PODCAST : HEALTH SECTOR & QUEERNESS
TRANSNESS BEYOND TRANSITIONING
In today’s episode, we talk to our guest Riju about navigating the healthcare system as a transwoman. She talks to us about how the narrative regarding trans-bodies is heteronormative and how we have to look beyond the issue of medical transitioning only, and into the social and mental aspect of it.
Riju Banerjee currently works at The YP Foundation as a program coordinator. He is a Teach for India alumni who is passionate about human rights, mental health, social-emotional learning, writing, film making and intersectional feminism. She is an educator who strongly believes in inclusive education and is an advocate of children’s voices and agency.
RFK: Hi, welcome to today’s episode. Here’s a little bit about our guest today. Riju is a trans-non-binary woman, she works at the YP Foundation and is a Teach for India alumni, who is passionate about human rights, mental health, social-emotional learning, writing, film making and intersectional feminism.
Hi thank you so much for doing this, and for giving us your time. Is there anything about yourself you’d like to share with us? Your life, interests, hobbies and the likes?
Riju: Hi, thank you so much for having me, and also I think, you have summed up whatever I have done so far, and whatever I am. I think, more than what I have done, you have shared. But, yes, I like writing and I also like doodling a lot? And whenever I feel anxious, I doodle a lot. That is something I keep sharing and telling because that is something that gives me joy. But yeah, That’s me, and thank you for having me, once again.
RKF: No, no, thank you for agreeing to do this. It’s our pleasure. Absolutely! So without further ado, let’s get right into it, then. We know you wanted to talk about healthcare facilities and mental health, when it comes to how you have dealt with it, do you avoid visiting a medical health unit or a medical health professional? And if yes, then why do you think that is?
Riju: I, I do go to doctors, like sometimes I do have to, if I am really unwell, but I have to really, really keep in mind a lot of things, especially post my social transition. And with my hair growing, and all the clothes that I have you know started wearing, like more femme-presenting now…
And that has become a struggle, and like, every time I go to a doctor, i have really, you know, curtail those things, I really have to see whether that fits in and whether I’d be stared at, and all of that. That’s definitely one concern, just putting yourself in that spot. And like you get so much unnecessary attention. You’re just unwell and you want to go to a doctor. That is something that is a huge struggle. I have to really, really think about what I have to wear, think about how I should tie my hair. Because gender, — I’ve also realised that how you tie your hair also defines your gender, or that’s a marker. And I kind of realised that it hit me much harder once I have grown my hair longer. So all that, yes, has been a struggle.
And especially if I have to go to a hospital… And something like this has happened once that I had to; I had an accident, a small accident. And I had to like, go to a hospital. And at that point of time, I could not actually take these measures. I was wearing… I was not in Calcutta, I was in another city. And I was wearing a very very femme-presenting attire. And when I went to the hospital, like there was a lot of confusion about… It was a simple stitch. I mean, it was not even a stitch actually, it was just first aid that I needed. For that, there was a lot of confusion about where I should go. Because of like, like they could not place me I was it was like, the whole system kind of got shaken. And it was like also crazy to watch that happen. I’m sorry… for a better word, I would say it was like, absolutely, like stunning to watch that happen. And also at the same time very, very overwhelming… if that answers your question.
RKF: Yeah, I imagine how difficult that must have been for you to deal with, already I mean, a health issue and having to navigate this entire situation. Have you ever like, suffered a misdiagnosis or mistreatment of an ailment having to do with your gender or your sexuality?
Riju: I haven’t faced a misdiagnosis. But like, again, like about the gender part and like, you know, sometimes I feel like in every form, there’s a section about gender. Like even if, even if that is irrelevant in the kind of diagnosis that is necessary. Like I’ve gone with fever to a hospital and this is when I was living in Bombay. And then, like, the doctor was very confused, like, while filling up the prescription, there was this form and there was a section about gender. And he was not able to actually mark my gender, there was a lot of confusion and like, you know, eyes each other, and that was uncomfortable. But yeah, I haven’t actually faced a misdiagnosis. That haven’t happened to me.
RKF: I’m somewhat glad that that’s been the case. And I hope that you never have to deal with that personally. And so, like, from the time that you started identifying as queer, has your approach to healthcare and medical treatment changed? Have you made certain changes in the way you behave and the way you talk about your ailments, in order to make sure that it doesn’t get, the situation doesn’t get volatile or anything?
