This item is an audio file.

Oral History Interview with Anjali R.

Anjali R. is the founder of Parivar, a trans and queer south asian space in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the oral history, Anjali describes growing up in India, exploring different permutations of gender expression while moving throughout the U.S. and Canada, and navigating transphobia within queer south asian spaces.

Content warning: Abuse

Gender & Sexuality

Duration: 00:41:41

Date: March 3, 2020
Type: Oral History
Source: Archival Creators Fellowship Program
Creator: Mustafa Saif
Location: Oakland, CA

Transcriber: Alisha Cunzio

AR: (0:00)
I was born in a city that is unique in India because it’s one of the only two cities in the country that have over 40% of Muslim population compared to the average India-- Indian city's population, which is only 14% Muslim. So I was-- I grew up very secular, very diverse. My best friend, my mom's best friends were all Muslim. We also had Hindu friends, I'm not saying we didn’t.

I was born in a lower middle class family where my parents both worked. My dad struggled with alcohol, I was one of the-- I was the youngest of the three children, and I-- my mom was a teacher, and at a very young age I started seeing a lot and a lot of my mom doing the work rather than my dad. There was something called mental health that never gets to be addressed or discussed in India, so that happened a lot. We moved around quite a bit. I didn't speak until I was six, so now I speak nonstop. And I went to good schools, but thanks to my mom, and then went into becoming very active as a kid. [pause] I was abused as a kid um twice, but I didn't know that until much later in my life. I put all that energy in proving myself to be number one - proving myself to be good in all aspects. So I was in-- I was in theater, I was in debates, I was an elocutions. By the time I got to my 10th class, which is when you're 14, I had over 86 certificates of achievement in all aspects.

[secondary audio overlapping] I was born in the early 80s at a time when TV-- portable TVs and phones were still not a thing at home - you still have to go call somebody somewhere else - and after that, I got my-- I got a bravery award for being the scout from the President of India. I was really a good kid, but what I was struggling with was that I was not identifying as a man, and I kept on telling my mom, “Something's wrong. Your other two kids- your other two sons don't look like me. I don't behave like them.” And so we always knew there was something different for me, something different about me. And then the other aspect of it is that when I was 14 I was-- or I started-- When you hit puberty your life really changes and you really question a lot more things, and I thought I would wake up one day and I would have, you know, the women part and that would really... you know, the way it's gonna go, but then realize that that didn't happen. I got really agitated - I was really angry all the time. And I was raped when I was 14 by three of my high school seniors, or whatever you call them, and that really turned my life upside down. And we got phone calls, we had things thrown at our home, we had to move. My dad beat the shit out of me every single day for the rest of that year, and I didn't even know where to go to school because we have-- everything was uprooted for me. And that's when I became this very macho guy and said, “You know what? This whole thing about me trying to be who I am is not going to happen so I'm just going to shut it down.” And I became this very emotionless person - growing a moustache and like really, you know, hanging on to my masculinity at all times, and it came to a point where, you know, I got good grades and such, but I was never happy with myself.

I did go to school and get undergra-- my post… um, pre University, then I did my hotel management, and I met men and I was like, “Well, am I gay? Am I trans? Am I attracted to men?” And then I ended up having relationships. Some aspects of my growing up that really stayed with me much later in life was my leadership. You wouldn't see me be meek and quiet in public, but if you know if you got to know me I was a very different person behind closed doors. So there were two very different types of me that the whole world saw, and only now am I trying to break apart from that pattern, because I am not going to-- I’ll show you all the emotions, but they’re not in my [unintelligible]. They’re really deep, deep ones in me.

I lived mostly in Hyderabad, and then I moved to the US 2001 right-- a month before 9/11. [pause] So this was the year 2000 and everybody was in a frenzy to move to the US, and you know my mom and I started having discussions on how I can live a happy life. My mom’s somebody I could have-- I can have a conversation about anything, literally anything under the sun, and one of the things we agreed to was that, you know, I could be in the US. I was working for a multinational Call Center - which was a big thing in the early 2000s - and one of the supervisors who came to visit me from Florida was a black, gay man who I really really got attracted to. Because, being black in India, even if you're a foreigner, is actually not a great thing. Nobody wants to talk to you outside of work. And he was like, you know, “Your life will be much better if you come to the US and such.”

