Fida Khan on her new podcast De Taali, navigating relationships as a transgender woman in India
In a chat with Firstpost, singer and podcast host Fida Khan discusses the cultural and social barriers that often impede relationships in the transgender community.
Life coaches will tell you ambivalence isn't uncommon in established relationships. Some might even describe it as an 'opportunity' to address and rid yourself of the anxiety that results from being in an alliance characterised by uncertainty. But what if the same uncertainty governed all aspects of your relationships, or life? Would anything ever be the same again?
Four years ago, 28-year-old singer Fida Khan started a relationship with a friend, also her driver at the time. As a transgender member of the hijra community with limited access to the complex landscape of modern dating, this was going to be her first serious affair. Four years on, Fida and her partner have moved on from daily squabbles to contemplating marriage and even raising a family together. However, as everyday instances of prejudice against transpersons unravel a new reality for her and her partner, she admits their chances of survival in a traditionally heteronormative society seem slim, despite being fully invested.
Fida's confession, when viewed alongside the larger socio-economic disadvantages her community is susceptible to, opens a can of worms. While being part of the discourse on transgender rights is ironically a challenge for members of the community, Fida has started a fresh conversation on the lives of those categorised as the country's third gender with Spotify's original podcast series, De Taali. In a chat with Firstpost, she discusses the cultural and social barriers that often impede relationships in her community.
Reflecting on how her four-year association with her partner has made her aware of cisgender privilege, Fida says, "There is a common misconception that transgender individuals can't sustain dignified relationships. We are seen as an unfaithful group of people who will sleep with anyone." Often finding herself saddled with such stereotypes, she has now started believing the future is truly grim for transgender relationships. "The other day I was daydreaming about the stories we'd tell our children on how we managed to survive the coronavirus pandemic. But when I told my partner, he brushed it aside by saying 'but you can't give birth, can you?'" It is such normalised instances of bias in their own homes, often diluted with an air of nonchalance she aims to address as the host of the series.
Even though they might make an individual aware of the ways in which transphobia exists, simple aspects of negotiating relationships for transgender women can be perilous. Lines of consent are often blurred when partners find it difficult to process rejection, especially if it comes from a person of the hijra community. "Queer people are easy targets, even in relationships. Therefore, when a transgender person rejects someone, they are rarely taken seriously. There have also been several cases of that person being abducted or sexually assaulted. 'No means no' often doesn't apply to us," says Fida. Therefore, even in non-romantic relationships, an additional burden is always carried by transgender persons to ensure their personhood is not invalidated and their privacy not compromised. Moreover, the existing legislation — heavily influenced by binary assumptions — doesn't adequately contribute to the protection of the community as such.
When they step outside the comforts offered by familiar surroundings, people who make up India's third gender are regularly reminded that they belong on the peripheries of society. This is reflected even in the way transgender individuals such as Fida cultivate relationships. "It's always someone from the same economic stratum. We find love and intimacy just like that, in the most ordinary places — on a bus, in a shop, on a local train. It's never someone influential or drastically more well-off than us." Furthermore, even the more thrilling aspects of a relationship lose meaning as it becomes difficult to distinguish genuine interest from sexual fantasy. "A large number of people like to use transgender women from the community as props. Therefore, building trust in friendships takes a long time."
There is also a revealing dearth of safe spaces for transgender individuals, even in densely populated metropolitan cities. This ends up hampering their ability to sustain not just a 'normal' lifestyle but also healthy relationships. Therefore, to integrate into the few public places they may have access to, transgender members of the community make conscious efforts to avoid hostility or confrontation at all times. "People seem to think we can't exist as our true, authentic selves in public places. So even though it is difficult for us to find spaces where we’re comfortable and welcome, it’s equally challenging to find someone who would be okay with being seen with a transgender person in public. It is discouraging because if society doesn't accept us with open arms, our struggle will cease to hold meaning," says Fida.
Despite being a well-known artist owing to her association with the globally recognised Six Pack Band, Fida prefers staying indoors. She maintains that she wants to be able to step out to entertain herself, not others. As a Muslim woman from a conservative family, she finds solace in the privacy of her home, among supportive family members.
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