An Indian trans man movingly describes some of the multiplicity of gender identities in South Asia, and the difficulties of falling outside a “traditional” identity with a structured community:
I identify as a Thirunambi. Female to male transgender. Long before I knew what I was, I knew I was gender non-conforming. Only recently did I find the terms that best describe what I am and found people who are similarly gendered. A person born as female but with the gender expression that is male. I struggled for several years of my life trying to articulate what I am. To tell my family, friends and lovers that I am not a woman who is boyish. But a man.
There are diverse ways to be a transgender man. Some of us want sex change surgeries, some don’t, some of us identify as heterosexual, some as lesbian or gay, yet others as multi-sexual. Some of us are more fluid with our genders than others. Some of us have been forced into marriages with men by our families, while others managed to leave our biological families to find limited freedom by migrating to other cities.
But the oppression that we have faced due to our “deviant” gender expression cuts across the variety of gender expression within the community. The levels of oppression of course vary according to the caste and class positions that we occupy. I write as a Nair-born, English-speaking, middle-class FTM. I write for my working class, dalit, non-English-speaking FTM brothers. I write because our voices are never heard.
We are silenced before we can speak. We face the double oppression of being female-born on top of our non-conforming gender expression. We don’t have a system like the hijras. We don’t have Gurus who will mother us when we leave our biological families. We are invisible because we are conditioned to “pass” in public as men, to say that our bodies don’t matter because we feel disconnected with them. Is that body that bleeds every month, the body with breasts, that is seen as female mine? This is a question that all of us have grappled with.