Queer and trans people are not an abstract concept to be celebrated every June: Trans activist Dr Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju
Dr Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju is a trans activist and Karnataka’s first transwoman doctor. Besides documenting her journey, her presence on social media has helped bust a lot of myths.
Trigger warning: This story contains instances of abuse and transphobia.
Born Angad to Bengaluru-based parents, Karnataka’s first transwoman doctor, Dr Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju was the subject of bullying right from school that continued till she was in medical school.
“Growing up a boy in Indian society who was extremely effeminate and flamboyant did not fit into the idea of what a boy is supposed to be. I was bullied quite mercilessly while growing up, not understood in school or at home,” she tells HerStory.
Today, the trans activist and a leading creator in the space has over 2,59,000 followers on Instagram and 15,000 subscribers on YouTube.
Through her social media posts, Trinetra documented her journey of transition. She also educates people on topics like intersectionality, queerphobia, and transphobia, touching upon feminism and acceptance through diverse content.
Battling insecurity and isolation
She was molested in school, and teachers would rarely stand up for her. Trinetra also recalls some of her teachers laughing at jokes cracked at her expense.
“I think that point in high school was particularly hard, which eventually led to a point of self-harm,” she said, “That happened from a space of isolation, now knowing how to deal with what was happening to me.”
At that point, she lacked the vocabulary to understand what was happening to her—only recognising how uncomfortable she felt with her body and the identity assigned at birth. This was accompanied by a feeling that she was unsure of her sexual orientation.
Things got worse over time. During her time at medical college, especially staying in a boy’s hostel, homophobic slurs were scribbled outside her room door.
Trinetra recalls not being allotted a space in the girls’ hostel of her college despite having all the requisite documents, and having to stay in a rented apartment instead.
She was thrown out of classes, harassed by professors and asked uncomfortable questions during Viva sessions.
This led Trinetra to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Karnataka High Court asking for accommodation in hostels for queer and trans people because most colleges did not have gender-neutral housing for trans people.
Finding her voice on social media
In 2015, she decided to document her experiences on social media—something that Trinetra says brought her purpose and strength.
Talking on social media about her experiences served as a catharsis for her to process what was going on. This eventually turned into content creation and activism.
At first, she received a barrage of trolls.
She recalls waking up in the morning only to receive rape and death threats and it was extremely harrowing.
“But one lives and learns,” she says. “I eventually just built a thick skin online. I realised when you put yourself as strong and independent, it scares people. And you use a faceless profile to say things you’d never have the guts to say in person.”
The trolling has not stopped but Trinetra says it far outweighs the sense of solidarity and love she found in her digital community.
Besides documenting her journey, her presence on social media has helped bust a lot of myths—helping decode the idea of what a transperson is supposed to be.
“In India, we are so used to the idea of a trans person being downtrodden and I wanted to break that image. I want to live in a world where I can see transpeople thriving and successful,” she says.
It also allowed her to reach out to a lot of parents of queer and trans people also, who often reach out and tell me that their children are experiencing a certain confusion regarding their identity.
The biggest change she has seen over the years is the sheer number of queer and trans people who have come out.
“There are so many incredibly talented queer individuals creating content in art, make-up, fashion, activism and it makes me feel so much at home to know that social media is no longer for just cishet people, it belongs to everybody,” she says.
Trinetra completed her MBBS from a private college in Karnataka. After her internship, she decided to take a break for a few years before pursuing a post-graduate specialisation.
Queer-affirmative medicine and healthcare
As a student in medicine, Trinetra realised that healthcare access for transpeople is abysmal and that even for a sore throat or a cold, she would rather treat it herself or go to a doctor friend.
“Hospitals can be exclusionary spaces for transpeople where a lot of violence happens,” she says. As per Trinetra, very little time is dedicated to healthcare for trans people or queer people.
After the Madras High Court observation that medical courses in India reaffirm queer-phobia and there was need to change, the National Medical Commission has directed all medical colleges to remove “unscientific” and “derogatory” remarks about the LGBTQIA+ community.
“This is a welcome move. However, we still have experienced doctors who don’t know how to talk to a transperson, take their history or have zero familiarity with the aspects of transition,” she adds.
That being said, Trinetra is aware of the immense privilege she holds in having a medical background and the information to have her transition surgery done by a renowned doctor in Bangkok.
On transgender reservation, Trinetra believes that the Supreme Court's judgement to include transpeople as part of the OBC category comes at a disadvantage because it also includes cisgender people.
“I hope a horizontal reservation policy is implemented across state policies and governments that includes a comprehensive healthcare policy where Covid vaccination, HIV-Aids, STI care as well as transition-related services like hormone replacement therapy such as sex reassignment surgery, gender-affirming surgery are included and every state has a budget for these services,” she says.
Not an abstract concept
To Trinetra, rainbow capitalism—a form of pinkwashing or tokenism in corporates—is all too real.
“Corporates need to understand that queer and trans people are not this abstract concept to celebrate every June so that people think that they are inclusive,” she says.
“It is realising that they need to be supported with gender-neutral restrooms, all benefits and insurance covering gender-affirming healthcare. Apart from these, they need to have an anti-discrimination policy that includes queer and transpeople-related harassment, bullying, sexual harassment, etc”
Trinetra is using her break from medicine to work on the mainstream representation of queer and transpeople besides her acting career. She will soon be featured on a web series on Amazon Prime Video.
“I know that it's just a baby step in the right direction. I was perhaps lucky that my writers and directors were sensitive and receptive to what I had to say,” she says.
“Unless we have queer and transpeople throughout the entertainment industry in positions of power as producer, director, writer, stylist, in hair, makeup, camera, lighting, and acting, things will not completely change.”
Edited by Akanksha Sarma