The politics of gender, part 1

By Nadika Nadja

My name is a tweak of the Tamil word for actress – Nadigai. I chose the name for myself, because for a long while I was putting on an act. An act of being a man. And I was a good actor, because the world, including my parents, thought I was a boy, a man.

Not me.

I am a woman.

Or to be precise and correct, I am a transwoman. Inside me, my brain and my heart told me I was a woman. I believed my brain. Outside me, my body told me I was a man. I believed my body. I was torn by both beliefs. Till this year, inner me was unable to come out and show herself because in the story of my life, her scene hadn’t come yet. The outer me was out there, proving to everybody and to himself what a great actor he was and my story was his story.

I think I was around eight or nine years old. A cousin – elder to me by about six years – decided to dress me up in her old clothes. Because she believed it would be fun. In a photo taken that evening, I stand there, not quite shy, not quite not shy. Where everybody was expecting protests or pleads, I remained quite quiet.

I wish I could say, that was the moment I knew I was a girl. A woman.

I was around 17 years of age. My classmates and friends, the other boys in my neighbourhood were testing out their new-found voice. Their cracked-and-settled, bass, man’s voice. I was calling up a local computer-coaching centre to find out if there were any classes I could take to learn VB. For the entire conversation, the counsellor at the other end addressed me as ma’am, and till this day, perhaps, believes he was talking to a woman.

I wish I could say, again, that was the moment I knew I was a woman.

The precise moment that I knew I was a transgendered was when, as an 18-year-old, a friend introduced me to the world of online porn. I was hooked. In a different way. Somewhere, somehow, I realized I was putting myself often in the shoes of the woman performing. I was imagining myself as a woman and finding that thought not altogether unpleasant. I began daydreaming, of the day or the night when I could be that woman. And the manywomen.

gender politicsThis understanding wasn’t the most liberating or the most comforting. It was quite painful, confusing and exasperating. If I was a woman, why did I look like a man? If I was a man, why was I having these thoughts? Does this explain why, growing up, I didn’t like sports? Does this explain why, in school, when all the other boys were being cool and smart, or geeky and smart, around the girls, and where other boys were quite okay to discuss masturbation and sex with each other, I wasn’t?

Does this explain why, even though I had crushes on other girls, I didn’t act on it? Does that explain why, even though I loved swimming and knew how to, I was uncomfortable going into the pool with the other boys, and absolutely hated changing into and out of the swimming trunks in public? Why I could never, unlike the other boys, be comfortable about baring my upper body?

All through my teens, and the early adulthood, I was racked by doubts and insecurities. Over my body, my sexuality, my gender and my identity. This being the late1990s, and early 2000s, in a Madras that had just become Chennai and in a conservative Tam-Brahm family, I could not (or believed I could not) do anything about it right away.

Trying to find some information online, led me to put a word, and a history, to my situation. Transgendered. Or Gender Dysphoria. Or Gender Identity Disorder.

More reading, many more hours spent on countless fora gave me more words and more labels. Gender Fluid. Transsexual. Shemale. Transvestite. One by one, I tried on these names and labels on myself, testing them out to see if I could come to like them.

I learnt, pretty soon, certain labels were loaded with undesirable associations and were extremely porn-centric. And some were loaded with political associations and extremely debated. The more I learnt, the more confused I got.

I did not think I was a gay man. Repeated crushes – debilitating and entirely onesided – on girls told me I was attracted to women. So did that make me a lesbian? Or a straight man who had a perversion, a fetish?

To be continued.

(The writer is an advertising professional based in Chennai, India.)