Queer Self-Reflections - Revathi
Duration: 00:40:13; Aspect Ratio: 1.366:1; Hue: 12.002; Saturation: 0.430; Lightness: 0.201; Volume: 0.482; Cuts per Minute: 0.622; Words per Minute: 121.490
At every moment of my life I’ve had different-different experiences.
When I was young I had lot of interests.
As a young boy I really wanted to dress like women.
At the same time I was scared that my family would find out.
In spite of that fear I had a courage that was above all fear, back then.
Secondly, after I joined the Aravani community I was afraid to go back home.
What would they do to me? Would they beat me? I was scared about these things.
But as a young boy when I wanted to take the form of a woman the people in my town used to tease and call me a number nine.
I was scared about them, but I also wanted to show them that I had transformed into a woman. I had the firm belief that even if I died then (at the hands of my family/ town’s folk) I’ll die as a woman.
So that’s when I went back to my house in a sari.
Thirdly, I worked in an organization and I did sexwork work, there were a lot of political goings on.
The life we lead and the life of politicians was the same.
If we went onto a road, it would be very hard to pick up one customer. We would be very scared because they could put a blade to our faces, use a knife against us, they could do anything, and if they realize we are not women – that we are aravanis, transgender they would go away without paying us.
And if they pay us before having sex assuming that we are women, they could not only take back the money after the sex once they realize we are aravanis but also beat us.
I’ve had many such experiences.
They’ve slashed me with a knife, undone my sari in the middle of the road and chased me only with my skirt on.
Even though I have repeated experiences like this one I go back and do my job over and over again without any fear of any police force or society.
If we look at it from today’s viewpoint, we can change our politics, we can change the feelings of other people.
But that courage from the old days saying that I’ll withstand all this even if it is hard is not there anymore.
I feel scared of everything nowadays.
I’m scared to go work in a organization today.
I’m scared to fall in love with people. I’m scared of walking on the street sometimes even travelling by bus.
I’ve split my share of the property from my parents. And today the processes of giving me that property is underway.
The property that I fought for and got I feel like I should give it up.
If you ask me why? I don’t know – is it my age or is it the fact that I have no support system?
I really don’t understand the exact reason behind this. I ask myself these questions.
Is it the boundaries that society confines me in that create this fear? Or is it my age that instills this fear? I don’t know the answer to this. This is the difference between the situation back then when I was young and now.
But back then, in the aravani community all the violations and affections exchanged have not changed.
More than my parents, the society, the organization this community is what looks after me.
Now even though I’ve left everything – my parents, my organization, my activism I have a place to live and share all the burdens of my heart. This place is my transgender community.
This is the one place that seems like it gives a lot to me.
I don’t know about the experience of others. This has been tailor-made for me.
That boldness, courage and anger from before is not in me now. I don’t know the reason for that myself.
Happiness and sorrow you cannot separate them. In my life there were many moments of happiness and sorrows.
I cannot chose once incident of sorrow moment or happy moment.
I enjoyed many happy moments in my life. To what extent I have experienced happiness I have to the same extent experienced sorrow also.
I want to spend two to three hours explaining this to you.
First I want to share the happy moments in my life. When I had my operation and was changed into a woman I was very happy.
The reason for this happiness is that my body looks like the way I feel.
I felt a boldness surge through me because I said to myself: I’m going to step into this world as a woman.
If I have to give an example for that, before I got my operation done in Mumbai I wanted to travel in the ladies compartment
but I used to be very scared because all the women in the compartment happen to touch each other’s body unintentionally while travelling and I was scared that they would figure out that I was not a woman by feeling my body against theirs.
When I didn’t have it, I could go places with a sense of freedom, I could travel by train with a certain freedom.
That really brought me a lot of happiness.
If you look at the second thing on my list it is marriage.
I wanted to live like my mother and sister.
The idea of marriage brought me immense happiness.
I wanted someone who understood me as a transgender and married me.
These wishes that I had as a sixteen year old were fulfilled when I turned thirty-two.
I can’t forget the day that this happened.
My friends come next on the list.
These people have taken me places my parents, my relatives shun me from – be it a wedding or a death in the family.
