My name is Nayana Udupi and I am a transwoman born in the coastal Karnataka town of Udupi. I have 4 siblings, 2 sisters and 2 brothers.
I don’t remember when exactly, I was quite small when I realized I was different. I remember my granny used to tell me I would cry if I was not given a girl’s dress to wear.
I was a female person trapped in male body and, I remember being hated by my father. He would call me names like, ‘hijara’and ‘chakka’. He would treat me different from my brothers and sisters. He would not want me around when he was home. And, he used to beat me up for my effeminate behaviour. But, my mother would always protect me and save me from his anger. I remember helping her around the house like other daughters would.
My school days were not too great either because I would mingle with the girls and play games with them. The boys in school would tease and bully me about how I walked or talked. Neighbours and relatives joined in on the teasing as well.
My father was irritated with the whole situation and stopped my schooling. He sent me to the nearby town for Foreman training at KGF or Kolar Gold Field. At KGF, because of how effeminate and womanly I was, the foreman training was impossible to go through. I lived in a hostel during my training, and other men and boys at the hostel began mentally, physically and sexually harassing me because of my effeminate behaviour. I did not end up completing the training, and went back to Udupi.
Quite obviously, my father was angry and forbade further study in Udupi. He also did not allow me to participate in the family business. So, I decided to work in Bangalore. I secured a job in a hotel as a receptionist, but because I did not want to stop studying, I took on the night shift and joined a day college. I completed my PUC and while I began a course in BA, I did not complete it.
Living a Trans Life
Through all of this, I clearly remember feeling like I was born in the wrong body. I really wanted to transition into my right body. Through a network of friends, I found out about the Hijiraculture in Pune and Mumbai, and decided to join the community as a chela. After completing certain rituals, my Guru helped me complete my transition-surgery. We call it the Nirvanaceremonywithin the Hijiracommunity. This period is filled with special celebrations and is very similar to the menarchecelebration for young girls in India.
All the celebration around my transition did not remove the sting of having to beg and engage in sex work to survive. I hated that phase where I lost all control over my life and felt weak because I was not ‘rough and tough’ enough to handle the lifestyle. And, when I say rough and tough, I mean be more assertive and speak up for myself.
My close ties with the community did not let me forget how the word hijrawas used against me by my own father. I continued to dream about living life as a girl, finishing my studies and getting a job. I wanted to live in mainstream society, with friends and a family. I wrote a long letter and sent it home, along with a photo of me, properly dressed in a woman’s attire. My mother responded by saying, ‘whatever you wear and whatever you are; you will always be my child. Please just come home.” Surprisingly, I was accepted by my family and that became a big turning point in my life.
I came back to Bangalore in search of better job prospects, and to be closer to my family in Udupi. But, I was disheartened to realize, I had to go back to sex work to support not just myself this time, but my family as well. The sex work helped me save money for further studies in computer science. I joined a basic computer course (UNIX, C++, ORACLE 8 with VISUAL BASIC 6.0), and earned an ADIM or Advanced Diploma in Multimedia in 2004. All, with my female identity.
Turn of the Tide
I continued to struggle trying to find a secure job. Through my friend’s circle, I was offered an extra’s role in the Kannada film industry. I was able to manage my finances for two years with the work. During this time, I sat for several interviews with IT companies but found it hard to land a job. I finally bought myself a computer and worked as freelancer, sitting at home. One day, the person who gave me my assignments found out that I was from the transgender community and stopped sending work my way. I was left with no other work, and thought of something drastic. I decided to go to the local TV channels and sellmy story. I hoped this would atleast help me get a job.
The first TV channel I went to refused. The second channel recorded my story and also gave me the number and address for SANGAMA, an LGBTQ+ rights group based in Bangalore. I eventually joined SANGAMA, and the Founder and Director at the time, Manohar Elavarthi offered me the role of an Administrator. In some time, I was promoted to Manager Administrator at the NGO. But, this did not stop me from hoping for my dream job – a graphic designer in the IT sector. The hurdles to cross were my non-English speaking background and dated design skills.
At this time, I was also associated with Aneka, Sangama’s sister NGO. Aneka organized training and awareness programs that I used to participate in. When I shared my dream of working in the IT space with Aneka, the Founder and Director of the NGO helped me with an introduction to ThoughtWorks.
Click here to read an interview with Nayana on Transgender Inclusion at workplace.