In conversation with Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju

A third-year student from Kasturba Medical College, Manipal, Trinetra is a proud transwoman. She’s an aspiring surgeon and a prolific artist. MTTN had the chance to interact with her right after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision reading down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.

Interviewer: So, did anything special happen today?

Trinetra: [laughter] Talk about special! I was in my community medicine practical class when people start texting and congratulating me. I knew the verdict was today and was hoping for a positive outcome but I was hoping to find out on my own. So I sat in class, taking a peek at my phone and feeling so excited but unable to do anything about it. The Court had clearly stated that sexual relations between consenting adults in the privacy of their own home is no one else’s business. Knowing that had been accomplished and yet being unable to dance and scream and sing was rather irritating.

Interviewer: The law though was just one part of a wider cause. Do you think efforts to change the hearts and minds of people have been successful?

Trinetra: Change related to taboo topics I think, comes in two ways: first most certainly is the legal or policy aspect of things and the second is changing what people think. The latter does not happen overnight. The stigma that has been in the society for decades, doesn’t go away with the snap of your fingers. Changing that requires a far greater effort on the grassroots level. Simply telling your family or friends to avoid a homophobic or transphobic joke could also go a long way. My family, for example, learned with me starting when I was all but fourteen years old. I didn’t know much myself, but because I’ve been a talker all my life [chuckling], I had to educate everyone around me. My parents, therefore, came a long way, from being homophobic to being the accepting and loving parents that they are. They accepted me as their daughter when in the past I was their son. They truly came a long way.

Interview: What do you think contributed more toward the semi-normalizing of LGBTQIA+ life in our society- activism or art?

Trinetra: Art inspires activism and activism inspires art. When you talk about art, most people refer to films and theatre. Though that has made a difference to a certain extent, it has also had a significant negative impact. The portrayal of LGBTQIA+ characters in film has largely been stereotypical and not very positive. [Interviewer interjects: Just today I read a comment on a discussion thread about Shah Rukh Khan and Karan Johar finally getting the film theme they needed.] Precisely! When it comes to Section 377, everything is just a big joke. People have had mostly the wrong kind of exposure, but recently that has been changing. As a Bengali, I’ve been exposed to a lot of Rituparno Ghosh’s work and that really helped me growing up. But, the main platform for awareness has been social media like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. I, for example, found my first queer idols on YouTube. Their coming-out videos and explanations helped me cope and be comfortable. I think that’s the case for our generation while our parents’ generation learned more from art.

Interviewer: When it comes to same-sex marriage, how long should justice have to wait?

Trinetra: In a perfect utopia, justice is never delayed. But this is the real world. Not having read the ruling yet, I’m unsure of the court’s stance on marriage equality. The judgment of today, however, most certainly lays the pathway for both marriage and adoption rights. I, however, do maintain that this does not mean you stop fighting! This does not mean that you let go of your activism that you’ve achieved one thing. This change happened for that reason because we pushed for it.

Interviewer: What are a few ways allies can make Trans people feel more comfortable?

Trinetra: First and foremost, use your resources and educate yourself. You needn’t ask the most basic and most easily searchable questions. Even if you wish to ask a Trans person a question, there’s a humane and respectful way to do so. One wouldn’t walk up to anyone else and ask them their sex positions or the shape of their privates, would they? Nobody likes to talk about certain things in a public space irrespective of their gender. Most importantly, do not ask people about their genitalia, and don’t assume that it defines their gender. Ask them which pronouns they’d prefer and what they’d like to be called. With my close friends’ jokes and personal questions are fine. But strangers need to think their questions through. Would you ask anyone who’s not Trans this question? If no then don’t ask me either, [Interviewer interjects: So basically, use your common sense!] Exactly! Use your common sense.

Interviewer: Tell us how the opportunity for the TEDx came about. Also, without giving too much away, tell us what we should be looking forward to.

Trinetra: I’d just finished the exams that I’d actually done pretty badly in. This last semester has been my time of transition and also I didn’t study much. The TED talk invitation just popped up on my phone and I took it as a sign. I spoke to the curators and we decided on the theme. Every TED talk on an LGBTQIA+ person usually ends up being a sob story. I understand some of us have had it worse than others, but these sob stories have become somewhat of a theme in queer talks. I wanted mine to be a story that people could relate to. I wanted to bridge my world of medicine to the usually distant-considered transgender world. I think it’s time people start not only tolerating us but instead, viewing us as one of their own. [Laughter] I think I’ve given away too much!

Interviewer: So what or who is your rock? Where do you find the courage you need to fight the good fight?

Trinetra: When I think about what keeps me going, it’s essentially the expectations that people have of me in addition to the expectations that I have of myself. At the end of the day, I don’t deny that I’ve had a fair amount of privilege. I feel that if I don’t utilize all that I’ve been given to make change happen, I’d be letting a lot of people down. There is a lack of education, not only at the school level but also in medical schools. Finally, I wouldn’t be here without my family. They’ve been very supportive of their daughter and certainly serve as my rock.

MTTN wishes Trinetra the very best for her TEDx talk on the 22nd of September, 2018 at BMS College of Engineering, Bangalore.

Interviewers- Soumee Sengupta, Ashutosh Sinha

Photographer- Vaikunt Nair

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