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Transgenderism in India: 'People just use us for sex'

in INDIA, 04/07/2010

In India, kothis are men who dress and live like women, who are not necessarily homosexual but often take partners who conform to a typically masculine gender role. Edged out by society they meet in the city's dangerous 'cruising areas', where they are targeted by criminals and police alike; in a culture that outlaws same-sex practices they are easy prey for blackmailers who threaten to expose them as homosexuals. Mintu says that he is fed up with seeing his friends come to harm

Since childhood I have been putting on make-up and wearing saris. I used to play with dolls and I dressed up in drag. I didn't know what kothis were. I thought I was the only person who was like this.

I was sexually abused several times from the age of seven. I thought I had done something wrong and that it was a sort of punishment from God. So I stayed quiet, thinking I had to suffer all things.

The first incidence of sexual abuse happened in summer. It was by my mother's servant, who was 16. I was already dressing in girls' clothes by that point and playing with my dolls. He said: "I will make you into my doll." After that we played marriage. He said: "Now we play a real game. You have to sleep with me." He abused me, but as far as I knew I was just acting like a girl. I didn't know what sex was. There were three more sexual abuses in my childhood since then.

When I was around 10 years old people started to harass me. My neighbours and school friends would talk to me in a vulgar manner, saying: "You are girlish, you are not normal, your penis will not get an erection." At that time I tried to commit suicide. There was no one to talk to.

I was having very bad experiences at school as well. The teachers laughed at me. They would look at my studies and if there was something wrong in my work they would beat me. Eventually they threw me out of the class. The whole school was looking at me, saying: "He is a kothi. He behaves like a girl."

Once, my friends tried to rape me. We were on holiday from school that day. They said: "Let's have sex with him," and they tried to rape me in front of a crowd of people. Everybody was laughing.

A lot of kothis meet each other in the city's cruising areas. Cops and criminals are there as well. Thieves will snatch any personal belongings – watches, clothes, money, mobile phones. They take everything you have. A kothi once told me that he was in a cruising area one day when a man came up to him and asked him to have sex. He said that he didn't want to have sex, but the man offered him two rupees. Because the kothi didn't have any money he agreed and took the two rupees. The man said that he wanted to have sex naked so they both took off their clothes, and it wasn't until afterwards that the kothi realised that his garments had been stolen, and he had to walk home half-naked.

Another situation a kothi was telling me about happened in another cruising area. The police came up to him and beat him; they snatched his mobile phone, golden chain, address book and money. Then they told him that if he wanted his address book and phone he would have to give them 5000 rupees or they would have it published in the newspaper that he was a homosexual and was caught having sex. He went home to get the money and gave it to the cops. He was beaten and blackmailed for being a kothi. He did get back his phone and address book.

Kothis tend not to take legal action against anyone because they are in same-sex relationships. [The Indian penal code criminalises homosexual practice.] If they go to the police they are asked: "Who was this person you were having contact with?" The cops will ask a lot of questions and will say: "It's your fault since you are having anal sex." They have been known to beat kothis and sometimes strip them naked and parade them through the streets. Sometimes they put them in jail.

In India, men who have sex with men prefer not to go to the doctor because they get harassed. The doctors say: "You are a man and you are having anal sex – don't you feel ashamed?" Many kothis think the pain will just go away; or they practise self-treatment, which can increase their problems.

I have lost three friends to Aids. At first they were not admitted to hospital because they were kothis and were HIV-positive. Indian people think that if somebody has HIV he must have done something wrong. Doctors worry that the other patients will become infected by them. So my friends did not receive good healthcare. They were put in a room that was dirty and full of mosquitoes; their water supply was polluted and they were given garbage to eat. No one came in to change the bed sheets; none of the staff wanted to go near them.

Life is hard for us. I would like to be free, but I can never live freely. I would like to say to people that I have a boyfriend and show them who my boyfriend is. I would like to show them my identity. This is a part of my life and I want to show it. I want freedom for other kothis as well. Nobody takes care of them and nobody understands their feelings. Their families pressure them into false marriages because everybody thinks what they are doing is unnatural.

Maybe after my death something will change. Maybe. But I believe that until the end of my life there will not be any freedom for us. People just use kothis for sex, or to make money out of us; they use us to pass the time. And one day we will die because of the pressure from our families and the rest of society.

• Mintu, whose name has been changed, was speaking to Isabell Zipfel.

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