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Meera Singhania Rehani, who acted as the trans woman model in the now famous Bhima Jewellery ad speaks about her journey to transitioning, and how her privilege helped her.
Hi. My name is Meera Singhania Rehani as you know. My journey as a trans woman started when I was 18 years old. I’m from Calcutta, living in a joint family from childhood, till I was 18. After that I went to Bangalore for studies, where I pursued BBA in Christ college.
I had problems in my house, lack of privacy, lack of space, joint family, 9 people. It was difficult to adjust, to accommodate, especially for a trans person who doesn’t even know she’s trans, facing a lot of abuse from brown parents; typical brown parent abuse.
They’re really nice people, I’m not saying that…but you know how parents here are.
In school I faced a lot of bullying, name calling, abuse, a lot of crap… a lot of transphobia. Even at the place I went for tuition, I was a very studious kid. I think I was a robot in some way, I didn’t have a romantic interest. I was very confused about my sexuality.
Bangalore helped me gain confidence about my sexuality. Met my first boy friend there. I had a lot of sexual relations there. I got very comfortable with my sexuality, my sexual identity. But I was still struggling with my gender, with my femininity; I was still suppressing that. It started with colouring my hair.
Then I figured out Bangalore isn’t for me, BBA isn’t for me. I faced a lot of bullying, same pattern, it was recurring there as well. I dropped out of the college and I decided this place isn’t for me.
5 months after that I got into Ambedkar University, BA Hons. (Sociology). I had a course called Gender Studies. I was a Sociology student, so academically, I was required to critique things, to question things, to be curious. I was always curious. There I also met my friends, my support system, my safe space, who let me be gay, who let me be comfortable with my femininity, who let me be my eccentric beautiful self. I realised that these are my real friends. I realised what friendship is. I got my support system.
I gained confidence in my femininity. That was the time for me, eyeliners, tattoos, piercing! I was all out, wearing kurtis, skirts. I was like, ok I’m non-binary maybe. Then someone told me that I was socially dysphoric. I don’t like when someone uses He/Him pronoun. I was uncomfortable with it… Inside I felt like someone is not calling me by what they should be. A big realization came in that I was a woman.
My social dysphoria was my first trigger. I had so many triggers after that. Two years ago, I discovered Meera and I was dysphoric about my hair. For 20 years of my life I had been living with one identity. A big realization came in that I was a woman. All this time I was just like – I wasn’t a man… but this realization made me think about how dysphoric I was.
So I socially transitioned, I got a lot of outfits, I became a queen! I got my face lasered so my beard went away. I got medically transitioned as well. I got a dysphoria certificate. I legally transitioned. I did the entire process through the Gazette as I have to change my gender legally. I went on to HRT (Hormone Replacement Therapy).
My studies were going on well and so were my relationships, interests, etc. I was very political on my campus. I thought I’ll go for vaginaplasty and gender replacement surgery, but couldn’t because of COVID. But I somehow got gender replacement surgery in 2020! I flew to Delhi with my mother from Calcutta.
I thought getting the surgery done was it. But, post surgery was an absolutely painful time! It was the most difficult and painful thing I have ever done. The physical trauma, the mental trauma…. The physical pain was horrible. With the catheter in you can’t pee, you can’t poop. I spent all the time lying down and sulking. Dilation is another b**ch. They construct a hole, so in order to maintain the cavity, you’ve got to dilate. There was something called a dilator with which I had to maintain the hole. That’s very painful. It took a lot of time to heal.
I was in Delhi during this time of surgery; that was when I got my Bhima Jewellery ad offer.
I auditioned for it, it was soo great. In a week after I got the call, I flew to Goa, where I did my modelling shoot for Bhima Jewellers. I couldn’t believe myself; it was the happiest moment in my life. I had the best 2-3 days there!
I swam there after a lot of years because I had earlier had a lot of body image issues. I still do, but Goa kind of freed me up. It was a great experience working with Director Bharat Sikka. It was like my dream come true. I was treated like a queen there. They were really really nice people. Finally, end of the month in Kochi, the shoot happened. I acted for the second time. Before that I have acted for montage art for Bumble in Mumbai.
In the Bhima ad I had to act as a pre woman, pre-transition person. That was difficult; like going through that again. Beard and everything. Very heavy acting! Those two days, I worked tirelessly… I acted properly. It was a beautiful experience and I learnt a lot.
There were a lot of people who supported me consistently, during my journey. I feel, I’ve been very lucky that way. My socio-economic-cultural background has definitely got to play a role in the privilege I’ve had, as a brown Savarna trans person.
But I’d say, it’s my sister, Aanya. She was about to turn 11, and then she got to know about it. It was the easiest with her. She’s been more emotionally mature than most adults. She gave me the name Meera, and she’s the first person I’ve ever felt like being a mother to. My motherhood towards Aanya has got a lot to do with my identity as Meera, and as a woman.
I think in being an ally, its always important to acknowledge the fact that you can only be an ally to a community that is systematically oppressed. That’s why you are an ally, because you sincerely believe that as someone who comes from a privileged background in terms of gender, or sexuality, or any other marginalisation, there are certain things you are bound to not understand or know. You can’t know the marginalization of a trans person, unless you live my life. That’s the gravity of lived experiences.
So, just recognise that, and listen. Living in a cis normative, heterosexual structure, you are bound to be homophobic, or transphobic. Know that, so that it’s easier for you to unlearn your biases and conditioning, and educate yourself. You got to be consistently committed to being an ally. Being an ally is also a commitment.
Images source Meera Singhania Rehani
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