Before-- my brother was already in the US where he was hell bent on never letting me land on this country, because he knew that once that happens there is no stopping for me. So, a group of us applied for visa and all of us got in. When we came to university in Ohio, without knowing that the university was actually blacklisted, there were 12 of us who lived in a two bedroom apartment. I was the head chef, or the cook of the house, because I had a degree in culinary arts from India. And I was also the bitch to four men in that house. My brother happens to visit me when he was on the west coast, and he was shocked our living and what was going on. So he put me in a car and he took me to Salt Lake City and he said, “I'm buying you a ticket, you're going back to India.” I said, “No, you're not going to do that.” So he and my mom... and then 9/11 happened, and you know, life was crazy and all that, and so I decided to stay and he said, “You have three months to get another-- to get to another university. And I don't-- and with full scholarship, because we don't have any money to pay for you.” I applied everywhere, and I got into a university in Idaho, in the city of Boise, with a full scholarship. And I moved there in January of 2002.

Got through my Master's - my MBA. My professor was an extremely nice person, but I had a whole different life outside of university. I was myself - I was presenting myself as female, I was performing in drag back then. I was known in the city as a woman, and I was very lean and thin, and when you're young you can pass much better, in my opinion, at least. Then I started realizing that this is how I can actually live my life, so when I graduated-- and I would say something really interesting. I don't know if it's definitely, but my mom says it, and I think that I've started to believe it, is that... whether I like it or not, I come across those that are very much like me, or are... or get me, even if I'm trying to hide myself. So when I was doing my internship in my final year, there-- my boss was a white, cis, closeted gay man who was married with kids and wife, and he used to dress up. And so he knew about me without me telling him, and he was like, “You know, you shouldn't be in Idaho, you should go somewhere else.” So I moved to the Bay Area.

So when I was in university I was the university events coordinator, so everybody needed to talk to me. When people who I was very attracted to-- I would hit on them right off the bat for the first 10 minutes, and some of those people became my friends and we started hanging out, and-- you know your living adornment or your hostel and you build community there, but another way that I build community with some of these folks in my classes, like the scandal effect. There was a man and there was a woman, they were not together, but they were having an affair and I was the only person who knew that they had spouses at home. Those kind of relationships happen, also those that were gay and-- mostly gay I would say, not even trans. I only knew one trans woman who passed away in the last year I was there, that kind of knew who I-- Um, so every Friday we would be at the clubs, I would be at charity events. A lot of people were coming from Iran and-- Iraq and Afghanistan, and the US government was putting them in Boise. So we were able to bring-- You know, I was able to get involved and become friends and things like that, I met a huge Indian community that did not know anything of my other side. I started the first Indian Student Association, I was pretty famous in their circle-- Indian family circles around temple. And those that did performances and events, and I would be the emcee dressed up all male, and I didn't-- you would not be able to tell that I would dress up-- once I got home I would dress up and go to the club, and you know do something else.

So all in all, I think... yeah, that's how it was living in Boise. I got my first place, my first job, had a huge housewarming. And I also let people come stay with me, and that also helped the community for me, even though I had a very very small place.

MS: (10:49)
Okay, and then you move to the Bay Area after graduating and working in Boise for a little while.

