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Saisha Shinde Still Struggles When She’s Referred To As ‘He’

Saisha explains how being addressed with the wrong pronoun affects her mental health.

Anannya Chatterjee

Fashion designer Saisha Shinde’s life has been full of trials and tribulations and coming out as a transwoman was definitely not cakewalk. It’s been a year and a half since Saisha Shinde transitioned into a woman from Swapnil Shinde. People around her still mix up her pronouns and address her by her former pronoun ‘he’. Every time it happens, it puts Saisha into a dilemma whether she’s still not a woman or feminine enough. Recalling her childhood turmoil and distress, during her recent Lock Upp stint, Saisha had opened up about being molested by a close family member at age of 10. She also shared how she was mentally abused by her partner in a relationship.

In a recent tête-à-tête with Zee Zest, Saisha gets real about her struggles as a transwoman, how misconstrued pronouns affect her mental health and how she plans to live up to the meaning of her new identity Saisha which means a meaningful life and intends to make hers an exceptionally meaningful one.

Excerpts from the interview:

1. It took 20 years for you to discover yourself. When did you first realise you were a woman?

I don't think there was a specific time to realise something like this. I think the time is of acceptance that you are not a woman. Earlier I always felt that I was a girl, but once the acceptance came that I am not a girl, because obviously the body is that of a boy, it hits you that you are not actually a woman physically, but your identity is always that. You don’t realise these things, you just have to accept them at a point, when you realise your body doesn’t match your soul and your inner identity. 

2. How did your body react to HRT? What issues did you face?

As far as Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) is concerned, there’s a lot of misinformation and misguidance out there - online and otherwise. There is so much fear that has been fed to the trans community such as: once you start your hormones you will have extremely heavy mood swings, you won’t understand what you are thinking, there will be a lack in energy, it’s going to affect your professional life and you might get suicidal. These were the things that I read before I started HRT but thanks to my doctors and psychiatrists, I got the confidence that these are misguided information and subjective. So, keeping those things in mind, I started my HRT and after being on it for almost two years, I realised that it’s all a myth, there’s no reality to it as far as I am concerned. There are definitely some mood swings because there’s a big change in one's hormones, where your testosterones are blocked and your oestrogen is boosted so definitely there is a change in the way your body is going to accept these things, but it didn’t really affect to the extent it's shown on YouTube, or other information websites.

3. In ‘Lock Upp’, you mentioned how psychiatrists suggested you get conversion therapy instead. How did you deal with it? 

I felt very confused in a weird sense. Is this good that I am not trans or it’s just a phase or is it bad that I don’t get to be someone that I always thought I was. So, because of the wrong guidance on the therapy that was given to me, I started questioning everything and it became extremely confusing to understand what my reality was. So more than anything else it was a major amount of chaos in my brain because for the longest time I thought I was a woman trapped in a man’s body, but after what the psychiatrists started telling me I started wondering if that was my reality at all. For me it was a battle between figuring out, whether I am a gay, whether am straight, trans, and it really takes a toll on you because until and unless you find your true self you are always questioning not just yourself but everything that’s happening around you. So for me, what the psychiatrists suggested gave an extremely confused perspective.

4. Many transgender people are lost to suicide and murder. Does the Indian law not protect them at all?

I think this is a universal issue, it’s a problem that every transgender person faces, no matter where they are in the world. From first-world countries to countries like ours, because the problem is not about transgenders, it’s about human rights, people think that they can very easily violate us, and that’s why it’s very important that the government of not just our country, but every country protects us. The laws are extremely discriminatory and are limited to cis gender people. In India, specifically I feel there’s so much to be done and I really hope we can bring some change as far as protection for transgender men and women are concerned because a lot of kids run away from their homes, and once they run away from their homes there’s no one to protect them except for a few organisations. One of the organisations that I work with is Tweet foundation and their initiation Garima Greh which is a shelter for trans kids and through them I have come to know so many stories where protection is one of the major issues because families of these kids make life a living hell even when the kids are 18 above. I definitely feel that the laws need to be worked upon because we are human beings by the end of it and we have all the right to be protected. 

5. What are the things that people should stop saying to/or asking a transgender?

Since there’s a lot of curiosity, there are a lot of uncomfortable questions, and while everyone considers it basic, it’s offensive to a trans person. A lot of these questions have to do with your genitalia and your body parts, and that is unnecessary because I am a transgender woman not because of my genitalia but that’s because of who I am inside, I am a woman, and the Government of India has passed a law where if my identity is that of a woman, I don’t need to be asked any further questions. A lot of transgender women also don’t like that they are referred with their dead name, the name that they had at birth, the male name is what is called the dead name and that is something not to be referred upon but people obviously don’t really consider these things.

