My friend Tista Das, is an Actor, an Animal, and Human Rights Activist, a vocal proponent of transsexual rights and also happens to be the first Transsexual woman who got married through a social celebration, with another transman Dipan Chakraborty, in West Bengal ( India ), surrounded by friends and family. Her wedding celebrations were no different than the weddings of a heteronormative society that follows a gender binary. It was a wedding full of love, happiness, and hope for a beautiful new beginning. Apparently, what may seem like a simple story of a beautiful relation culminating into a marriage, the union wasn’t so simple after all.
Tista was born a man with the soul of a woman. She was denied admission to college. She was asked to leave home when her parents were made the victim of constant ridicule of the society. Boys in the neighborhood would joke about and laugh at her and would try to pull at her clothes. Once when she needed to make an F.I.R against an attempted assault at her, the police would refuse to lodge the complaint. For a sizeable part of her early life, she had to shift from one hostel to another, yet had enough grit and courage to finish her education. Upon landing a job as a marketing executive of a reputed company, she was also harassed by her colleague, who asked her to collect dues from difficult clients, by exhibiting “eunuch-like qualities”, suggesting, it must come naturally to her(!)
The only thing she ever wanted to be the right to be herself, nor to be forced to deny or repress her feelings, to have the right to live her own life, to be responsible, to be at ease with herself. Nothing more.
From there, and after all these years of efforts and struggles to become herself, she has come a long way to being the first Transgender woman with a voter I.d card in Bengal. On her birthday, in 2004, she underwent sex-reassignment surgery. Eventually, it was her close kin, her father, mother and a relative, who donated the 4 units of blood during the surgery. When transhumance undergoes bodily change, the whole family transitions with them and the real challenging battle takes place in their everyday life.
Through Tista, I met her love, Dipan, from Lumding, Assam, a year ago. Dipan was a work in progress. A Transmasculine in metamorphosis. Dipan loved the barest hint of stubble. His cheeks were scarred with acne. Its the hormone pills, he said. He was scared of facing people. Of curious people posing indignifying queries, like, what do his sexual organs look like or if he still menstruates. He was misread, misrepresented, or forced.
He lost his earlier job. Once he decided to undergo a sex reassignment procedure, there was tension in the household that resulted finally to non-acceptance, to him becoming estranged from his family. There was external social pressure coupled with an internal identity crisis. In his darkest hours he met Tista, he said, in the same clinic where he was to have his surgery. The nebulosity of transition was confusing for him .. the experience wrote on his body cannot even barely express what his mind went through. It is illegible, it is unexternalized. Post-surgery he would lie on his bed, and keep looking at Tista’s photographs several times a day. In his journey from a woman to being a man his interpersonal relationships, emotion, perception of love have also gone through a transformation. Transitioning surgeries doesn’t give a perfect body. Yet he loved who he is and his soul, and it felt more and more like his outside was meeting his inside.
Transgenders have been brutally treated by society and have lived in the fringes. They are constantly denied rights of existence. A good number of them attempt suicide. The stigma around them leads to the disenfranchised trans people being murdered or harassed, unable to find work, access to health care or even bathrooms. Mass media portrayals of trans people are all of the fetishized jokes, prostitutes, drug addicts. For a trans individual, it was then— and still is — about attaining the right to own one’s own life and identity.
At the end of the day, all of us are normal human beings wanting happiness and love. Irrespective of their race, body type, age, gender this is who we are. Tista knew, if she didn’t go public, she can’t expect the society to understand this. If everyone is open about it..people will be more empathetic and less quick to pass judgment. Tista and Dipan’s wedding is not a trans narrative. It is a human narrative and being trans is not all of who they are, its a small yet significant part about them.
Much more than the celebration of their love, for Tista, her wedding day was a political and ideological stand for her, a remarkable achievement for a long-persecuted community. Feelings do not have genders. Tista and Dipan’s marriage is more than what their bodies tell.. theirs is a union of love and of liberty.
For social non-conformists like Tista and Dipan, marriage is something that they were against as it takes their identity away…however, it became instrumental in affirming their identity as a woman, and a man, as people and as social beings.
So I had a deep sense of responsibility in terms of telling their stories in a very authentic way because there has to be a deep-rooted reason why it became inevitable for them to undertake this journey. So wedding documentary photos needed to have far less focus on gender/transgender and more on the person’s identity. I wanted a shift in the conversation from, “what does your gender allow you to do?” To “What can you do as a human?”My friends Tista and Dipan are icons of the empowerment of free gender expression. They are the harbingers of a much-needed change in society. For me, they are the Trans-trenders.
Below are a few photographs that I was privileged to click on the happiest day of their life which everyone tagged “First Transgender wedding in Kolkata”.