“If I ever adopt a child, it would be a boy. I will teach him to behave well to the transgender community and the way I raise him would be an example for others.” This probably was the answer that made 26-year-old Syama Sanju win the ‘Queen of Dhwayah’ title at Kerala’s first-ever beauty pageant for the transgender community.
Syama is surely overwhelmed and she did not hide her excitement as she talked to Onmanorama. She spoke about her unexpected achievement, and the disregard society has for the transgender community as she shared her hopes for tomorrow.
Can you introduce the new ‘Queen of Dhwayah’ or Syama Sanju?
I am a native of Thiruvananathapuram. At home, I have my mother, and my only sibling, a brother, is currently working abroad in the Middle East. I have completed MA and Med and I wish to register with the PSC, but other than the male/female column, there is no option for transgenders. So, like a lot of other transgender people, I'm helpless. We are not welcomed in the private sector either. Even though I have passed B.Ed with 86 percent marks, that doesn’t come to my advantage when it comes to landing a job.
What about your entry into ‘Dhwayah’?
To be honest, I never expected a huge honor like this. When I learned that a beauty pageant ‘Dhwayah 2017’ was to be conducted for the transgender community for the first time in Kerala, I didn’t even plan to be a participant. I thought that there are many transgender people in Kerala who are prettier and smarter than me, and I wouldn’t stand a chance. It was transgender activist Surya Abhi who compelled me to take part in the pageant, but I was still not keen saying that I do not have a body type fit for the ramp. Buy she kept on pushing me and I finally decided to compete. It was quite a shock for me when I learned that I was selected to the group of 30 from among 300 contestants. My greatest strength was my ability to speak with confidence. That took me forward. In the next audition, I was selected into the top 15.
The answer in the final round made you the queen, right?
Maybe my answer in the final round won me the ‘Dhwayah 2017’ title. The question was that if I were given a chance to adopt a child, will it be a girl or a boy. Everybody else said, “a girl,” while I said I would adopt a boy. There is a reason why I gave that answer. I studied in a boys’ school; over there, as well as in my college, I was humiliated the most by boys. Ever since those days, I had decided that if I adopt a child, it should be a boy. I will raise him to be a model for other men to copy. I will teach him to respect the transgender community and women. It seems the judges really liked my answer.
What about the support that you get from your colleagues?
Everybody is happy that I won the title. In fact, many of my friends had told me that I should come back only with the crown. I can’t even thank my friend and batch mate at college Prajith enough. I did not have money to buy even a good pair of footwear for the ramp walk. Prajith, who is the secretary of Queer Rhythm, helped me a lot in situations like this. A friend of mine, who do not wish to be named, gave the money for the gown that I had worn that day. Sana, Akhil, Apoorva, Sree, Achu, Mikha, Pratap Singh and a lot of other friends supported me a lot.
Since when did you start realizing that you had a woman inside?
It was actually in my teenage years that I realized I was a woman living with a man’s body. Teenage is the most crucial time when your body undergoes many changes, you fall in love, etc. I started noticing that I was quite different from my classmates. I did not have hair growth like them. When their sound started to harden, mine was still the same, and the most important thing was that while they were attracted to their opposite sex, I never felt anything for women. Though I was realizing everything about my differences, I had no idea what to do about it. Neither did I have anybody to talk to. Most of my classmates made fun of me by saying I even wrote like a woman. I was scared to go out during breaks because of all the teasing and humiliation. During those days, my mother was my greatest inspiration to go ahead. I was determined to study well for my mother who worked hard to support me and my father who was not well.
How about your family’s encouragement?
It has only been two years since my family learned about the changes in me. I think my mother might have noticed, because a mother always understands her child better. She might have had certain apprehensions, but she never pointed a finger at me. Since my brother is abroad, I stay home with my mother. She is happy that I won the title. Besides. I am really happy that many people at my place who never spoke to me earlier came and congratulated me.
Do you think that the society’s attitude towards the transgender community is changing?
It is to be specially noted that a change in attitude is seen among the youngsters. Most of them consider us to be one among them without showing any sort of difference. There are still people who stare at us or make fun of us, but even that is changing these days. I face many problems when I go out, but I respond immediately, otherwise it would be very difficult to survive in a society like ours. Recently, while I was traveling in train, I heard two girls making fun of me. I didn’t take it seriously in the beginning. But I thought why should I suffer this humiliation. I asked them whether they would behave the same way if in future, they learn that their child is a transgender. They did not say anything back. It really hurts when women shows disregard and alienates us.
How do look you upon the transgender representation in the metro or their achievements in movies?
All these make the transgender community very happy. This means that we are also accepted in the society like men and women.
What do you have to say to all those who hide their female minds inside male bodies?
I want to tell them that no matter what, they should bring out their true personality. Vaikom Muhammed Basheer says in his book Bhoomiyude Avakasikal that all living beings have the right to live on this earth, this is what I too have to say. We are human beings, like men and women. We too have the right to live honorably with our heads held high. I know a lot of people who live with a different gender inside, fearing that others might know about them. When I tell them to be themselves, they are ashamed or worried thinking what others might say. I want to tell them that our lives belong to us and it is not meant to be lived for the sake of others.
Do you wish to be called a transgender or a woman the most?
I am really proud to proclaim that I am a transgender. I can completely think from the perspective of a transgender as much as I can think like a man or a woman. Right now, I am getting ready for a sex reassignment surgery. But even after the surgery, I would like to be called a transgender, till the end of my life.
What do you have to tell to all those who believe that all transgender people are sex workers?
There are quite a number of people in Kerala who think that all transgender people are sex workers. You must understand that if they are given opportunities to live and work like normal human beings, then they wouldn’t have to be sex workers. How many would come forward to employ a transgender? Just a few. Transgender people too need to live. They may be forced to do this job as they are helpless. Then there is something else. Not all transgender people are sex workers. You should not generalize the entire transgender community just because a few of them are in prostitution.
What do you have to say to the public as a transgender?
I wish to tell that they should understand what our lives are. No transgender is born like this consciously. You should understand that we are different. Some say that we act like this. I have absolutely nothing to tell them.
There is no apt term for transgender in Malayalam, your thoughts?
It is true that Malayalam has classical language status, but it is short in vocabulary. There is no one good term to address the transgender in Malayalam. In Tamil it is ‘Thirunangai’ and in Kannada it is ‘Mangalamukhi’, but in Malayalam, a transgender is called ‘Bhinnalingakkar’(different gender). Supreme Court called us the third gender, and the media manipulated this term to call us ‘Bhinnalingakkar’(the other gender). So I request everyone to call us transgender until a suitable term comes up in Malayalam.
I have love inside me. No human exists without love. But right now, I am not ready to get married. I have heard many stories of deceit from my colleagues who mistook the affection shown to them to be honest. Many come to us either for financial benefit or physical pleasure. I do not wish to put my life in jeopardy by landing in a dishonest relationship. I might get married in future if somebody who understands and accepts me for what I am comes my way. Until then, I wish to stay single.