I wanted to go to these places like Velankani or other different tourist spots.
When I went and enjoyed myself in these places I was very happy.
There is no such thing as a personal enjoyment for us.
There is no such leisure for us in relation to this society.
In such a situation going on these trips to Velankani and Vilipuram to attend the processions made us very happy.
Leaving behind these joys there are other joys that give me pleasure. But these three things give me great joy.
In the same breath when one says sorrow, I think of days’ like today Mother’s Day.
You’ve come to film me today.
Honestly speaking I love my mother very much.
The death of my mother caused me great pain.
I think of my mother very often.
Before my mother died, my mother figure - guru in the aravani community was murdered by some rowdies on the street.
Back then I used to work for a research firm that was writing a book.
That’s when they murdered my guru.
The time she died, the time when my daughter (Famillia) died; these moments of loss have been the moments of greatest sorrow in my life.
Another sad day would be, the time when I fought to be a woman and to be married. I wanted someone that would bring a change in our society, someone who could respect aravanis, transgender as women. I met someone like this.
One could even go to the extent of calling him a feminist; I was going to be married to such a person. But the fact that he didn’t accept me as a woman and left me stranded on the street brings me great sorrow.
If you’re wondering why I’m sad that a man left me and want to question me as to why I couldn’t just live as a woman it is justified.
I wouldn’t have felt bad if it were just any guy I would’ve dusted him off the sleeve of my shirt but this man was an activist, there are a lot of things that I learnt from him.
These things that he taught me, these very same things I follow to this day.
Someone like that, someone who was a mentor left me stranded and this brings me immense sorrow.
If I have to call something the third sorrow of my life it will be the fact that I have lived for everyone – I’ve lived for my aravani community, for both my mother and father, for my brother and his children.
I’ve also lived for the society. I’ve joined the women’s movement in this society and worked against dowry.
I’ve worked for adivasis. I’ve also worked for the Dalits.
Similarly I’ve worked a lot towards a better society.
But today after leaving behind all of this without a source of income where I don’t work anymore – in a situation like this where I can’t go back to work, where I can’t go from shop to shop begging.
Like the transgender community I’m not even able to keep two Chelas (daughter) and continue my living, I’m in such a dire situation.
I don’t even know if I should live or die this kind of situation makes me very sad.
If you ask me why it’s because I’ve lived for everyone, but I’ve never thought of living for myself and I regret this.
I believe that both the joy and the sorrow play a huge part in my life.
When I was thirteen or fourteen years old I was a boy, but all my responses and feelings were like girl.
Back then near in Namakkal town the bus stand were a few biscuit and mixture shops.
What I wanted to do back then was to stand in front of the biscuit shop and flirt with them. If I had to be more precise I used to stand there and leer at these guys.
There nobody looked down upon me.
Once I went and professed my love to an orange vendor and when he heard me he scolded me saying: “I’m a man and so are you. Go away!”Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?”
Once I came to Bombay and my operation was complete when I was went back as a woman he used to follow me around.
He used to come around saying that he was in love with me and carry love letters along, he also used to say that he was very fond of me.
Back then people used to say that I was a boy who had a woman’s voice.
After hearing all of this I changed, I became a woman.
Now they began saying that I looked like a woman but my voice resembled a man’s.
Men take the challenge upon themselves to guess if I’m male or female.
They examine a lot of things. They see that my I am like Sridevi. When they look at my face I look like Sridevi, a woman but when they look down I have a penis, this is what they pointed out.
They used to say that my community behaves disgustingly in public and abuses them.
They also used to say that we threatened to expose ourselves in public. Won’t you be angered when someone says that in upper half it is Sridevi and the down half an Amitabh Bachchan. Will I then not expose myself with anger?
There will be love and they will make use of us in all possible ways and yet they say upper Sridevi Niche Amitab Bachchan.
I Cannot say that this is sorrow but this is more than that.
I can call this nightmarish. I can never forget this incident in my life.
Sometimes I even get scared what if this experience repeats. I am in that situation.
I used to engage in sex work in Mahien, Mumbai in a hut
during that time a rowdy with a knife tried to force me into anal sex.
