Trigger Warning: The story contains visual and textual descriptions of casteist slurs, transphobic slurs, and sexual assault. Readers discretion is advised.
“It’s not about getting rid of my body, it’s about reclaiming it, about owning it,” Siddharth Gope, a trans man from Tripura, sees gender affirmation surgery as a liberation. It is a process that will bring him closer to his body, align it with the identity he has fought all his life for, and continues to do so.
During the pandemic, Rishikesh Raut, a non-binary transgender person living in Pune, ran from pillar to post to raise funds and rations for Pune’s trans community, the ones neglected by the government’s “COVID Crisis Management”. Raut’s efforts provided relief to many. They were even able to save the life of a trans woman who needed immediate surgery due to breast implant leakage.
After years of misgendering (when a person is referred to with an incorrect pronoun), and gender dysphoria (a strong desire of identifying with the opposite gender) reaching its peak, Gope and Raut finally decided to undergo gender affirmation surgery. However, both immediately became aware that exercising their constitutional right of living a dignified life would cost a fortune, way beyond their means.
With no support from their families, NGOs, government, or insurance companies, Gope and Raut turned to crowdfunding to pay for their gender affirmation care. However, the decision subjected them to harrowing transphobia and casteist abuse, which only aggravated the pains that already marked their journey so far.
Abandoned by All, Crowdfunding the Only Option
Just after a month of starting his transition journey in March 2021, Gope was fired from his job. The corporate he used to work for cited COVID-19 as the reason to sack him after making him work without salary for two months. The loss of a job along with an expensive transition process (consultations with psychiatrists, endocrinologist, and hormonal medicines) exhausted all of Gope’s savings.
"“I tried as hard as I could to stay afloat. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t even pay rent. I was forced to call my father and ask for money for my transition, but he simply refused.”" - Siddharth Gope
With no savings left, Gope was forced to go back to Tripura, to a family and home he had worked so hard to escape from. Here again, he was dehumanised and deliberately misgendered, just to snatch from him his right to self-identify.
"“They kept calling me their ‘daughter’, they refused to call me a man. This is the same family that has forced me into conversion therapy, that called my identity a ‘mental disorder’. I couldn’t retort, I didn’t want the society to say that my parents didn’t raise me well. It caused me immense psychological trauma, I couldn’t sleep at night.”" - Siddharth Gope
Raut had been thinking of transition for quite some time but could never save enough money to go ahead with it. Coming from a lower middle-class family, they had to take up gigs or jobs at cafes to not just pay for everyday expenses but also to fund their therapy sessions and medicines for depression and anxiety.
"“First, I was sexually assaulted, and then I was expected to pay to survive the mental illnesses caused by that incident. I wanted to take a loan, but who would give me a loan; I’m not even a graduate. I’ve been trying to complete my Bachelors in Commerce for five years now due to my college’s transphobia.”" - Rishikesh Raut
Institutional transphobia repeatedly came in the way of Raut’s attempts to save money. They had to quit many jobs just for asserting their trans identity. The fact that their family never accepted them as trans – for instance, never approved of them applying makeup – only aggravated their already crippling financial burden.
Abused for Being Trans and a Dalit
After being denied help from all corners, Raut finally turned to crowdfunding to meet the expenses incurred for gender affirmation care. Both Gope and Raut were inspired by crowdfunding campaigns run by other people to avail health and educational services. However, neither anticipated the degree of hate they would face for taking this decision.
"“I knew transphobia is present, but I wasn’t expecting this level of hate. They hated me not just for being trans but also for belonging to a marginalised caste. Even within the trans community, some Brahmin trans women repeatedly called me a ‘beggar’ for starting a crowdfund.”" - Rishikesh Raut
Raut’s crowdfunding campaign was shared by prominent Instagram content creators, such as Kusha Kapila and Siddharth Batra. However, the sharing of their cause also amplified the hate from all corners.
