Paras Dogra, a transgender who faced sexual abuse at the hands of her relatives, fears that if she is attacked or raped again, she may be forced to give birth to a child .
Dogra, who lives in Kerala, says trans men are equally vulnerable to violence and rape and are at risk of being forced into pregnancies. Still, we are made to feel that we do not deserve medical care, says Dogra, 23.
Wade in the US, Indian trans activists and allies have highlighted the dangers faced by transgenders in the country and sought a more inclusive abortion for trans men with regards to their right. In the direction of the law, the request has been made to make laws. Privacy and physical autonomy.
Under India’s current abortion laws, pregnant women are protected regardless of their marital status and can choose to undergo a medical procedure in accordance with the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971.
Introduced in 2019, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill prevents discrimination against transgender people. The bill gives transgender persons the “right to self-perceived identity”, but they have to go through a government screening body to obtain a trans certificate themselves from a district magistrate.
Dogra says, “I am as much a human being as you are.
Dogra said that till the age of 19, his maternal uncle and grandfather sexually abused him on several occasions. He says that being born a girl, he has seen me as his property and has been doing so since childhood. “As a trans person I was not allowed to be myself, and once they found out I was a trans they tried to be more strict with me,” he says.
Years of speaking up and fighting back resulted in further abuse until his father arrived. His father tried to register an FIR and approach a lawyer, but he passed away before taking any further action.
Dogra was able to escape his past with the help of Queritham, an organization that helps transgender people find safe homes in India. He now lives openly as a trans man. Now he finds comfort in writing poems. As he goes on writing every morning, he calls it “reconnecting with himself.”
Most experts agree that the way to eliminate fear is part education and part law.
Maanvi Khurana, a counseling psychologist and founder of The Karma Center for Counseling and Wellbeing (KCCW) in New Delhi, says that safe sex education is at the core of the conversation.
“A lot of trans individuals are at the hands of cruelty such as being sexually assaulted and raped and are more likely to contract HIV and other STIs. So, information about some preventive measures can be life saving but unfortunately, it is not even publicized,” says Khurana.
“There are limited resources available to trans men when it comes to abortion which acts as an additional barrier to access.” She adds.
Sumedha Kathpalia, clinical psychologist at KCCW, has a similar view. “As a society, we are still very confused about sex and gender and using it synonymously,” Kathpalia says.
KCCW works with several other networks to “take a non-binary stance toward the socially constructive aspect of gender.”
For healthcare workers like Kathpalia, abortion is a reproductive health issue that should be accessible to all. “Our laws, even trans bills, have limited talk about abortions,” she says. And in some places there is no mention of special identities and bodies.”
She says our laws need to be reworked for a roundabout approach. “Living in a diverse country like India, you can’t ignore diversity at any point of time.”
After years of “adjusting” himself, 21-year-old Nishu Yadav, who was born as a woman in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district, decided to come to his parents.
The next day, they said, they took her to a local doctor, fearing that there was something wrong with her. He remembers the doctor saying, “nothing like that happens“(Nothing like that). “The doctors here are also very ignorant. So the question of giving abortion rights to trans men does not arise.’
Recalling her past experiences of being unfairly gendered in hospitals by aggressive doctors, Yadav says, “If a trans person is a victim of sexual assault and goes to the doctor to get an abortion, the doctor will ask ‘hundred years old‘ (hundred questions) regarding unnecessary details about the matter. They can be personal’Without any issue‘ (unnecessarily).”
He said he had fled from his “abusive” family that was attacking him and forcing him to marry a cis man. After fleeing for the fifth time, he now resides in one of the shelter homes provided by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment in New Delhi. Non-profit organizations such as United for Transgender Health (UTH) organize various sessions from mobile photography to shelter homes to educate the trans community on menstrual health.
Yadav is currently taking oral testosterone capsules as part of his hormonal therapy, just as he always wanted. “I have a mustache now. And I look great!” Yadav says.
Yadav admitted that he has not had surgery yet, but has been taking hormones for over a year and is no longer menstruating. “Even though I don’t think I can get pregnant with my hormones anymore, I would still like to have choices about my body for myself,” he says.
Trans rights activists say the fight for abortion rights and LGBTQIA+ rights are linked and both based on protecting one’s bodily autonomy and the notion of privacy.
Dr Prateek Makwana, Consultant Embryologist, Vasundhara Hospital Limited says that the confidentiality or identity of the person who has performed the abortion cannot be disclosed by the hospital to anyone unless the court says so. However, he added, “It also depends on the doctors and sometimes doctors are very judgmental.”
Referring to the MTP Act, Dr Makwana says, “The medical language they use does not cater to the LGBTQIA+ community. People with hysterectomy may not necessarily always be women, yet the law clearly spells out concerns to women.”
“They possibly resort to unsafe abortions to maintain their privacy and affordability.”
Experts point out that it all starts with acknowledging the existence of the LGBTQIA+ community and more specifically, in this case, trans men and engaging them in conversations about fundamental rights.
The United Nations says using gender-inclusive language is a powerful way to prevent gender discrimination and promote equality. Gender-inclusive language as described by the United Nations means “speaking and writing in a manner that does not discriminate against a particular gender, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes.”
In the West, countries such as Canada have more gender-neutral abortion laws, where the language is “everyone/person” rather than “women” who can have access to safe and consistent reproductive health services, including abortion. It also recognizes the barriers faced by the LGBTQIA+ community and, under its project, Action Canada, helps individuals financially terminate pregnancies in a stigma-free manner.
Striving for tailored reproductive and sexual health care, there are trans people who want to be a parent like any other cis-gender woman and have access to medical care without being subjected to the wrong gender.
One such person is Akshay (name changed on purpose), who fathered two children but now identifies as a man. In the podcast episode, “Can Men Get Pregnant?” By YP Foundation, Akshay, who is also a queer positive therapist, talks about how he has taken his kids on the journey from being their mother to being a father now.
Despite the transition, he refrains from identifying himself as a trans man. He says, “The word trans is an adjective. Why give so much importance to an adjective?”
After four and a half years of habit, now their children call them Appa (father in Tamil). “When I first got pregnant, I couldn’t believe it was happening. It made me so sad to just see the bumps and feel the kick,” he says.
He admits that the anxiety he was going through was immense as he was treated as a woman throughout the process. But when the kids came out, he said he was “very excited”. “What’s more, the feeling of parents was very precious at that time.”
In 2019, she underwent her gender positive surgery along with the warmth of her children and the acceptance of her ex-partner. Also, she added that not every transgender can prefer surgery. Some go for hormones and while others remain the same physically, they continue to identify with who they want to be, he explains.
“Each trip is unique and we should give at least that much space and respect their choices.”