I didn’t like anal sex at all. I couldn’t give him the anal sex that he wanted.
But my guru told me that if we wanted to live there without paying any rent then I had to give him whatever he asked for or else we wouldn’t be allowed to live in that area.
So in that situation I was unable to do what he wanted me to do.
He wanted to have anal sex with me without using a condom.
He spat his saliva onto his palm rubbed it on my back and forced himself into me. I couldn’t bear the pain.
Even today when I think of it I don’t understand how I bore that pain or how I’m still alive.
I was screaming in such agonizing pain and calling out to my guru but this is all that my guru said: “Beta, if we want to live in this place you have to have sex with him because these people are local rowdies and we have to give them what they ask for.”
He not only forcefully had sex with me he also used to rob me of my five to ten rupee tip.
After the anal sex both the walls of my anus were torn apart and bleeding.
Even for the bleeding my guru took me to a hospital in Dharavi.
The doctor didn’t even examine me.
He just wrote out a prescription and sent me on my way.
I can’t explain how much it used to burn; I can’t describe it with my own mouth. I used to pour Dettol in a basin of hot water and sit down in the basin with my bruise exposed to the water.
Every time the water began to cool down it began to burn all over again, it used to hurt terribly.
When I think of that state I am scared even today.
When I’m walking alone on the street and a man or a rowdy stares at me I can’t but think of that experience.
So I call this a horrible incident.
Not only that, the first time when I travelled from Delhi back home I had short hair up to my shoulder.
Even then my family took me and got my hair shaved off.
My brother beat me up with a cricket bat.
I was losing blood, but they didn’t care about it at all.
All they thought of was if they beat me I would turn into a man again.
They still didn’t understand my feeling.
That fear also still stays with me. Even today I will say that they haven’t completely understood my feelings.
It’s not even that they don’t understand it’s just that they don’t want to accept it.
Why don’t they want to accept me? It’s because this society hasn’t accepted us yet, society hasn’t understood our feelings yet.
They are still scared of society.
That fear that they will beat me up is a still raw in my memory.
These two incidents are the most horrible incidents that have happened to me.
Even today, in my family the fact that I wear a sari and live as a woman causes furor.
My brothers beat me up for it. But I don’t mind anymore. I think to myself it’s just my brothers who are beating me up.
But I really didn’t understand the meaning of rape then.
If I think back on those naive experiences today and if someone says they’ve been raped I consider it a terrible thing today.
When they beat me and tortured me and kept me captive and had sexual relations with me in that hut I didn’t know what to call it but I will call it rape today.
I am a sexworker. I’m not denying that. I am a sex worker, but don’t we also have rights?
If someone makes you do sex work in a place unsuitable to you even though you are a sex worker that is a bad thing.
This is my opinion today. I think of it as rape today. During that time I didn’t have a means to live, voice my opinions and ask questions but today I can voice my opinion, ask questions and speak up for myself.
But I didn’t know about all this back then. I still fear all this when I think of it.
When men found out that I do not have a vagina they have used a knife against me to threaten me that I cheated them.
There are a lot of people who have faced sexual violence but they hesitate to share as they feel that sexworkers cannot be raped.
To think of it is itself very difficult.
I am also a stone, can this stone cry
The stone cried as this stone also has pains and hurts and sentiments.
tragedy due to love
The stone which melted by crying can you bring it back to shape, do you even have a heart.
Truely in my life my heart was of a stone.
I was very strong not give my heart to anyone easily
Because everyone who love people like us abuse or misuse us or take advantage.
That is why I was very scared to fall in love.
The stone kind of heart that I had this love made even me cry.
This love made the stone like heart to cry.
The situation of heart break was so horrible that today my stone like heart cannot be brought back to its original shape.
Again you cannot resuurect this heart. That is the meaning of this poem.
Since I was born as a man in the society, I had to prove that I also am a woman and this process I faced many trials.
There are certain rules that surround how a woman should act in society.
If you want me to give an example: I was born in a village where girls drew the Rangoli every morning, fetch water and carry it on their hips and cook at home.