"“I immediately started getting transphobic and casteist slurs on Instagram. Upper-caste people started maligning me in their Instagram Live sessions; they used horrible casteist slurs, which I can’t even mention. I tried to block them, but all of this caused me irreversible trauma. It took a huge toll on me.”" - Rishikesh Raut
Immediately after making his crowdfunding campaign public, Siddharth Gope and his girlfriend were subjected to constant harassment and isolation.
"“When I shared my crowdfunding link with my friends and colleagues, they simply replied with ‘okay’ or a ‘thumbs-up emoji’. No one actually donated or cared to share it with others. My girlfriend, who was actively sharing the link in her circles, was abandoned by her friends. They started ignoring her, thinking that she’ll ask for money.”" - Siddharth Gope
Gope feels that just being a Dalit in an extremely casteist society aggravated his struggles. His social media accounts, which had to be made public for increasing the visibility of the crowdfunding campaign, became a site for upper-caste people to hurl casteist slurs at him.
"“There were comments like ‘apni girlfriend ko dhande pe bhej de, paisa aa jayega’, ‘chhakka’, ‘why begging, you’ve limbs, raise it yourself’. They have no idea about the difference between trans men and cis men.”" - Siddharth Gope
The repeating cycle of blocking the hateful accounts took a heavy toll on Gope’s mental health. “I’m engulfed with fear, they break my confidence, make me question as to whether I’m doing a wrong thing by raising funds,” he said.
Legal Remedy That's Only on Paper
Gope believes that nothing good can come from seeking legal action against hate-mongers under the Transgender Act, SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention), or the Information Technology Act. However, he does feel there is an immense lack of awareness among trans persons about remedies under the newly enacted Transgender Act, or the IT Act.
"“Even if we choose to file a complaint, the authorities don’t know anything about trans persons. The District Magistrates and the police are unaware of trans issues; they are not sensitised; they ask us disturbing questions. How can we expect them to protect us then? Therefore, we simply block the profiles and take no action.”" - Siddharth Gope
Rishikesh, on the other hand, is not hesitant about taking legal action. They are in fact consulting a lawyer to file a complaint against casteist and transphobic social media accounts. However, past experiences with the police don't inspire much confidence about whether “real action” will be taken.
"“Police try to bury the matter, especially if you’re from a lower caste and have no money or political connection. They tell us, ‘We’ve resolved the issue’, but we never get to know what they actually did. The police station just becomes another site of harassment for us.”" - Rishikesh Raut
The so-called protection provided under the Transgender Act fails to instil hope or confidence among trans persons from the Dalit, Bahujan, or Adivasi community.
Trans bodies are subjected to a bureaucratic regime of control where the journey of reclaiming identity has been wired into administrative procedures and paperwork. The purpose of “protection” is defeated when the responsibility is entrusted to an existing criminal justice system, which is inherently meant to control, exclude, and discriminate against trans persons and the marginalised communities.
We Dare to Hope
Siddharth Gope and Rishikesh Raut have somehow found the courage to channelise the built-up trauma, fear, and anger faced during the crowdfunding campaign to instil hope for a better future.
Gope wants to create and amplify institutions in Tripura which can provide counselling and support to persons from the LGBTQIA+ community. Raut, among many things, wants to actively participate in advocacy initiatives for trans awareness.
Both Gope and Raut believe that the trans community, especially the plight of Dalits within the trans community, needs more visibility. Both of them want gender affirmation surgeries to become more accessible, subsidised, and covered by medical insurance, so that trans persons are not forced to subject themselves to the hate and trauma that goes along with a crowdfunding campaign.
As Gope said, “We dream of a day where we feel the most liberated not “off” our body but “with” our body. The freedom that feels like running in the fields, topless, bereft of any fear of judgement.”
Kindly share and donate to Rishikesh Raut’s crowdfunding campaign here. They are still Rs 5 lakh short of the required amount.
And, please support Siddharth Gope’s crowdfunding campaign here. He’s still 62 percent away from his goal.
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