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I'm on a mission to empower India's transgender community, one painted palm at a time. Written by Kalki Subramaniam. Kalki Subramaniam is a transgender rights activist, artist and founder of the Sahodari Foundation. The opinions in this article belong to the author. I remember my childhood so vividly. Until the age of 11, I was a playful, happy child at home, and a good student at school.
Growing up in rural India, I was considered the more privileged child among my two sisters, having been born male. Tg mtf stories, deep inside, I longed to be my true self. I was a naturally effeminate. I felt uncomfortable being addressed as "he," and it seemed like there was this girl inside who liked everything a little girl of my age liked.
This made me a constant target. But I didn't fear those big, bullying boys and would fight back, never ashamed of who I was. Then, at the age of 14, I gave up. After I started losing interest in school, certain teachers became aggressive and would punish me with a cane.
I could never tell my parents.
Amid painful episodes of shame and self-doubt, I considered ending my own life, though my family's love stopped me from doing so. I cut class and would go to parks and forests to get away from everyone. Under the trees, I wrote poetry and imagined my future life in drawings, which helped me heal my inner wounds. Credit: Courtesy Kalki Subramaniam. When I finally came out as transgender to my parents, I was taken to a psychiatrist to help with my gender dysphoria, or the distress caused by the discrepancy between a person's body and their gender identity.
He asked me to draw how I saw myself in the future, so I drew a beautiful girl with a long skirt, hat and a big smile. He was taken aback, but he eventually helped me gain my family's acceptance.
This is the dilemma faced by teen children with gender dysphoria. Unable to bear the bullying but terrified of disappointing their parents, they fear going to school and they fear dropping out, too. If they "out" themselves, only a few are accepted by their parents. Practicing art helps us heal emotional injuries, by providing a safe opportunity for self-expression and shaping one's identity. When our families reject us, we find solace and refuge with other "hijras" who are also struggling to survive.
In my lifetime, I have lost many transgender friends to suicide. Other friends died from AIDS. As a teenager, I witnessed -- and was the victim of -- harassment. A transgender friend of mine, who was a sex worker, was raped by seven men.
Another friend was chased by her own brother wanting to burn her. While another friend was driven out by her family. These childhood experiences built my raging desire for justice and inspired me to become an activist for the transgender community. Healing through art. After completing my master's degree in journalism, I started a magazine called Sahodari or "sister" to reach out to and support the transgender community. I used photographs, art and text to educate people about mental health, transitioning and their right to dignity. Within a few years, I had founded the Sahodari Foundation and trained our team in visual storytelling.
Subramaniam pictured delivering a performance poetry Tg mtf stories. Credit: Sakthi Nithyanandan. Art has helped me identify my self-worth. It has been a medium for me to express my hope, joy, fear, anguish, desires and struggles. It is a reflection of my deep self that mirrors my journeys. It is a divine experience. When I paint, it is like my blood flows into the canvas and there is a soul connection. My artworks "The Purple Princess" and "I with in" celebrate the pure feminine and androgynous expressions with bright fluorescent colors. More recently, I have started to incorporate augmented reality into my artworks -- a technology that will help provide another level of meaning and emotional engagement with audiences.
Many people in the community are artistic and creative, but they seldom have the opportunity to practice their art. I realized that our community could not only express themselves through art, they could make a living from it. That is how our Transhearts project was born.
I traveled with my team to several cities and small towns in south India to offer free workshops on expressive painting. It has been a therapeutic experience for the participants. When they are making art, they forget time. Participants create works during a Transhearts workshop. Credit: Sahodari Foundation. We have exhibited the community's artworks in galleries, universities, colleges and public spaces.
The reception had been tremendously positive. When people see the artwork they can identify and empathize with us. Each piece of art tells a story. Abinaya's "The Struggling Sex Worker" was a moving work, very raw in portraying the exploitation of trans bodies. Viji D's "Begging Cycle" expresses the anguish of asking for money from strangers in trains to meet her basic needs. Nayanthara's "Finding Oneself" is beautiful, spiritual and powerful.
The deepest wounds cannot heal until they are expressed. It can bring out our beautiful side. It can make us more tolerant of differences -- and of one another. Standing up against violence. Sexual violence is a terrible, horrible, health-affecting issue that transgender people have endured for decades.
Research from the Indian states of Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka found that four in 10 transgender people will experience some form of sexual abuse before the age of Many of us remain silent victims. The Red Wall Project was created to empower the voices of India's transgender and gender-diverse people, and to help resist the crimes perpetrated against us. It is a community "art-ivism" project whereby participants are interviewed by my team and write down their experiences of assault, abuse or rape on paper marked with Tg mtf stories palm prints in red paint.
Listening to the experiences can be traumatizing, yet we are determined to do it. If we don't tell our community's stories, who will? With their consent, we bring these stories to the public. During the exhibitions, I use my poetry Tg mtf stories performance art to provoke dialogue about taking action against gender-based crimes.
Participants in the Red Wall project write their stories. Kalki sees the red painted palms ifying "a slap against abusers and a of resistance.
We want to reach out to India's young people with our stories, and tell them that it is unacceptable to hurt people based on their gender identity. Through victims' first-hand s, we can show them that we are human beings who deserve better treatment, respect and dignity.
Whenever we exhibit these testimonials, I see people reading them patiently for hours. I have seen visitors who, after reading, sit in silence in tears. Young people come to me and say, "What can I do to stop this violence? How can I be supportive? Empathize with us. That is all we need. Struggle for recognition.Tg mtf stories
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