am capable enough of fighting such situations.”

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When I used to go to my teachers, they used to ignore my problems and instead of giving solutions they used to call me a ‘complaint box’. If teachers would have heard or even supported me at that time, things would have been different for me.

Nikita Bandre, Law Student

For Avantika, every step of her journey was a challenge. After coming out as gay to her parents, she was forced to see a psychiatrist. “This was around 2008 or 2009; my doctor was against it and thought of it as unnatural. They were giving me certain tablets, which were like sleep deprivation tablets or food deprivation tablets. Which my parents thought had an effect on me. The doctor explained to my parents that I was wrong and that they would ‘take me out of this’.”

Luckily, she wasn’t alone in her journey and had friends who supported her, “In my batch, we were a group of 5, and we all felt similarly. They wanted to transition, too. Out of all of us, 3 of us transitioned, and one is in the process. Nitasha Biswas, the first transgender beauty contest winner, was my batchmate. We were all there for each other; we talked to each other over the phone every day. Having each others’ back in school, we had garnered that courage as a group. Yes, we were effeminate, and if anyone passed any sort of comment, we would stand up for each other. So, yes, mentally it did affect us negatively. But, thankfully, our friend circle was strong. Plus, we had a focus. Dedication was the crux of everything. That’s what kept us going, dedication. Whatever the case, people mocking us, taunting us, we knew we had to go through our journey.”

Tackling gender dysphoria through gender-affirming surgeries 

“I wanted to be sure,” said Avantika. “Do I really have gender dysphoria, or is it just a phase? Also, the interview with Gazal Dhaliwal played a role in my decision. Even society played a part, although I was passable, I was always worried someone would catch me or call me out. In case anything happens, like I have an accident or something or need to go to hospital, would they be able to care for me properly? This always played on the back of my mind. If I die also, what would I be considered as at the end of it all? Secondly, I always wanted a partner to get married to, but now I know this isn’t a possibility. But at the time, if I want a partner and get married, I need to get myself redone.”

Nikita always knew this was what she wanted. She was certain she was in the wrong body and had to make the change, “I have been girlish since birth. My likes, my feelings— everything is feminine. The organs that I had were of no use to me. I was not going to use them so what is the purpose of having them? So I decided to have the surgery. I became what I wanted to be.”

The impact of a support system while transitioning  

Having a support system and people to rely on through transitioning is important. It's a difficult journey, filled with struggles and obstacles. 

Nikita stresses the importance of having people around, “My Guruji was the biggest support system I had from within the (trans) community. After him, my older brother was the one who always stood by my side. Everyone should have a support system, or else you will always carry the guilt that your parents won't know or your family doesn't know about it. The guilt of hiding your truth from people you care about.  After the surgery, the burden gets less, but you will constantly need your family and friends to ask you about your health and to show you they care.”

Avantika is grateful for her friends, her mother and her education. But most importantly, she considers herself as her biggest support system, “Myself, most importantly. If I wasn’t loud enough, defiant enough, bold enough, I wouldn’t have made it. You’ve probably heard about families abandoning their children because they are trans. Also, my mom, for sure, without her and my education, I would be nothing.”

On the flip side, Glamika emphasises the importance of being strong enough to do it alone, “I believe that if we have money and help, we can get through it. If I don't have friends or relatives, I can go to orphanages, temples, NGOs and old age homes. The support and acceptance I get from helping others and doing acts of service give me strength. Very little outside support is required if someone is strong enough. God and I are my biggest support system. I always pray to god; he has sent me many people in life who care for and love me unconditionally.”

Gender-affirming procedures: Things to consider

For anyone considering gender-affirming procedures, here are some parting words from three brave women who chose to undergo them as well.

Avantika would like you to know, “Stop listening to myths. Stop getting new ideas from people.If you have a very close friend who has gone through that, consult them or consult doctors, but not any random person. Because, to be honest, I’ve seen it with my community itself. I think it's jealousy or lack of knowledge but people do not give the right information always. So, I would suggest before doing anything, just consult (a doctor).”

Nikita’s advice for people is, if you’re doing this, don’t hide this from anyone. In the sense, share it with someone close to you who will help care for you. Nowadays, transgenders go on their own and do it all alone, but they don’t realise when they come home, they cannot do anything by themselves. The medications you have to take are very powerful, and you don’t feel the discomfort of the procedures, and you think you’re okay, but actually, if you don’t take it easy initially and don’t rest, it can have adverse effects in the future. That’s my advice, rest properly and keep at least 2 people around who can care for you.”

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God and I are my biggest support system. I always pray to god; he has sent me many people in life who care for and love me unconditionally.”

Glamika Patel, Pursuing her MBA

Glamika would like everyone to know, “This is a very time-consuming procedure. It doesn’t happen overnight. Your body tolerates the changes slowly. Just like the seasons, our bodies also change slowly. You need to take care of yourself. No smoking, no drinking, having a proper diet, doing yoga, meditating and becoming strong. You need to believe in yourself. This is a solo journey. Don’t become dependent on anyone. Become capable and make decisions yourself.”

Medically Reviewed by:
Dr B. S. Mahesh - Clinical Psychologist


Rhea Kadakia, Junior Writer, Fluent Health

Rhea Kadakia has been writing across the spectrum of lifestyle journalism from her first days as an intern at the India Today Group. Since then she has fine tuned her knack of storytelling within a given context at Vogue, DNA, and CNN News 18. Her work at Fluent Health immerses her in the thick of a tidal change in healthcare, making access to informed and quality healthcare a reality for everyone. 


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