AR: (10:57)
I moved to the Bay Area because this is where I thought I could really live my life - as a South Asian, as a queer, as a trans person - but I never thought still that transitioning was an option or possible. I wanted to, but I just didn't think with my visa and everything I could ever do that. I moved to the Bay Area, obviously I had no money, so I stayed with a friend. In return I was cleaning the house, cooking-- it was a big house. And then, eventually, I met somebody and I moved to the city. My boss at that time was extremely homophobic and transphobic, and he kept on calling me a fruit. I lodged a complaint and nothing was done out of it. I tried to find another job, but with the visa I couldn’t at that time. But I built a tremendous amount of community. There's an organization called Trikone that's been around for a long time, and I could fit the mold - I was Sikh, I was male, I was south Asian, so I could be part of it, you know? And I sat on the board, and I hosted a lot of events, and potlucks, and built a huge community. Then I was performing in Castro, in East Bay and Walnut Creek as a drag queen, and I started taking hormones [unintelligible] Letting the insurance see that I'm actually buying hormones through their actual doctors. Three and a half years in I decided to transition, because I gathered the courage and such, and I got a lot of pushback from my own community saying, “No that's great. You're doing well. Why do you have to be-- just dress up in the weekends.” And I still went ahead with it, and I think the biggest piece that... pushed back was when my boss told me categorically at my face, “You better not be dressing up and coming to work, or show up as this freak, otherwise I'm gonna let fire you.” And I said, “You can’t fire me. I'm in the state of California.” So he couldn't fire me but he took my visa away. He said “You're not renewing your visa.”

That basically didn’t let me stay in this country, so I got on a greyhound and I went to Canada. And thanks to my brother - Canadian residency was being given away at that time, so he had bought two of them. One for me and one for him. And so I moved to Canada. I went to live in the base-- the out-out house of this Chinese guy who charged me $75 per night. I went with a regular suitcase and a pink suitcase, and I always said once that pink suitcase opens up, there is no stopping for me. I went to Canada, I went to four cities. Finally I found, you know, a job in a store in Toronto, and I was like, “I am here, there is nothing for me to lose from here on.” And I started my transition full speed. And the Canadian government has a lot of resources, or at least the doctors cannot discriminate against you, which used to happen a lot on this side-- in the US. So it transitioned, and I transit-- I got a job, and I quickly transitioned at work, but the nightmare at work was that another three years there - at the same workplace - and I still was misgendered and I was still being called by my dead name.

Twice around, because I've been back in the Bay for about four years, I will say that the Bay is a dichotomous place that is really not for a marginalized identity like mine that’s been in the margins. The Bay is a bubble. I've lived in 11 cities and poor countries, and the way the Bay functions is very very… artificial, or super- superficial. There's a lot of over righteousness in the Bay, there's a lot of woke people, there is a lot of activism. But there's also, on the flip side, there is a whole lot of wealth. There is a whole lot of money and very privileged people. And that-- there's two big distinctions that I make of the Bay area compared to everywhere else I have lived: Racism and classism. And I have seen, and continues to seep into the South Asian community, which love to still mimic the white man dream, because we still have colonized minds. So when people come here, even if they're gay or straight, they want to be like the white man. They associate themselves with the white man. When I liv-- moved here to East Bay before, two years ago, more than half of my South Asian friends, more than half of my white friends, have not come to visit me. I've been here in this my home for two and a half years. Because there's such a high level of racism. I never found that when I lived in Texas. I never found that when I lived in New York. I never found that when I lived in Toronto. I never found that when I lived in Boise for crying out loud.

So the Bay is extremely out of depth, and it is the farthest from being the truth. There are some amazing things that happened here. There's so much safety and there's so much security and all that, but it's just a different place. And so that's seeped into how I existed in this very South Asian, male, cis-driven community, where I was told that, you know, “We-- we'll do your hair and you can do all that, but tomorrow we are all going to Tahoe and you can’t be dressing up like that.” And I was like... and I didn't know how to do makeup. Nobody taught me how to do makeup. You know, there wasn’t YouTube back then, or I couldn't afford to on my phone or my computer because you had to pay by the bytes and using internet. And so I was almost a freak. I was left out of events, I was considered to be, you know, a freak. And there have been times when I've been told to leave a-- and twice around again. I've been asked to leave events I've been-- I've been pushed off the stage. There's been a lot of that and I'm not trying to say everything bad, but at that moment that's what happened.

