Understanding is the first step of acceptance, they say. For Monisha Shekhar, a 31-year-old transgender from Malappuram, self-awareness and determination were her initial steps towards change. She refused to move out of her native place when she embraced her new gender identity. She continued her profession, social engagements and peer-group interactions even as he she underwent sex re-assignment and gender change in her 20s. Significantly, her society reacted normally! Her neighbours and residents of Idimuzhikkal village in Malappuram district's Chelambra panchayath even turned her recent housewarming into a memorable occasion. Her entire village gathered at her house to make the ceremony a grand affair with dance, music and celebrations. Thus they set a model of social acceptance and understanding in a country where people are still being expelled from households for their transgender identity.
Monisha was born as the youngest child of Shekharan, a state electricity board employee, and his wife Chinnammu, a house-wife. Born with a male physique, little Monisha was drawn more towards her elder sister Sindhu's make-up accessories and costumes rather than her elder brother Vinod's bicycle and denims. Monisha soon became popular in her locality as 'the boy who attends classical dance classes,' which was something odd in that orthodox neighbourhood. She performed female characters like Radha and Durga on stage with incredible grace making some of her neighbours whisper “Oh! he's such a beautiful woman!”
Soon, Monisha commenced classical dance classes at her house, where children from different age-groups in the village learned basics of Bharathanatyam and Mohiniyattam. Meanwhile, she exhibited unparalleled talent in another area – cooking. At 22, Monisha, a graduate in hotel management, joined a famous star-hotel as chef.
“Most of my friends and colleagues addressed me as they do a woman. I found nothing odd or humiliating in that. Somewhere deep in my mind, I myself knew that I am a woman, living in a wrong body,” Monisha noted.
By the time she turned 24, Monisha presented her whim for sex re-assignment surgery at home.
Dream comes true!
Monisha officially became a woman in the year 2011. Though she had migrated to Bangalore in search of better opportunities in the fashion industry, she returned to her hometown after the surgery seeking better social acceptance. She was already a member of transgenders' upliftment and welfare forum, Kerala, which was later reorganised as the 'Dwaya' Charitable Trust.
“My friends and peers in Dwaya advised me not to take the crucial decision because social acceptance is still a distant dream for transgenders in India. Though I knew that my family and my neighbours viewed me more as a woman than a man, I thought I would have to wage a fight for gaining acceptance but my neighbours welcomed me as if they have been familiar with my new identity,” she said.
Monisha started working as a make-up artist and a model in Kerala. She also performed at dance programmes and participated in the different financial schemes of Kudumbasree self-help group. She maintained her company with her friends and peers in the neighbourhood and resumed her social life. Monisha also got her elder sister Sindhu married.
Villagers of Idimuzhakkal are all praise of Monisha's determination and hard work. After her father Sekharan's demise three years ago, her mother Chinnammu shared with her, the old couple's unfulfilled dream of building a new, terrace-roofed house of their own. This triggered a new mission in Monisha.
“It took me three years to finish the construction of my house. A house in one's own name might be a normal thing for commoners, but it is a fancy and perhaps an ambition for most of the transgenders. I built my house from my meagre savings from various professions. I didn't want my mother to compromise on her dream in the name of my gender identity,” Monisha said.
Villagers of Idimuzhakkal were familiar with the challenges Monisha faced in her life. They wanted to give her a surprise she wouldn't forget in her lifetime. So when Monisha called on her neighbours to invite them for her housewarming later in September, none of them gave her a clue about the grand celebrations they had planned for the occasion.
“I was stunned when the music band and dance troupe came home the day before my housewarming. Villagers made the ceremony a grand affair, with music, dance, illuminations and party. My transgender friends who came to attend the function wondered whether it was a housewarming or a village festival,” an overjoyed Monisha said.
Monisha's new house saw three-day-long celebrations as part of its inauguration. Her neighbours and relatives hosted her transgender friends like important guests and took turns to take them to their homes. Speaking to the media, Monisha's childhood friends told that Idimuzhakkal village knows only to love. “Monisha is first of her kind in this village. We are aware of the hardships transgender citizens face in different part of our country. Idimuzhakkal wouldn't ever treat them as secondary citizens. For us, it is our privilege to integrate them in our society,” villagers said.
“Kerala is always a wonder for us,” Monisha's transgender friends told her, “Where else can you find such an acceptance and understanding crowd who compete to befriend people like us?”
Meanwhile, Monisha is yet to recover from the surprise.