A contemporary activists, Soniya Roa, is 34-year-old works as Interior Designer at the post of Project valuation and project leader. She lives a simple life, has gone through miseries in her own life, and has fought the stereotypes and prejudices in the society around her. A Cross Dresser and Gay, herself, she understands the emotional turmoil we individuals go through and is dedicated to eradicate the social inequities in the society.

In pushing against the stereotype and the gender conformity established by society, they become a piece of mockery – in movies and in public. They are denied education, employment and a right to live and are driven to begging and prostitution. The common man insults them or in the most suave cases walks away from them or moves seats in stations, trains, buses and even on the streets. With the great Indian mind set of un-touchability, Cross Dressers are perceived as one amongst them. Even the self-describing “liberal”, “open-minded” educated person wants to “stay away” from the Transfolks. Today she being educated and working at recognised post, she still faces many trauma given in-and-by society.

LokMarg: When and how did your journey as Cross Dresser started?
Soniya: I was 10-year-old when I started loving all things which girls do. I loved wearing dresses and behaved more like a girl. Though I looked like a boy but felt very much like a girl inside. My mannerisms were distinctly feminine and I felt I was more drawn towards “girly” interests and was uncomfortable with boys. As days passed I could figure myself different than my body appearance. It’s been a very emotional journey, I have been raised by my mother, and during my last year of graduation, I confessed her about how I feel but she didn’t accepted me. And I hope one day she will accept me as I am.

LokMarg: How much time did you take for yourself to accept the truth that you feel for same sex?
Soniya: It took me two years to accept the fact….it was not at all easy. Ten years ago there wasn’t so much awareness in India about transgender even among professionals. Moreover, being gay that time was much more of crime or an object to made fun, there were no social media or counselling as such to go and talk about your sexual orientation.

Lokmarg: When was your first public appeal as Cross Dresser? And what reaction you got?
Soniya: During my 12th grade, I met few Transgender (Hijra’s) and with their help, I went out dressed for the first time. Talking about my first experience, it was very bad as people on the street started making fun. They have different image for us, more than human they think we are only for physical use. Since then I realised that my journey might not be so easy in this society where people have limited mind-set. When I confessed to few of my close friends, their reaction was heart-breaking and till today they don’t talk to me.

Lokmarg: What today’s society say?
Soniya: It is sure changing for better in some states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. However, many states of India still are not safe places for transgender people to live. So far, I have got very mixed reactions while some were to heart-touching and behaved sensitive towards me. In some places where I got for make-up or cosmetic shopping, they treat me in much respected manner, while some salesmen they speak in double slang language. Place like Kerala, where it has 100 per cent literacy but has 0 per cent tolerance when it comes to accepting transgender people and allowing them to live a dignified life. India still has a long way to go in recognizing Cross Dresser people’s rights. I believe, it will happen for sure in the coming years.

Lokmarg: What do you want to say about BJP Govt over LGBT rights? Do you hope anything?
Soniya: In the Indian constitution, the fundamental rights under part III are enforceable human rights guaranteed to all citizens of this country, whether men, women or transgender people. We, transgender people, however are discriminated in the society because of our gender identity. Only legal recognition can assure our rights. The state has to come up with policies that protect transgender people and initiate measures to empower us. On that line, I have been sensitizing the judiciary of this country for a better understanding of transgender people’s lives, the issues and problems we face in the society. Talking about BJP, I first hoped for ‘Ache Din’ but by their flip-flop reactions, I have felt the hopes. They never been positive towards LGBT rights.

Lokmarg: What do you think Is the biggest misconception people carry about Cross Dresser/ LGBT community?
Soniya: Most of the people think that being a member of LGBT community is crime, they feel it’s some kind of health or mental issue. I feel there is a need of sensitization programs for lesbian and gay community members. The more we inform and educate one another of our grievances, backgrounds and struggles…the easier it would be to work towards the betterment of sexual minorities as a collective, in this country.

LokMarg: How it feels to hide yourself in public?
Soniya: It gives lot of pain. Imagine the feel of being a blind, it’s the same one from LGBT feels when they are not open.

LokMarg: What would you recommend to all transgender women struggling with gender dysphoria?
Soniya: Be courageous, be with hope, don’t fear, and don’t rush. Most transgender women want to transition immediately. It is a whole new life and an identity. Take counselling and go for surgery only if it is necessary. Don’t take self-medication, consult with doctors, and consult with friends. Most importantly, make sure you have a career and savings for a new life post-surgery. Hold to people who truly love you and be thankful to them.

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