MS: (17:49)
Can you-- you also mentioned doing drag and sort of this, like, pressure to segment when you were presenting in a certain way. Can you talk about what role, or like what function it played for you, whether it was affirming or whether it felt like you were forced to restrict your presentation to this performance for folks?

AR: (18:10)
I think it was both. It definitely uplifted me and it validated me because when people said, “Oh my god, I wouldn't even know. You pass so well.” Because I never wore wigs. I just wore regular clothes, and even my drags or-- when I'm very South Asian, I wear a lot of saris. So a lot of people would say that and I'd be like, “Yes, I'm on the right path.” So, for-for the longest time in my life, I have looked for validation externally like most people do when you're marginalized, and most people do that when you're not sure of your identity. That is super exciting to be able to get that validation. On the flip side, when I finally did become myself and I was full time and - as they called or living my life - I was still referred to as the drag queen. I was-- the stigma never left. The identity never left. So it took a lot of undoing, and it still happens. No trans woman wants to be called a drag queen. But it still happens because to a cis male, especially in the South Asian community, my existence is still a game or a [sari/sorry] party that they're witnessing.

Until I did transition everything was great. My boss, who I always say is my angel, was born 20 years before me on the same exact day. And she was very supportive, but she didn't know what trans meant, and she was trying to hook me up with her barber - with her hair dresser - who was a gay man who I knew from the community. So when I did transition it was a shock. HR didn't know what to do. Right? And they were like, “Well, can you hold a training session for your team? Can you do this?” So for three years, I was the mediator, counselor, trainer, educator - everything was me. And that put a lot of stress on me.

MS: (20:14)
In terms of making the decision to transition, and just for support outside of work, were there people you were connecting with and drawing support from?

AR: (20:28)
So as I said, I was pretty [inaudible] known in the South Asian community, because I've performed and as such, I lived very much near what is Toronto's Castro District then. But once I started transitioning I was called so many things. You know, I was once driving my friends - three of my-- four of my friends - and I started hormones, and when you're on hormones you're really agitated. You're really not sure what's going to go on with your life because you're now making a very big decision. And all my friends got out of the car saying, “You are a tranny freak.” And I never saw them after that day. These are South Asian men who are gay. [Inaudible], whoever stuck with me - it was like four people - they were my support system, but it also put a huge amount of burden on them to work with me when I was going through so much ups and downs in life. The other aspect was-- there was these support groups that the Canadian hospitals and such have that, you know, let you go and take - it was called ‘Gender Journey’. There was that professional support to a psychotherapist, but not as much as I would have hoped for. I would get away to these provincial parks and I would sit there and I would write diaries and diaries of-- in the “how can this life really be this way?” Oh man, you know, “is this the end of it?” or “is this going to take out the whole life that I've had for 25 years?” So I wouldn’t say I’ve had… I’ve had a lot of support. Especially when it comes to my identity as trans.

And once I transitioned at work, there were people who came around - they were supportive - but for the majority it was really difficult to work, and the number one people who would make sure to put me back in my place and remind me who I was not where South Asian men. And so I left um and I made a decision that - during this time I'd met my ex husband - I made a decision that I'm never going to tell anybody that I'm trans ever again in my life. And so all my friends, even the ones that supported me and such, were not necessarily in my life. I moved away, I got-- I bought a house, I moved to suburbia, my ex husband moved in with me. We got married in two years, I married into a huge Muslim family, and nothing about me was trans - nothing. I would-- at my wedding I did not have anybody except for my mom from my side. Gay? Yeah, it was the trendy thing to do, you know. I had gay friends, my [unintelligble] had gay-- I had gay-- My-- my husband had gay cousins - that was fine. The Trans? Hell no. So from 2008 to 2018 you never knew that I was trans if you were in those circles. Life was great, but I wasn't complete. I-I still were getting questions like, “When are you gonna have kids?” You know? “You're gonna be 35, when are you gonna have kids?” So it was a whole different life. I grew up, I went to another company, and I really moved up the ladder. I moved back to the US - my husband stayed there - we traveled everywhere in the world, and life was great. Until 2014, when I was in Seattle working for Amazon, and I was diagnosed with brain tumor, and life just, you know, turned upside down where I had to really ask myself “Why am I existing?” and “Am I complete?”

