New Delhi: Back in 2005, 23-year-old Meenakshi Upadhyay was blessed with a baby boy. He was named Ojjus Upadhyay, which means strength and brilliance. He was the only male child to be born in Upadhyay family at that time, recalls Ms Meenakshi. Talking about her journey, she says, “Everyone in the family had a lot of expectations and hope, especially his father. But life had other plans for us. Till the age of 16-years, we raised our child as a boy, until one night when he came to me and told me that he is gender-fluid and wants to live a life as a girl. That very day, from being a mother of two sons, I have accepted the new reality of being a mother of a son and a son-turned daughter, who we have now named Ojjusvi Upadhyay.”
As the world celebrates June as the Pride Month, team Banega Swasth India speaks with the mother-daughter duo on their journey of acceptance and the challenges they faced.
“When You Know, You Know”
“In every Indian home, no matter what is the gender of the baby, a mother likes to dress their baby in a gender-fluid way. I was born as a male child and many a times, my mother used to dress me up like her daughter. I used to like that a lot. When I was growing up, this suddenly stopped, and I started to feel incomplete. I had that disconnect with my body always. And when puberty hit me, I realised there was something different in me. I started to read about the issue and finally realised that I am gender fluid, non-binary person,” said 18-years-old Ojjusvi Upadhyay.
In 2018, Ojjusvi Upadhyay decided to come out. First Ojjusvi came out to her younger brother, who she thought was her best bet. Explaining the reason why she chose her younger brother, she said,
I think, for queer people, children are a very safe place. Because at that age the biasness for genders is not yet formed. That’s why I came out to my 13-year-old brother first and thankfully he was very open-minded about this and accepted me for who I am.
The very same year, Ojjusvi tried coming out to her mother as well but during that time she wasn’t ready, recounts Ojjusvi. Remembering that incident, she said,
At that time, she told me that I am too young to deicide my sexuality. But was clear that if anything like this happens in future, she will support me. So, I gathered all my courage one more time and one night in 2021 went to her again. This time, I backed my voice with research and knowledge and came out.
“She Is Our Child And Will Stay That Forever”
Talking about acceptance and how difficult it was, Meenakshi Upadhyay told us, “It was obviously a difficult time. Ojjusvi had started to give us signals from before but we didn’t understand. She told us, she wants to have long hair, she wants to get her ears pierced, but we never correlated as her personality traits were of a boy. When in 2021, Ojjusvi came out, I don’t know how I got this super power but without any delay, I accepted her new identity.”
Recalling her first words to her son-turned daughter, Meenakshi Upadhyay said, “I told her, you are our child and you will stay that forever. Gender identity doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you need to be a successful person.”
To accept the transition of Ojjus to Ojjusvi was difficult for her father. Ms Meenakshi says he took almost a year to accept the new reality. Talking about the same, she said,
He was silent when she came out, he didn’t say much. He often used to get very conscious, when he used to see Ojjusvi dressed in a feminine way.
Talking about friends and family, Ms Meenakshi said,
Some accepted her immediately. Some didn’t. My side of family told me Ojjusvi is our child and will remain that forever. Whereas, for some, we were to be blamed as they thought, we didn’t give Ojjusvi proper time. The problem is that for all of us genders are very deeply rooted. We understand just male, female and kinar samajh (Enunch community). For them Ojjusvi is from that samajh. Terms like binary, non-binary, bisexual and all are still something very new.
“Challenges Play A Central Role For Queer People”
Talking about the kind of challenges she faced before coming out and after coming out, Ojjusvi said, “Challenges started around teenage for me. There was bullying, teasing, inappropriate touching and name calling. The weird part is that I thought all this is normal and it happens with everybody.”
Ojjusvi says washrooms aren’t a very fun place as a queer person. “In school, men’s washroom was like a living hell. There was just too much of bullying that takes place. It can break a person.”
Talking about constant judgements, looks and the stare, Ojjusvi said,
In our society, if we don’t fit into people’s set mindsets then judgement comes normally. The moment I step out looking more feminine, there are constant weird stares and looks.
Reiterating one incidence, Ojjusvi said,
I remember travelling in the metro with my mother wearing a saree once. I decided to use the woman line. For me that was both uplifting and demoralising – because I felt I wasn’t accepted there. They asked me to use the male lane first because of my appearance. My mother quickly came to my rescue and finally when they allowed me to use the women’s line, the way I was frisked during the checking, I didn’t feel very comfortable. It was harassing. I realised, even though it feels very empowering to dress like a woman as I don’t have to worry that much about the disconnect, I have with my body, but at the same time it makes me very vulnerable.
Meenakshi Upadhyay recalls the challenge of explaining to Ojjusvi’s school teacher about her identity. She said,
I was shocked to know that her schoolteachers didn’t have any knowledge about the subject. For them as well this topic was very new. They are in the education system they should be knowing more than what a housewife knows. But it was very strange for me to explain to them about the subject. Thanks to Ojjusvi, who had taught me well.
“We Wish Healthcare And Treatment Wasn’t This Tough For Queer People In India”
Highlighting the big ordeal, the family had to go through just to find the right doctors, psychiatrist for Ojjusvi, her mother says,
Ojjusvi is just not comfortable in going to a normal physician. It is a very tough journey in India for families like us. Our doctors don’t have specific knowledge in the subject. Moreover, our healthcare system is not equipped with support and facilities for people like Ojjusvi. It was very hard for us as well, to understand Ojjusvi’s treatment needs and healthcare needs.
