“We fear what we don’t understand, so we should focus more on understanding rather than holding stigmas. Maybe today you will feel you are stuck but one day at the end of the dark tunnel, you will find the light. I can say that because I have travelled the same path.” says Tanvi Nair, a 31-year-old LGBTQ activist from Pune.
From struggling to find herself in a limiting environment to being the leader of an awareness forum, and a TEDx speaker, Tanvi has overcome many personal battles in her life. She is a data analytics professional working as a consultant for a financial company, and a proud transwoman.
She hails from a small town Ahmad Nagar near Pune and belonged to a lower-middle-class family. She had an uneasy childhood where the battle was to make ends meet and find, food and shelter. Amidst this, Tanvi constantly struggled to identify her true gender identity.
“I lived a life of pretence and could only explore my authentic self in moments of solitude when no one was around. Whenever I got a chance to stay alone at home, I used to wear my mother’s saree and dress up like a woman. Even in those moments of happiness, my eyes were glued to the gate to ensure that no one was coming in. I was always afraid that someone would find out,” says Tanvi.
Her confusion on the inside reflected on her life wherein she would be confused with the smallest decisions of life. As Tanvi grew up, Tanvi knew she first had to accept her identity for the world to accept her.
But one day her secret came out unexpectedly. “We had shifted to a new house and my mother stopped going out of the house much. I desperately wanted to feel like a woman. I packed some clothes for my mother and I went to the college where I was enrolled as a male. One day, I was caught dressed as a woman and harassed for it both by the college authority and the police. They asked me to strip and dance. That wasn’t the end of it, I had to study in the same college for the next three years which I somehow lived through and completed my Master’s degree in Statistics,” she says.
Later, she moved to Pune with her parents and started her professional journey. She got her first job, which didn't pay her much, but after one year, she got another job that allowed her to learn and grow. She worked for 6 years in that particular company in which she got promoted 5 years in a row, all because of the passion and dedication that she put into her work.
However, Tanvi kept fighting to hide her true identity from the world. That's why she used to operate two facebook IDs, one for the world and one for herself. One day by mistake Tanvi posted her picture in which she was dressed up as a woman to another account where her colleagues and relatives were added. Her secret was revealed in front of everyone and people started calling and messaging her and her parents.
Talking about that incident Tanvi says, “In 2020, I accidentally posted my pictures as Tanvi on my FB profile and by the time I took it down it was too late. In those moments, I felt my heart beating very fast and I was sweating because of anxiety. It is a difficult feeling to explain in words. I took a day off from work the next day and wrote a coming-out post and put it up with the same picture again. Once I accepted myself in front of the world, I felt happy and found mental peace at that moment and the fear had gone.”
She further says, “The response I got was mostly positive but there will always be some bad elements that come with the good ones. My parents still thought it was just a phase and it will pass away. My parents never initiated a conversation regarding this with me. For Indian families, these are awkward conversations. They supported me in front of this world but never discussed it with me and that’s okay. The most hurtful thing I can remember is a friend asking my brother to have my parents move in with him instead of allowing them to stay with me any longer given the shame I had brought to them. But my family stood by me and answered every one of them.”
She also talked about how Bollywood is not showing the real side of LGBTQ and the reality of society. “Only 1-2 films presented the actual story and reality of the LGBTQ people’s life. If I took at ‘Chandigarh Kare Aashiqui’, a transwoman wouldn't look like Vani Kapoor. I can’t look like her in the coming thousands of years. Even after hundreds of surgeries. So, this is not how you reflect reality, it is important to show the right side of the society and LGBTQ peoples' condition in the society. So, I don’t think movies do justice to our reality."
Tanvi says, “I went through months of therapy to resolve the anxiety as well as depression that came along with the dysphoria. Coming out was not easy, I lost many friends in the process but the ones who stuck around were there for me.”
Tanvi has started the “Ally Nation Project” with one of her friends and started taking sessions on the LGBT community, which aims in giving free gender sensitisation training to everyone. Many people talk about their identity and get inspiration from Tanvi to express themselves. Also, anyone can join the session and ask questions about the community. She is also a core committee member of the pride business resource council, where she participates in multiple diversity and inclusion initiatives in her organisation.
Tanvi also became the TEDx speaker in 2021, when she got a chance to express her views and narrate her story to people.
“TEDx happened when someone who took my session suggested my name to the TEDx team. In 2021 I got a call from them and they asked me to come and speak. It was a great experience because TEDx is a very well-known platform and I could reach out to so many about LGBTQ issues and identity."
Talking about Article 377, Tanvi says, “Article 377, is good but that doesn't take away the stigmas attached to it. The government did not do anything to educate and make people aware of it. Still, many people in the community don't get a home to stay in because they belong to the LGBTQ community. The struggles of our community and society are very basic food, clothing, and shelter. The government isn't doing enough to protect the rights of LGBTQ people.”
After coming a long way from where she started, there are still some struggles in her life. She says, “I’m still not open in general because I live with my parents. I can handle everything but I don’t want my parents to suffer. I always keep a safe distance from society. Some of my relatives, colleagues, and close friends know about my reality. But I don’t talk about it generally because I don’t think people deserve to know the real side always.”