It was a rough year for me. My grandfather - my mom’s dad - were really close to the police commissioner and he really held me together knowing who I was since I was young, passed away. My mom had a stroke. She was stuck in India, because at that time they had her living with my brother in Texas. Yeah, one aspect of support was I would go to Texas from Toronto thinking I would have my brothers and you know, blessing and it would be better going back to that, but the only blessing in disguise was my sister-in-law who was [inaudible] and was like, “You are who you are, and I'm here to support you.” And she's stood by me ever since. She's never once questioned anything. But there were-- those were the times my brother would lock me up in the bathroom, ask me to hide in the closet when his friend showed up, and really didn't let my mom come to my wedding, so I had to change my wedding twice. So a lot of those things happen that they're not necessarily pleasant, but I understand it was his journey, too. So coming back to the-- I, you know, lived a life in stealth and I grew up the ladder and then moved back. When I got diagnosed with brain tumor I was like really asking myself if I was being-- this was it, am I being true to myself and such? I went to India. I’d gone to Indian in 2006, but that was before my transition, before I just-- just before I moved to Canada, and for my brother's wedding, but then I went again in 2014 dressed as a guy. I had gotten my breast implants in 2008 and had to puncture them so I could bind my boobs and present myself as a male so I can go visit my mom, bring her back. And I went, I had my surgery in India. I had hair up to my back, up to my shoulder, below-- way close to my back, and I had to-- they had to shave it off. They said, “Oh, you're a guy, your hair will grow back. Don't worry about it.” And then I came back and I was like, really not happy with myself anymore, because I was like, “Who am I trying to fool? And why am I doing it?” I think I got-- something moved in my brain probably, and I got really awake.

So I continued to stay in Seattle, but then my mom came to visit and she knew how-- saw how depressed I was. My marriage was breaking apart, my husband was still in Canada. So basically, we moved-- I moved to Houston, and went back to the same dynamic of my brother treating me the way he did, my mom in the mix now, and in Houston was probably when I, for the first time in like general public - in general society, I was being gender policed. This was the time of H2, and there was so much. I couldn't find a job. I mean, I would go to interviews and people would figure me out. All right, you know, and it was just very, very discriminating in Texas. And again at home also it was discriminated because I didn't have the support. Then I got a job, and I bought and bought a house and, you know, I filed for my ex husband's Green Card 2015, and they denied because they say, you know, he's on-- on some list and he has a very common Muslim name. So we have to appeal it and it took another whole year for him to get his green card, but by then he and I were almost done, so he never moved to the US. I got sick again. Then I had another surgery and I said to myself, “I'm gonna go live in my own home, even if I can’t walk.” I was literally dragging myself on the floor in my new home, and that's how I moved into my new home. I thought that's where I was gonna stay, but again, I couldn't find any job in Houston. I had my parents visiting me, they were living mostly with my brother and my dad was still trying to come to terms with me - not-- not definitely as much as now - and then eventually I moved back to the Bay, I got a job with the same company that I transitioned at back in Canada, and came back and I never said a word. I was continuing to stay- live in stealth while doing my activism. So I think the Seattle Episode got me to become more involved in the community, and I started doing a lot of that work, and then got to a point where I had now come to the Bay Area, and I started doing a lot more activism. And then two years into my job one of the leaders who knew me from back then outed me in a meeting, and it was just like, very traumatic. And then he turned it around and said, “You know, you can lead the trans initiatives in this company.” So I believed him, and I did so, only for it to be the peril of my-- my job at that company where it was about tokenizing me and saying, “Oh, we're doing all this trans work and getting the HRC token of approval”, but not really to make any fundamental change around benefits or care and culture in the company. So that happened, I moved to Oakland because I always wanted to live in Oakland.

