In Conversation: Transmen Collective

The Transmen Collective was formed in 2017 by Jamal Siddiqui and Ritwik Dutta over a casual cup of coffee. The collective aims to provide support and assistance to not only its members, but to the transmen community at large by creating safe and open spaces for discussions. It organises monthly meet-ups, events, casual talks and movie screenings. The collective is currently based in Delhi, and has about eight active members.

 In a short conversation with Avali and Tara from The YP Foundation, Ritwik, Jamal and Chitraksh from Transmen Collective talk about issues of representation, inclusion and marginalisation of trans youth in the larger queer movement in India. They share with us the challenges of forming collectives such as the Transmen Collective, as well as recognising and acknowledging the intersection of queerness with other identities.

Avali : Can we begin with a round of introductions, so you can tell us who you are and what you do?

Jamal : I am Jamal Siddiqui, I work with this organisation called Etasha society. And I am a trainer.

Ritwik : Hello, my name is Ritwik Dutta. I hail from Assam, and I stay in Greater Noida. Currently, I am pursuing my engineering, and I identify as a trans-man.

Chitraksh : Hello, my name is Chitraksh, and I am a philosophy student.

A : So our first question is, can you tell us something about the TransMen Collective? What do you do as part of the collective? And what was the process of coming together and forming the collective?

R : So we started the collective by chance, when Jamal and I got together for a meeting. It was an informal conversation, but it was in that meeting when we first thought of forming a collective. We wanted to create a safe space for transmen and also work for their visibility. When it comes to transmen, we lack in visibility. Not just in the broader world, but also within the LGBTQ+ community. So this is how it came to be formed.

A : What significance does Pride have for you, and how do you see yourself as part of the larger queer movement in India?

J : I went to my first pride in 2014, and that was because I had a crush on someone, and I wanted to see that person. *laughs*  So that was my main motive. It was not political as such. I think the next pride I attended was also for similar reasons. I am a creepy person. *laughs* Anyway. So the third pride was actually something. (to R) The last pride we went to, you remember? (To A) So in that pride, I think what I saw was that in the larger queer movement, we somehow lack in our representation as well as our leadership (as transmen). I think we need to take more ownership in the movement, and come forward. Because what I saw in Pride was that there were naare jaise ki 377 ke baare mein (slogans, like on 377), and stuff like that, but there was nothing about the Transgender Bill. So that’s what I felt.

T : So in relation to the Transgender Bill, how does it affect transmen in particular? Of course it affects both transmen and transwomen, but do you think there is a difference in the ways in which it affects transmen and transwomen?

R : The TG bill has more negative aspects to it than positive ones.

J : For instance, the screening committee, the way they have defined transpeople. Apart from that, when we are talking about discrimination, the part in the bill which defines discrimination is also ambiguous, kuch pata nahi kya action lenge against discrimination (don’t know what action they will take against discrimination), kya saza milegi (what punishment would be given). Bas bina soche bana diya hai (they have made it without really thinking about it), just like that. But I feel like it’s not very transmen friendly. We don’t have any specific lines addressed to us for transparency.

T : Could you elaborate a little bit on that? Why do you think the bill is not transmen friendly?

J : Personally, what I feel is that transwomen and transmen, even though we have trans in common, our issues are different. They are not pure tarah se (exactly) same. Toh agar uspar thodi research kari jaati, aur phir bill form kara jaata, (if they had done a little bit of research on it before forming the bill) then it would have been great .

R : I seem to have completely forgotten about the bill *laughs*. It also has definitions like trans people are not wholly male or female. How can someone else decide who is wholly male or female? And also the NALSA judgement says that a person has the right to decide their own gender, while the Transgender Bill says that transmen are not wholly male or female. So the two ways gender has been defined is totally contradictory!

J : Also, the screening committee is ridiculous! Why would someone else determine whether I am really trans or not. Where is my right to self identification!

R : People don’t even believe that transmen exist. The first thing that needs to change is that. The first step to be taken is to acknowledge that we exist. Transwomen still have some visibility. People have known about them, they have some information, even if most of it is misinformation. We as transmen are not even allowed recognition of our existence. That’s why people don’t understand the issues we face specifically.

R : It is also true that we are somewhere responsible for our own invisibilisation. We don’t speak out as much, we don’t talk about our issues. Our own people don’t like to be too visible. When it comes to transmen, if we organise any event, hardly anyone shows up. But when it comes to transwomen, or other queer identities, you will see at least ten people showing up.

J : Also, if you look at media representation, what I have seen is jo dikhta hai woh bikta hai (with the media, what is out of sight, is out of mind). People tend to sympathise with Hijra women, but they wouldn’t want to sympathise, or even listen to transmen. Because we are not visible, they don’t see us, they don’t want to see us. Because of the gharana system, Hijra women have visibility, they are a community. People, especially researchers and journalists, have started to become interested in them, which also leads the media to focus on them.  

C : Transmen are invisible possibly because transmen are able to blend into society, which is why people never see us as a separate community. Even if we talk about media representation, there was that Satyamev Jayate episode on Transwomen, but not on transmen or transpeople in general.

A : Can you tell us something about the challenges you encountered while forming the transmen collective? What was the experience of coming together, did you face any problems?

R : I don’t know if it would be appropriate for me to say what I am about to say, it’s very political. People only turn up for events if they are organised by NGOs or other sort of organisations, they attend funded events. They wouldn’t come to an event organised by an independent collective such as ours - a collective that is actually very important in our lives, and wants to influence lives of other transmen. People are just interested in serving their own political agendas, rather than helping us.

J : The issues that we faced were, first, that ours is a collective. Ritvik and Chitraksh are students, and I don’t have a high paying job. So when we’re planning to do events, we look for free spaces. That has remained a major issue. Apart from that, just calling people and contacting them to come to our events…there are times when people don’t turn up.

R : People are more willing to lend free spaces to start-ups, or to organisations that seem to have potential *laughs* Nobody wants to give a free space to an independent collective like ours. When we first had our event, we only had five people who came, apart from members of our collective. And it took a lot of effort on our part to rent that space and organise the event. After we had already sent out invitations, the owners refused to give us the space. He (Jamaal) actually went to talk to the owner at eight o’clock in the night after his work to check if we still had the venue or not. It takes a lot of efforts to organise events.

A : Do you think Pride and the Queer movement in India is intersectional? Do you see Pride as a space where marginal identities could see themselves represented?

J : Pride can never become intersectional automatically, on its own. We have to make it intersectional. And, the effort has to come not only from the minorities within the queer community, but also from the majority. It is only when both parties try and make efforts to be inclusive, only then will we be able to have equal representation of all communities. That’s what I feel.

T : How do you think Queer movements could be more supportive of helping build this intersectionality, and for not invisibilising transmens’ problems?

R : By making it less political. The Queer community is getting too political.

J : Transmen at times are used as tokens, because the Queer community wants to show itself as having representation of all identities. There is a lot of pinkwashing that happens in corporate sectors and organisations, that should be stopped.

A : This has been great! Thank you so much for having this interview with us, and being a part of our campaign!