6. Do you watch LGBTQ films? Do you have a favourite?

I do watch a lot of queer movies, they are important to our culture and society because they are informative and give light on our stories. However, what really affects me is the fact that characters for LGBTQAI+ roles are given to cis gender people. Although, there’s nothing wrong in that, but I feel when will the time come that these roles are given to people from the community. So, if you have an equal distribution of characters for people from the community then I feel there’s no problem in hiring cis gender people, but currently, we have absolutely zero representation of trans community. I think the most amazing was not a movie, but a documentary I watched, it’s called Disclosure and it’s extremely informative about transgender women and how the trans community is represented through history.

7. During your ‘Lock Upp’ stint, you stressed a lot on people getting your pronouns right. Did you face similar situations in real life too and how did you cope?

Getting the pronouns right is an ongoing battle for trans people. It’s become so conditioned for people to call you by the way you look or sound, that it becomes extremely difficult for others to start calling you by your pronouns. As understanding and easy going I am for certain people, if it’s extremely hurtful and painful for me when people don’t get my pronouns right because that’s one battle we have been fighting since birth. Something as simple as when people call you ‘sir’, although I know they are saying it out of respect because they are unaware of the pronouns, but even when people do know your pronouns they get it wrong. That definitely is something I face even now. I might be wearing an anarkali with jewellery and everything that’s as feminine as could be, but I still get called ‘sir’ sometimes, because of my height, my body frame or my voice. Now that’s something we as a country are too nascent to understand but it pains me when people get my pronouns wrong. I try to not let it affect me so much, but it is something we battle every day in India. I try to compensate for the pain by meeting my friends or watching an inspiring movie but whenever people mix up my pronouns I go into the “why me” phase. I am still under therapy for a few of these issues.

8. What have been some of your other struggles?

One of the battles that I have faced pretty much all my life is my weight. I am six-feet tall and I’m broad. There’s a preconceived idea about how women look and how they are. They are expected to look delicate and fragile, and I am anything but that. This has been my biggest battle, trying to sort of fit into the mold the world has created. As far as losing weight is concerned, I have been anorexic for the longest time, but I have fought it all and reached a stage where I am slowly and steadily getting comfortable with the idea that I might forever be a tall broad woman and that’s something I have to make peace with.

9. Transgender people are still fighting for acceptance in the society. What do you think could help to encourage acceptance and understanding of the community?

It will become a lot better for the trans community when there’s a lot of representation. You have to understand, India is Bollywood-centric and everyone adores our stars, so I feel the moment you see our stars with a lot of transgender people, on screen or offscreen, there will be some normalcy. Secondly, representation not just in Bollywood but politics, in the corporate structure, doctors, lawyers. I feel the more visual representation there is that we are educated, we can achieve our dreams, and we can be successful, there will be acceptance.

10. What are some of the deep-rooted misperceptions about transgender people in our society? Please share instances from your personal journey.

There are so many misconceptions such as transgenders are eunuch, they are from the hijra community, they are going to take your children away. I have had a lot of these experiences that are extremely disturbing. Because as much as I respect the eunuch community, people need to understand the difference between me and them simply because they are part of the cult, and they have chosen that path, but every time I am in an elevator or sometimes elsewhere, people think I am a eunuch and ask for blessings from me and want to shower wishes for their children, that is one of the misconceptions that I belong to that community which I don’t. That’s a separate entity under the LGBTQAI+ umbrella, and that’s not who I am.

11. You had mentioned that coming out to friends and family was relatively easier for you. What would be your advice to people who are still struggling there?

For me, as much as I say that it was easy for me, it wasn’t. I have always been fearless, I have always been rebellious, positive so when I decided to come out to my family and friends, it wasn’t hunky-dory. It has been a process of acceptance, love and respect for them. It has been a process for all sides. For them, Swapnil is dead, and that is something heavy that they need to accept, and it takes time. For me, it was also about understanding where they come from, but for a lot of trans and gay people, it becomes extremely difficult and that’s when they choose to seclude themselves or run away from their homes and some even take their own lives. My career has been my biggest saviour. It has protected me, given me security, social standing, which is why I would say it’s been easy to me. My only advice to people struggling to come out is take your time, no one needs to force you to come out. Do it when you know the time is right.

12. As promised, you donated your ‘Lock Upp’ earnings to a LGBTQ+ organisation. Tell us more about it. Do you plan to do more for the trans community? 

There are a few organisations that I have worked with and want to work with. One is Tweet Foundation and one of their initiations called Garima Greh foundation, which is a shelter for trans kids that have either been shunned from their homes or have run away from home. These kids live under one roof and it’s a government-affiliated organisation. I am also on the advisory board of the foundation, but there’s so much more I want to do. Saisha has been alive for a year-and-a-half, so there’s so much I want to do to represent my community. I want you to see me anywhere and everywhere. 

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Photo: Instagram/Saisha Shinde
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