MS: (30:01)
Can you-- so you mentioned when you moved back you became more involved in activism? Can you talk a little bit about why you felt at this point, you wanted to be more involved in activism and what that looked like?

AR: (30:14)
A few things in Seattle I was getting involved, I was involved in the Houston community, but I really felt the need-- the-- I think it was the point where I felt, I am settled, I have privilege, I have access, I need to give back to the community. And if I can do that, and another trans woman, another South Asian doesn't have to go through what I had to go through in my life, I’ll feel good about that. And the way I got involved was I came back into the same group, which was very cis, South Asian male driven from back then, but I immediately realized that I wasn't welcome. Later I tried to get on their board, they wouldn't let me get on their board. It was very much driven-- it still is run by men who are intimidated by a very strong woman like me. And then an incident happened where the community leader in their personal private business had hired a trans woman - South Asian trans woman that I knew from Houston - much older to work in their restaurant, didn’t pay her, she was uneducated. She reached out to me, and it snow-- it just snowballed into this big, big thing that almost went to the newspapers where I threatened to sue them if they didn't pay her. She was homeless, she lost her apartment, she had to come stay with me. So I think that really catapulted me into believing that discrimination happened a lot more, and I did not know a lot of these things. So many words. I did not know a lot of these words and activism. But that really told me that I need to be involved because I have something that most people don't in my identity which is, I can speak, and I can-- I know how to manage and work through the system and really support folks like me.

And I think that catapulted me and I [laugh] I guess again I was exterminated from the community in such a big way that, for example, two days after all this meltdown happened, and she was finally paid, you know, by them, I was going-- I ended up to-- going to a birthday party in Dublin, of a kid whose parents were, you know, in the community, and they had known me for-- since when I lived here in the early 2000s before my transition. The door opened, and they said, “We're so sorry, but can you please leave?” And they shut the door. And that broke my heart into another million pieces, but it also told me this is what happens on a regular basis, and I have to stop it. And so I continued to get involved, I continued to learn, because I'm coming from a world of very much privilege where I don't know what it means to be on the street, I don't know what it means to be in sex work, I don't have the same narrative. So a lot of the community, my trans community - especially not simply South Asian, because I have not met many, many South Asian trans people to begin with anywhere, leave alone the Bay Area. I was more involved in the overall trans community and, you know, learning a lot about what it means to be a black trans woman, the anti-blackness that exists in the South Asian community. A lot of those aspects really brought me to a point where I learned a lot, and then I would execute a lot more, and then I realized that I had the strength, the power, and the ability to be in a leadership role. I started getting involved in being on a lot of boards, and then I would-- about a year and a half ago, you know, SF States Foundation reached out saying, “Can you do a South Asian performance for 139?” And while that seemed great, it was also very difficult to-- for me to say, “You know we’re just going to do a performance and we're going to go home.” And when we did the performance, and the second time we did it, it was just so big. The response from females South Asians in the community-- in the South Asian community, the trans, anybody was not the more cookie cutter mold wanted this to continue, and that's how Parivar came about. And I've invested so many hours and time in it, more than my regular job, and I wouldn't do anything different in how I grew the organization to where now we are fiscally sponsored, we have a board, and I'm at peace that I'm able to make a difference.

My biggest hope for Parivar is for it to exist even if I don't. I want it to be a moment and a mechanism in a space that is sustainable for the cause of centring trans and GNC folks, and powerfully welcoming all LGB queer folks going beyond Sihkness, and going beyond Hinduism, and fighting Islamophobia, transphobia, xenophobia and to go to every place in the country. We are one of the biggest populations in the country and we do not have an organization that is welcoming to everybody.

So that's my life story. I know there's so much more - like I ride motorcycles for fun-- for commuting and fun. Well, motorcycle riding was something I did in India, and when I transitioned I was told, “It's only for men.” Even in the US. So I bought myself-- I had to buy-- get on a motorcycle, because I had to get from the city to Walnut Creek and it was pretty much a very rough commute, so I got on a motorcycle. So it became a necessity that eventually became more of like a, you know, a fun thing. But blending in as a trans women within women motorcycling groups or rides-- or within co-ed rides with men, it's very difficult. So I've had to-- I've had very few instances where I've had to-- I could reveal and say I'm a trans woman on a motorcycle.