These were very important roles they followed.
Because of these gender rule I had to prove my being a woman and so I would clean the doorstep and put rangoli
I would wash vessels and help my mother. I would clean the kitchen and light up the stove.
If there were village festivals like Mariamma festival i would go along with children and wear a women's attire and dance.
But for people who would see this it would come across as a comedy.
Why this boy behaves like a woman and they would taunt me calling me names.
I would feel a little happy that even in that ridicule they considered me a woman. But that is a small happiness.
In another incident when I was studying in school in 8-9th class
The teacher while teaching gender they talk about lifeless objects. The concrete object can be lifted in hands is what the teachers say.
The abstract things cannot be felt, you cannot pinch it and so on and they take the example
of me that I look like a boy but I am not a boy
What is his feeling what is in his mind nobody can make out.
This is what abstract lifeless object is that is how the teacher would give example and all the children will laugh clapping their hands. It would hurt me a lot.
In my childhood wheni was helping my mother I would enjoy the ridicule for identifying me as woman but in 9-10th class when they used me as an example it was very painful.
In our school for the aniversary all the children would organise a program to show their talents.
Then I took part as wife of Harischandra - Chandramukhi.
Chandramukhi's child dies of snake bite and I acted taking the child all over and begging.
Then boys who studied from 4th class to plus 2 would stop me and ask me "chandramukhi where is your husband harischandra"
They would say "yesterday with the wig you really looked like a woman and what had you kept for you chest, can we check it. Was it real" and so on.
They would insist and force me to show them and pinch me in my chest.
Even if I took all these incidents as identifying my gender as a woman, for them it was like a man who has changed to a woman's dress
After all that I went to Mumbai, I did sexwork.
Even in sexwork though I was not a woman and I was an Aravani I took the role of a woman even in sexwork.
Even if I consider that I was a woman in sexwork, the customer would hold my chest and ask are you a woman or a man?
Some customers would ask why is your voice so rough are you a woman or a man.
Then I would feel that woman means is it necessary to speak softly
Woman means breats, woman means vagina
I came to a decision that woman means all these are necessary
If I have to live like a woman i have to have long hair, I have to pierce my nose and ears
I have to grow my breasts and have a vagina like hole.
That itself was a big struggle in my life
because this was my situation. If I kept a wig people would say it is performance, if i keep false breast they will call it performance and they never consider me as a woman.
Because the society has constructed the idea of being a woman in this manner and that itself was a big struggle for me.
That is why I took hormones which other Aravanis took without consulting doctors just to get breasts.
Now if feel that there are many side effects of those hormones but I am not bothered about those side effects.
because I want to live as woman and I want to be a woman when I do sexwork. I want my breasts to be real. If it is not then even the customer will ask if I am not a woman.
That is why this was also a big struggle for me.
Later I came to Bangalore and worked in an organisation called Sangama
There also the entire politics was to consider transwomen as women.
But according to me I was never considered as woman.
If i have to give example it is about my partner
He worked in the same organisation. In this matter what sexual rights a woman has I never got that from him.
When you think about women's rights and women's sexual rights many men activists speak loads about this.
They speak about how men do not do domestic work at home and only women do that.
Men just do not work at home and that is wrong is what they claim
My husband too was like that, he too would go and speak loads in meetings
At home he never did domestic work that work is only for a woman.
Women can be great activists outside in the society but at home they have to take the burden of domestic work.
Only women do the domestic work men will not do it.
Even for sex when a man needs sex he will make use of his wife but
if a woman wants sex we cannot openly ask our husbands.
So women do not have sexual rights, they have to take the burden of domestic work, but men who speak loads will not do even a little work at home.
So at this level also I had to face a huge struggle
You women stand for the rights of women and you come and advice me and when I ask what is the difference between women like you and men
They would say you are not like 'us', so what should I do to be like you.
In this situation I identify as a woman feel like a woman and when I demand rights of women
I have to be a woman as how the society has constructed. Women should have long hair, they should be submissive, they should never ask for sex, even today this is how woman are supposed to be.
Even when it comes to property, my parents gave property share to my brothers and not to me.
They gave dowry to my sister, a hoouse to my sister and they are still looking after her family
Wherther it is brothers or sisters if they have a family they get a particular respect and place
I do not have a family, I cannot have children, nor do I have a husband or a wife. I am like a lonely tree a dry tree.
I am like that dry tree which cannot reproduce.
So why should I be given property. According to them what I need is only food for survival.
Thay is what they say but for me whether I am married or not whether I can have children or not that is inconsequential. The property is my rights.
I might not me married I might not have children but property is my right and I am askign what everybody's rights
Does our law say that only people with family and children will get share in ancestrol property, no it does not say so.
Today the law says that women should have equal rights and equal property rights
But our society is not like that. Law speaks about equal rights but in reality whether it is for women or for us there are no equal rights
Even today we all are fighting for women's rights and transgender rights and we continue to do it.
In one way though legal systems are changing to accommodate us and accept us as women the society is not ready for this change
The entire society demands marriage and children to get the ancestrol property. They pose the question that after you who will the property go to?
All these struggle is because I changed my gender
Now am I in peace? no I am not all in peace.
Even when my partner left me I fought strongly saying it is my right that I cannot be ditched like this
But the decision was that when both of us could not lead the life together the best would be to separate
They even said that they would get me maintainance from my husband
I loved my husband and not his money
So I said not to it.
In my family I fought to get my rights over the property, even then I got the share of my parents
They did not give equal share to me as to my siblings but
My parents gave me 1 lakh rupees and settled the matter
But they wrote to me this only because I helped them monetarily to renovation
But today we dont know who will have rights over that house
The reason for all this is my gender
Because of my gender I am still struggling and fighting
I cannot say that I am living happily and in peace
This is not the situation of one Revathi, there are many people who are facing this situation
My community people still facing this and I dont know when there will an answer for this.
But I strongly believe that there will be an answer for this for which we will be fighting till we get
I really wanted live as a woman but I did not get a space to live as woman
The only space that understood my feeling that I was woman was my Hijra community
In hijra community there is the system of Guru and Chela (mother and daughter). According to me this is an important support system. But this system also is filled with politics.
It is like a business
If we have young beautiful chelas they wil do sexwork earn lot of money and will look after us. That is the situation
It is like a family only. Like how in family it is expected that children will earn money and look after parents in the same way here also the chela has to look after guru. But it is all like business now.
To have as many as chelas possible, if this guru is not caring then shifting gurus
So in this manner the relationship between guru and chela is like business
At the same time we cannot say that there is no true love or caring
I belive and love the Aravani culture because
the dance the relationships built and the sharing that happens yet
the senior Aravanis involve in politiking and drag the chela back to sexwork and begging. Nobody thinks of getting their chelas educated
There is politiking and money importantly so no Aravani thinks of other options.
I am Revathi and I am woman. I do not like to say that I am Hijra, aravani, Tirunangai, transgender,
for this reason I did my passport also as Revathi and as female
Because I dont not want other genders and this hijra community I do not think about them as a gendered group.
because hijra community is a cultural structure.
Today we have many kinds of women, Dalith women, Adivasi women, Muslim women and in the same way we too are Hijra women
This is our culture and this how personally I see this.
Today we are in a situation that we see the world in the place we are sitting through computers
So if we can see the world there is no need be left with only options of sexwork or begging.
To see sexwork and begging as Hijra culture and being dominated by other is not what I would like to see or accept.
So I decided to give my Chelas (Daughters) freedom
I expected that they should get educated and should get good jobs
But they took up sexwork as their profession and I do not say that it is wrong
So in this fredom too I would like to identify as a woman.
If they are my daughters and they choose sexwork as their profession then it is their choice
I will not controll them and also will not depend on their money
When i am aged and when I dont have strength I do not expect them to look after me but they might feel it their responsibility
I am also fine with this and they too are fine with this. I wanted break these rules of this Hijra culture.
I may not change the entire Hijra community but in my family I have changed it and made it free. Today it may be a change in my family but tomorrow it will be a community change and that is what i think
I decided to live like this and today I am living like this
This is also part of identifying as woman.