Riju: Yeah like, I would, I wouldn’t know the larger narrative of being queer in a healthcare space. But like, being trans definitely, Like, I think I have stopped going to the doctor, like, I think that self-medication is something that I do a lot. Like okay, I could just as easily get a pair of paracetamol from somewhere, if I’m having a fever, even if it’s crossing a couple of days and I should go to a doctor. So there’s this anxiety about going to these places.
And I think that is also ever since that I have been more authentic about my expressions. And that has kind of made things a little worse, I like that gives a lot of mental- like, it’s a very stressful situation to be in. And therefore, I think that like, if it’s something that I can easily deal with at home, even if it’s a little bit more than what I can deal at home, I try to do that.
And, like, I don’t know, if, like, maybe he would have another question regarding this, but especially something to do with, like, you know, if it’s something to do with sexual reproductive health, if it’s something to do with, like, for example, I had sex, and then something is happening in my throat, like, which might be a result of having oral sex.
So I am very, very afraid to confront and have like this, this also comes from a context of being queer and both like, being trans and like, also navigating this space as being trans. And if you are, if you are visible, if you are visibly trans, then it becomes like, okay, the assumptions are already made. And even if the assumptions are true, you’re saying that, okay, this is the thing, and I’m worried about this, I had sex and I’m worried about it, then there’s a lot of like, their own biases, like the doctors don’t know what to say, like something like, it’s as if something absolutely out of the way has happened. And there is like, a lot of whispers which makes you even more uncomfortable and then makes you feel like why have you even spoken about this in the first place? I would have just like, had a couple of antibiotics on my own and seen how that goes instead of like disclosing that okay, I had this and after this; I am having a throat ache, is this something that I should be worried about? So I cannot actually reveal that.
Like, and being predominantly heterosexual, you know, like, it mostly fits in like, okay, you must have had a penis in your mouth, you must have had, like, you know, that has happened and it’s like, okay, my god, now everything fits, my assumption fits, my biases fits. And I’m seeing something, which is like, I really wanted to see… There’s a lot of curiosity, unnecessary, unsolicited curiosity on the doctor’s face. All of that is again, like, you know, makes it more difficult for the person who has the ailment who is like, who wants to speak or who was just there for treatment… Makes it difficult for them. I know I digressed little, but I feel like I could set the context also a little bit.
RKF: No, no, absolutely. You talk about unsolicited curiosity and that’s a big deal when it comes to the queer community. While there is the need, I personally feel that while there is a need for healthy curiosity, while there is a need for everyone to listen to the stories and listen to what is, what we have to say, it’s also the broad stereotyping that happens along with it is extremely problematic. And we have to, we just have to do better somehow. And you’re talking to a few other guests about this, as to how to initiate this change, initiate this gaze, Its extremely problematic, this gaze I personally feel.
You talked about self-medicating and self-diagnosing ailments, and I somewhat relate to it in a mental health capacity, at least because, I will, I have in the past avoided going to therapists because I did not want to open up about my issues, because I knew it would be not so well received, I guess, maybe? So have you? Do you think that your identity, your queer identity has ever affected your mental health or the interpersonal relationships that you share? Because of your identity? Has that ever affected your mental health?
Riju: Sorry, I’m little, will you be able to repeat the question and I’m pausing, I mean, I’m sure this can get cut, Use trans* instead of queer, because there’s more specific, because queer is a larger term, and also I identify as trans.
RKF: I’ll repeat the question, do you think that your trans identity or its perception and the impact on your interpersonal relationships has that ever affected your mental health?
Riju: It has, I think that to do with also like, like, once I am being, I am on my journey, and I have been on the journey of transitioning, and also on the journey of being my authentic self in any way, like, whatever that means, to me, I think my circle and the people I used to call friends, even in the queer communities has reduced. I think there’s a lot of, like, there’s a lot of being trans and posing yourself in social spaces is difficult. And sometimes people who are with you do not want to bear the burden of it. Be it partners, and be it friends sometimes, like, once you’re visible, and once you’re trans, so then a lot of people don’t want to be ridiculed with you. And therefore, like, sometimes your social circle reduces, that is one aspect of it. And another aspect of it is that it’s so difficult to explain lived realities in terms of like being trans, a lot of people say that I understand and therefore they have a comment, which might not be be okay, they might have, they might say something which is trans negative without realising that is trans negative, and it sometimes becomes so taxing. To constantly explain this to every space, be it personal, be it non-personal. Therefore, like sometimes I personally choose to shut down. I personally choose to not talk about, not talk to these people, or just you know, have a very, very formal relationship, because I don’t want to do that labour and that definitely affects interpersonal relationships a lot.