I like to spend time at home as much as I'm social. When I'm socializing, I'm in a very high decibel, but once I come home I want to be by myself. So having people in the house was really very draining further. Especially those that I'm supporting mentally, financially or some other way. So having my place to myself, and gardening and you know, doing some projects in the house keeps me going. The other aspect is writing. I'm, you know, spending a lot more time writing but a lot more affirmations. And then the few friends I like to hang out and have fun. I have very few support systems as such, if I may say, and these are interestingly all over the country. There's different levels of how close I am to people. There's a level where I'm-- people know me, and I don't know them. There's a level where I know them, they know me, but we just talk outside or whenever receiving events. Then there's people that we both know each other and we are close, and we text or talk once in a while, and maybe meet up, maybe they come over. And then there's those that I'm very close to, and they almost get a download of everything that happens in my life, whether they like it or not, and then they come back and tell me “Give me feedback.” So like my best, best friend is in New York. I met her in 2004, she is Pakistani trans woman and we just talk every single day, we take trips every year, I've lived with her in New York. I have another friend who I tried to pick up during my phase of being very masculine in India. She-- she's first generation, but she was in India. She and I lived and knew each other for a good amount of time in San Francisco, and she lives in Minnesot-- she lives in Milwaukee now. I have a trans guy friend who helped me through my recovery in Seattle, and now he lives in Chicago. I have a friend in Houston. I have a very close friend from back in the day, when I was here - we used to go do a drag. He was part of that huge South Asian male community, but he's kind of branched out. He still talks to all of them, hangs out with all of them, but he's always looked out for me, being there for me, so I go spend time with him. He’s the closest in proximity and, I mean you know, being here in my life, so I go and, you know, spend time with him and his son and his partner in California.

I have a furbaby that I like to boss around, who kind of keeps me going. And I love to watch a lot of movies. I love to watch Indian movies. I also used to perform a lot more as I mentioned. I haven't performed much, but I would like to go back to that. And then doing community work also keeps-- is kind of a fuel for me. One aspect I'll say is when I was growing up in India, I was always said, you know, when hidras would get on the train - and if you know the history of hidras, Hyderabad was the epicenter of how hidras came about, from the royal family - and my mom would close my eyes because she didn't want me to see the hidras, and that stigma continued and lived with me even after a transitioned, and I would really get upset if somebody said I was a hidra. I would say, “I am a trans woman.” But two years ago, I met a group of trans women, from India, that just showed up at trans march in San Francisco. And I literally lost my shit. I was like, “Who are you? Where did you come from?” And they didn't speak much English, and then I met Aravani Art Project. And these-- this is a project that made two queer women - cis queer women - helping those that are begging and doing sex work, to have a life of painting, and teaching them how to do artwork, and bringing them to do murals all over the world. And that’s-- when I spent two weeks with them, I realized - and that's why I wanted so badly to go back to India and spend time - I realized that I'm actually one of them, and these are all labels we give ourselves. When I fought so many people saying “you’re a tranny” or a trans woman, I'm doing the same thing by saying I'm not a hidra. So, I just want to say that they are very-- two very distinct identities. Hidra is this psychosocial aspect of identifying in a female aspect, it has nothing to do with transgenderism, but their-- our lives are so intertwined and almost similar in many ways. So I just want-- and I-- that's another support system I have. I get up and I'm on WhatsApp with them, I'm always talking to them, they're always showing me. And they've been back here twice, and you know, we’ve been able to build that relationship, and I look forward to that day when I go to India soon and spend a lot of quality time with them.

Collection: Mustafa Saifuddin Fellowship Project
Item History: 2020-07-17 (created); 2020-09-09 (modified)

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