“There is no room for enabling insensitivity and promoting injustice.”
Author: Shane Bhatla
Twenty-five years ago, a young boy was born trapped in a body that wasn’t his. The parents of that little girl had no clue that they would lose her and gain a son instead. See, I was born into a very conservative Indian family. Growing up I was always taught that women were inferior to men, and that men were stronger, braver and were responsible for the family. I grew up embracing the gender norms to the point where I knew no better when people in my life treated me less than. As I went on to middle school, I knew I wasn’t society’s definition of normal. So on that one fateful day, as my bully shoved me into the wall of the library and pinned my arms there, I discovered I was gay and madly head over kicks for my bully.
Battling with my identity, going through puberty, my grades in school plummeted. Teachers thought I was being lazy, but it turned out I have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I was forced to transfer schools and that is when things got worse. Other kids would throw words like “lesbo” and “tomboy” around and the girls would go “ewww”, so I figured something was definitely wrong with me. Pressure from teachers continued, I kept failing my classes, almost broke my nose because a bully punched me, stopped eating. I starved myself, not because I didn’t want to eat, but because I couldn’t. The male figures in my life took my failing in school as me being a bad child, so I was punished. I spent hours crying every night trying to fall asleep, parts of my body starting to grow that didn’t feel like they were part of me so I started clawing at my skin till I bled and was just pink burning patches. One night, hysterically in tears, I came out to a friend. Nothing changed. The self-harm continued and it became too much hearing the same words over and over again. One thing they don’t tell you about ADHD is that harmful words repeat themselves in your head.
“Why are you not trying hard enough?” “You’re such a lesbo!” “Go kill yourself.” “You’ll fail my class!” “She is a bad child.”
She. Kill yourself.
I almost killed myself that week. And the week after. And the month after that. I went to war with myself. I have no recollection of multiple hours of those three years in that school because I would pass out hours on end from being dehydrated and not eating. No one knew what was wrong. But not going to lie, things did get better. Fast forward many years later, after coming out many more times and six years without self harm, I finally gained the confidence, I came out in front of a room full of strangers as a man, with the promise that I would never turn into the man that the male figures in my life were.
I saw the change in other people’s behavior as my physique changed, feminine-presenting folks would clutch onto their bags harder if we were the only two on the street, so I adapted, and would cross the street and move away from them when that happened. Locker-room conversations became worse, the sexual-assault jokes. It’s what men do, they said. Words like “man up” and “boys will be boys” became an everyday thing. Toxic masculinity and male privilege was never ever this obvious to me. I started stepping into situations where I would confront cis men who were harassing other folks, because now I could, man to man.
Coming out left me unemployed. I started using the funds I saved up for surgery for survival. I got diagnosed with ADHD, depression and recently with anxiety. I joined OUT BKK, a non-profit soon after. Best decision of my life.
And that was when I swore that I would do everything in my power to make sure that other kids don’t have to grow up as quickly as I did, and they would have opportunities to create memories that wouldn’t hurt years from now. I became a full-time LGBTI+ activist with my main focus on transgender issues and creating safe spaces in the educational system. We currently have 10 schools in our network and growing. And to this day, as I get people sending me hateful messages telling me I’ll never be a man, or that I should go kill myself, I remember that I am more of a man than they’ll ever be.
With that, I urge everyone to realize how much language can affect another person. Words leave invisible cuts and before you know it, it’s already too late. I urge masculine-identifying folks to check your friends. When an inappropriate joke comes up, tell them no, because those jokes is where violence starts. Those jokes are how trans women are assaulted and murdered. I urge schools and universities to create Gender Sexuality Alliances to promote safe spaces and celebrate inclusion and diversity. To embrace pronouns, whether it’s he, she, they or whatever the individual chooses to be called. And finally, I urge everyone to be kind to strangers but kinder to ourselves. Take self-care days. Take time to cry and scream and laugh. After all, as Oscar Wilde once said, to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.
Shane Bhatla, 25, is Transgender Programme Manager and Operations Manager at OUT BKK, a community-led movement for LGBT rights, social acceptance and inclusiveness. In the last General Election in Thailand, Shane promoted awareness of key political and economic issues for the community at various rallies. Recently, he joined us an inspirational guest speaker at UN Women’s HeForShe University Tour in Thailand event.
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