Like you, like you feel that you’re really misunderstood and all you have to constantly explain yourself. So yeah.
RKF: So do you think that your experiences as a trans person, has been appropriated in mainstream discourses which may not have been shaped by trans* experience? Do you especially in the context of medical-legal aspects, so do you think that is that happens?
Riju: Definitely, it happens. I think there’s this unidimensional depiction of trans people in media. I mean, the recent history has been to portray trans people as like us blaming just to ridicule them, I wouldn’t I was going to use the word funny, but then also like funny, does not do justice to the kind of violence that these like films perpetrate, through creating trans characters, which actually ridicules them. So there has been a history. And not just trans characters, also with queer characters, I would say, both trans and queer characters. Recently, I think like, the recent films in Bollywood at least, is like there’s this sudden saviour complex and then there is a lot of men and cishet men trying to depict lives of trans people. Like tell the stories of trans people about what they feel, what they think and what they think trans people should do, we should do and that is the depiction, and that is so wrong because it is not the realities of trans people. It is an imagination of cishet people. And how do you view trans folks.
And, and it also comes down to the medico-legal context, especially the medical context, I would say, there is so much if I talk about the trans, if I talk from the trans lens, I would say there’s so much stress on medical transition, and the medicalization of trans bodies. And, as if, I mean, everything is centred around the transition, which would be the medical transition of the trans person. The trans person exists to only medically transition, I do know what dysphoria is and how dysphoria is difficult, and therefore how important medical transition is for so many trans people, but also, at the same time, a lot of us do not medically transition. Also, a lot of us do not necessarily have dysphoria. A lot of us also don’t transition in different other ways. A lot of us, like our live realities, are very, very diverse. And also, if we talk about medical transition, a trans person’s life is not limited to that aspect of their life.
So it’s ridiculous to see how like, like how long it’s also showing cishet people how the cishet world sees the trans community, sees the trans person, and how they feel it’s like male to female, female to male, it’s not that. Like it’s not that unnuanced. It’s not that simple. It’s not that. It cannot exist in such simplistic planes. So that is something that constantly happens. Yeah.
RKF: Absolutely. I agree. A 100% like the basic, simple binaries that cis people tend to bracket trans people in that’s just, it’s, it’s too bad. And I think I read somewhere about how this is like a perverse projection of the stereotypes that they have, and definitely, not a reflection of, like you said the nuances of the lived experiences of the community and that definitely has to change for development to occur. What do you think are the steps, basic steps that can be taken to do this? And what do you think, is there I mean, is there anything you would like to add to this conversation? Would you anything you would like to share with our listeners about this, in this context about how this can be somewhat changed in the future?
Riju: I think the answer to this would be representation. Be it medical, in the medical context, be it in the context of the larger society, there should be more involvement and active participation of trans* and queer people in all of these aspects, Be it policy level aspect, be it policymaking, in terms of like, you know, if we talk about the medical context, then, what is the involvement of queer and trans people in creating these policies? Because otherwise, it becomes like, it becomes like a policy made for you without you, and definitely, that doesn’t benefit queer and trans people. So, it is again, it also becomes another tool to control queer and trans bodies, it does not become something that aids queer and trans bodies and identities. So, that involvement, that what do queer and trans* people want and what do they, how do they want to benefit from the medical system, that definitely will happen once there is a lot of policy-level engagement of queer and trans people, and also medical practitioners and healthcare professionals. That representation needs to increase and active representation in these spaces needs to increase. So the role of cishet people would be to play you know, leave space would be to vacate space, so that we can occupy them definitely and that goes similarly, that for other contexts as well. Yeah.
RFK: Absolutely. Yeah, again, thank you so much that makes that that was wonderful getting your perspective about this entire thing. And we are conducting this Podcast with the hope that people get to relate to the experiences of our guests get to know more about these and related issues. So the perspective that you offered is extremely helpful to add to the conversation which I hope will be a cornerstone in changing the narrative.
Thank you so much for your time. It was wonderful talking to you. And it was such a pleasure having you here. Thank you. Thank you so much.
Riju: Thank you so much, like thank you for listening to me and giving me the space to talk.
This article has been transcribed by Rishma Banerjee, Junior Research Manager at Rangeen Khidki Foundation