Recounting an anecdote, Ms Meenakshi said, “We were once told by a psychiatrist that you tell us what you want us to do, if you want to teach your child all this is not right, we will tell her accordingly. It was so weird, as we went to the doctor thinking we will be our safe zone. We didn’t expect this and that’s when we realised how far we really are when it comes to acceptance.”
In India, healthcare treatments like hormone therapy, puberty blockers, feminizing surgery to change the chest, external genitalia, internal genitalia, facial features and body contour, for queer people starts after the age of 18-years, said Ms Meenakshi, but she feels there should be some interventions available before hand as well. She said,
I think, it should start as soon as they get to know. This will really help ease their journey.
Ms Meenakshi said currently their family is looking out for options for available treatments for Ojjusvi who has just turned 18 but currently they need more information on the same. They had reached out to All India Medical Institution for available options for Ojjusvi and learned that the hospital is currently in process of kick-starting sex change surgeries. She said,
There is limited information on the kind of healthcare treatment queer people need. Also, the cost of treatments is humungous, which we feel is way out of our reach. I feel, government should come out with some schemes and interventions through which this transitional journey for families and for a queer person becomes easy.
“Inclusivity For Queer People Will Come Through Education”
Both Meenakshi and Ojjusvi Upadhyay feel the road to inclusivity in India is a long one. Ms Meenakshi adds, “Education will play a major role. I think, from very basic classes, this knowledge should be given. People should be made aware about all genders. Healthcare rights, equality rights will all fall in place once we have our basics in place and that is education.”
Ojjusvi adds, “Laws are formed, judgements are passed but for people to follow it takes a lot of time. Changes on ground also take a lot of time. We should move away from gender identities and start treating humans like humans first.”
Ms Meenakshi also feels that if the knowledge of genders can be given at the start by Gynaecologists only, it will make a huge difference as it will help people understand this topic better. She adds, “Also, I think, there should be guidelines from government to make arrangements for third genders as well in all sections of the society. As a mother of a queer child, I will always have this fear in life, what will be my child’s future, how will she be portrayed in the society, will she be accepted..”
Lastly, Ms Meenakshi said India will be inclusive once people will start minding their own business. She added, “It is nobody’s business to ask about people’s gender. What they want to be, what they want to live as and what they want to wear, should and only should be the respective person’s choice.”
“Parents Love Is Unconditional, Acceptance Might Take Time, But It Will Come”
On learnings which they want to share with other children from the LGBTQIA+ community and their parents, the mother-daughter duo had this to share,
Parents should stand with their children, no matter what. This is not in your hands nor in their hands. You should accept them for who they are and let them fly. Don’t let your fears come in between. Be strong and make your child ready for all the challenges in future. Talk with them, discuss the topic, try and make a comfort zone and always keep an eye on their behaviour so that they don’t harm themselves unnecessarily.
Adding to what her mother said, Ojjusvi Upadhyay has this to say to children, who are yet to come out to their parents.
Start throwing queer stuff at your parents and gather their response. Understand their point of view and know if they are ready to take this change. Secondly, make sure you are safe. In our community, many a times, we have noticed that if a child comes out then parents are the first ones who cut their wings. Parents are the first ones to harshly judge the child. Parents’ love should be unconditional but this gets affected if the identity is different, as they see their child as an asset. Because of which it is hard for children to come out. Thirdly, make sure you are not fully financially dependent on them. So, if you come out and that has a negative response, you should have a place to go to.
“One Day, Ojjusvi Will Be A Teacher And Change The System”
Looking ahead Ms Meenakshi has both hope and fear, she said, “I want Ojjusvi to become a math teacher. But I have one fear. We are giving her a normal life but will in future she will be able to get that job and respect. I want her to become a teacher so that she can educate generations to come about the topic and whatever challenges we have faced in our journey, hope she is able to change that by being a part of the system.”
Further adding to what her mother said, this is how Ojjusvi wants to give back to the society,
My way of giving back to the society is by becoming a teacher and educating as many people as possible about different genders. Apart from teaching, I really like art, doodling, and sketching. I hope to create my own animation studio one day and give equal opportunities to people from queer society.
She signs off by saying, “We should know that our judgements can make or break people. It can harm someone’s personality. We should try and give equal love, respect and humane treatment, as what you give to the society is what you will get back.”
NDTV – Dettol have been working towards a clean and healthy India since 2014 via the Banega Swachh India initiative, which is helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. The campaign aims to highlight the inter-dependency of humans and the environment, and of humans on one another with the focus on One Health, One Planet, One Future – Leaving No One Behind. It stresses on the need to take care of, and consider, everyone’s health in India – especially vulnerable communities – theLGBTQ population,indigenous people, India’s different tribes, ethnic and linguistic minorities, people with disabilities, migrants, geographically remote populations, gender and sexual minorities. In wake of the currentCOVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water,SanitationandHygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign will continue to raise awareness on the same along with focussing on the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children, fightmalnutrition, mental wellbeing, self care, science and health,adolescent health & gender awareness. Along with the health of people, the campaign has realised the need to also take care of the health of the eco-system. Our environment is fragile due to human activity, which is not only over-exploiting available resources, but also generating immense pollution as a result of using and extracting those resources. The imbalance has also led to immense biodiversity loss that has caused one of the biggest threats to human survival – climate change. It has now been described as a “code red for humanity.” The campaign will continue to cover issues likeair pollution,waste management,plastic ban,manual scavengingand sanitation workers andmenstrual hygiene. Banega Swasth India will also be taking forward the dream of Swasth Bharat, the campaign feels that only a Swachh or clean India wheretoiletsare used andopen defecation free (ODF)status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched byPrime Minister Narendra Modiin 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and the country can become a Swasth or healthy India.