Growing up, I knew I did not belong. Not in the space I was in, nor in my own body. To not belong to a society or culture is debilitating, but to feel like you do not belong in your own body is a different story altogether. It has repercussions far beyond the physical. I am a trans masc genderfluid person and this is only a part of my story.

Growing up, I always noticed certain things I did not like about myself, especially my hair. But I never imagined that the story was far more than a slight discomfort with my hair length. It was later that I realised what I was experiencing was body dysphoria.

All of this had a huge effect on my mental health, and even today it adds to my depression and anxiety. I come from an abusive family, and to live in such an environment creates trauma that has long-standing effects.

I felt like I was unable to breathe, to sleep, to feel. A numbness had come over me. The worst part was the loneliness. I felt like I had no one. There is stigma around mental health for everyone, but when it comes to being part of the LGBTQIAP++ community and having mental health issues, the lack of support from cishet people is astounding.

Our culture is so cis-heteronormative that even when a space feels accomodative and accepting, you still feel like you do not belong.

This is not just my story, but the story of a lot of queer people out there, especially in India. As a trans person, you are constantly questioned and misgendered. You are asked uncomfortable questions about your body, whether or not you know your own body. You are constantly invalidated and even face threats to your life at times.

It has been a long journey of constant self questioning and dysphoria and sometimes, on good days, euphoria. I think I have reached a point where I understand myself a little more as a trans person. I found my people, those who validate my identity and understand that struggles of the community are not just individual but systemic and political.

Yet, the cis- heteronormative structure is so ingrained that you can never really escape it. Even in a feminist college such as mine, I was constantly misgendered. It creates an extremely toxic environment, when a space is safe and inviting one moment, and transphobic the next.

I expect more from cis “allies” than “love is love”, especially when the The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, exists. Being trans and being a part of the queer community has rippling effects on one’s entire life. More so on mental health and well-being.

But what can be done to make the world a better and safer place for the next generation of trans people? I have thought about this question a lot lately. My experiences have taught me a lot, but the one thing that has leaped out at every moment is the lack of institutional support.

Institutional support must be built through education programmes that start as early as elementary school. Parents and children need to be taught about what it means to be trans, to be queer. By providing support through school counsellors, empathetic teachers and management, a safe space can be created for children to explore themselves.

Gender is not static. It is a fluid concept but this idea itself is not introduced to us. We need to be given the space to explore, express and then define. The legal aspects of inclusion must also be addressed. Talk about the draconian Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, the need for horizontal reservation for trans people, gender neutral washrooms and what not. But for that to happen, there needs to be acceptance.

If homes cannot give acceptance, educational institutions should provide it. Mental health support through properly trained counsellors and psychiatrists must be provided if to try and make spaces safer and better for trans and other queer individuals.

Even within the queer community, diversity and intersectionality in conversations and representation needs to occur. The queer narrative is dominated by savarna cis people. This needs to change. Only with more community care and working on socio-political and systematic changes can safer space be created.

I am a trans person. This is only a part of my story.

Rio (he/him) is a student at one of the leading colleges at University of Delhi. He is associated with The Raahat Project that focuses on LGBTQIAP++ mental health issues.