Daina, a transgender student learns tough lessons from the school of life
Daina from India is a young transgender woman, who is a first year Bachelor of Information Science student. Only 20-years-old, Daina has experienced, poverty, discrimination, sex-work and abuse, but today Daina stands strong. During a workshop organized by Youth Voices Count in Bangkok, Thailand, UNAIDS spoke to Daina about her struggles, how she overcame them and where she is today.
(The views and opinions expressed in interviews or commentaries are those of the interviewees and contributors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of UNAIDS.)
UNAIDS: When did you discover your gender identity?
Daina: I discovered my gender identity as early as first or second grade. I always felt like I was different. At the age of 16, I decided that I wanted to be a woman. I saw a lot of people who were like me and they were very confident in their own skin and that is what pushed me to make my decision.
UNAIDS: Did your family support your decision to transition into a woman?
Daina: When I opened up to them they were shocked and even to this day they have never openly supported me. Still, they choose to remain silent. They acknowledge me but there is no open support from them. When we have to go out together I always travel separately from them. I always tell them to go ahead first and I will follow. This is because they are not comfortable with me. However, I am okay with it. I would rather travel alone than with people who are not comfortable being with me. This is who I am. Even with my friends who are uncomfortable around me, I always say “It’s okay. No problem. I understand”.
UNAIDS: How do you deal with the lack of support from your relatives?
Daina: At family gatherings I am always asked “Why are you like this? Why is your hair so long? Your features are nice but you need to be more like a man.” To that I always reply that “I am a good hearted person. I don’t need any suggestions from you. As long as I am a good person it doesn’t matter how I choose to live or dress. It’s not necessary that I have to act like a man just because I was born as one.”
It is possible that in the future people will accept me. I hope so.
UNAIDS: How did you come to take up sex work?
Daina: There was a phase where we were having financial difficulties in my family and as a result of that I went into sex work.
In India we have this Guru system where if you want to join the Hirjra (Transgender women) community and do sex work you need to have your own Guru. Hijra sex workers then are answerable to their Gurus and have to pay them money from their earnings.These Gurus have their own area where they run brothels and in these areas other people are not allowed to intrude.
My Guru used to control me and used to demand 20,000 INR from me monthly, which is quite a large amount of money.
As things went on I felt that I really didn’t want to be there and do that work but I had no other choice because of the financial difficulties we were facing. I knew that that wasn’t my future. Something needed to change..
That was when I decided that I had to slowly work towards saving money and getting myself out of there.
UNAIDS: What happened after you quit sex-work?
Daina: After some time I went back to the area where I used to do sex work for a personal reason. I was dressed like a girl. My Guru saw me, but did not like that I was dressed up and had come to the area despite quitting sex-work. She said to me “If you were going to continue being like this (a hirja), why did you quit sex work?” She wanted me to continue working for her and I was also not opposed to the idea but I couldn’t afford to give them the 20,000 INR they asked for every month. She told me, “Now that you aren’t working in sex work you need to stop dressing like a woman and act like a man”.
The Gurus and hijra sex workers in the area caught me and began to harass me and beat me up. They stripped me and asked me why I was in their area. I tried to plead with them and tell them my reason for being in the area but I was all alone and there were so many people against me and no one listened.They told me to come back and work for them. I told them that I was done and that I wanted to go home,and that’s when they locked me up.
UNAIDS: When were you released and what happened then?
Daina: They released me after two days. Still, they weren’t done with me. They then began to blackmail me.They told me that even though I wasn’t working there anymore I would still have to pay them 20,000 INR a month or else the consequences would be severe. My family was already going through tough times and I didn’t want any backlash from this to get to them. They didn’t know that I was a sex worker and if they found out they would have kicked me out and I would have nowhere to go. I didn’t want that to happen. So I agreed and struck a deal with the Guru, got a loan and eventually paid it off. I am still suffering from financial difficulties because of that loan to this day. Now I am not in contact with any of them. I am free now.
UNAIDS: How has the experience affected you?
Daina: I am still dealing with the aftermath of what I went through. It’s not a good feeling. I was depressed and still go through bouts of depression sometimes. I get anxious and nervous very easily. I am afraid to talk to people but I am slowly learning how to deal with it. I know I will recover from it but it will take time. I have finally begun my degree and I also work with Gaurav, a community based organisation that works with men who have sex with men and male sex workers. I’m sure things will get better.
UNAIDS: How has this experience made you want to empower yourself and others from your community?
Daina: I don’t want young people like me to go through what I did. I want them to be independent and to be able to support themselves. I’m trying to make sure that I become successful as I want to be a role model for people. That is why I’m pursuing my education and working for the betterment of the transgender community. I don’t want anyone else to face what I have gone through – family wise, professionally or even publicly. If it was someone else in my place they might have even been driven to suicide. I am confident now that I will be able to solve any problem that I am faced with in the future.
UNAIDS: Where do you see yourself in five years?
Daina: In five years I see myself as a well educated person. My dream job is to become a fashion model. I want to be a well-educated model. I want there to come a time when people say “Oh! This is Daina. I know know her”. It’s very difficult for a transgender woman to become successful. That is why I want to be a role model especially for the transgender community. A transgender woman who is educated, beautiful and also strong. I’d like to see myself married and settled.
UNAIDS: What is your hope for the transgender community in India?
Daina: I hope that in the future there will be no discrimination against transgender people. Especially not in their own community. No bullying. My hope for society is that everyone recognizes that we are also human beings. Equality is necessary. Don’t make it complicated. If someone is transgender then that’s who they are. It’s okay. If you don’t like it then it’s okay but don’t enforce your ideals upon them. If you cannot think positively about someone then don’t even think negatively.
UNAIDS: Many young TG people still struggle with revealing and coping with their sexuality today, what message would you like to leave for them?
Daina: I want every young transgender to think properly before they decide to go into any kind of work such as sex work. I’m not saying that sex work is something bad but I’m saying that don’t do anything that will negatively affect your life in the future. Do something that will positively affect your future and that will be an inspiration to people. Education is the most important thing.
Daina has started a new project dedicated to raising awareness among college students and non student youth on transgender issues in the state of Maharashtra in India. The project will train young people in life skills and technical skills relating to preventing stigma in the workplace. The project will also work towards securing transgender inclusive policies for transgender youth. More information on how to support Daina in is available here: