After hiding his true identity for almost 15 years, Praveen Nath from Kerala’s Palakkad district decided to be honest. He no longer wanted the gender he was assigned at birth. After all, he had never felt like a girl.
With such a loving mother and brothers he was so close to, Praveen expected support and more love at his decision.
Instead he was asked to leave the house.
Going against society was not an option, but living a lie was. So he stayed home for the next five years with a false identity, and finally left his house at the age of 20.
Praveen, a transman, is one of the many people across India who meet the same fate if they do not confine themselves to their genders at birth. Fortunately for Praveen, he received the right support from Sahayathrika, an organisation that advocates for the rights of the LGBTQ community.
The organisation not only provided him accommodation but also gave him the confidence and courage to choose his own route, he says.
Now 24, Praveen is a bodybuilding champion. He recently won the title of Mr Kerala after winning a championship at the district level. He is also working as an advocacy coordinator at Sahayathrika.
But the best thing that has come out of this is the support of his mother, who eventually came around and even acompanied him to his Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) in 2019.
“I just wanted to be happy, respected and comfortable in my body. Turns out I was asking for too much. When you think of it, It is not easy to start dressing as per your chosen gender, go to your preferred section of the toilet or even correct people each time they use incorrect pronouns. It takes a lot of commitment to be the new norm while dealing with hormonal issues post sex surgery. I was ready to take myself seriously but the people around me weren’t,” Praveen tells The Better India.
‘Contemplated cutting my breasts with knives’
Every parent of a teenager has to deal with new developments like pimples and growing genitalia, and thereby, mood swings. At first, Praveen’s mother too thought it was just a phase that will soon get over.
Even after Praveen came out as a transman, she had doubts. She thought it was just another trend he had caught off the internet and blamed it on his friend circle.
Meanwhile, in school, name-calling began, and terms like ‘sex-worker’ and ‘beggar’ were casually thrown at him. Even his teachers did not spare him.
In between all the ridicule and shaming, Praven stopped looking at the mirror.
“I saw an ugly and overweight person. I would wear loose clothes so that my breasts would not show. There came a point, where it was not possible to hide them, so I contemplated cutting them myself. I don’t remember the number of nights I have cried myself to sleep and thought of ending my life,” Praveen recalls.
Ignorance about trans people was another issue he tried tackling at that age. He liked girls but he was not a lesbian. He was conferred with the wrong labels. He was just a man interested in the opposite gender.
This part of his life continued till he decided to seek medical attention for his surgery. The doctors introduced him to the word ‘transman’ and gave examples of people who are living the life he aspired to.
When he finally decided to address himself as a transman and wear his identity proudly, he was met with non-generous results. Praveen was forced to quit college after he was harassed by his classmates and teachers.
“Education is supposed to make people aware and knowledgeable. But here, we were going back several steps. So I quit and joined another university, Maharajas College. The warmth with which I was welcomed by the college was enough to restore my faith in educational institutions. Unfortunately, I had to drop out due to lack of finances,” he says.
On winning the bodybuilding championship
Praveen says people of the LGBTQ community have to fight endless battles to be able to get recognised and treated like everyone else. For him, this battle started at home and seeped into his academic life.
So when he decided to take up bodybuilding professionally, he prepared himself for rejection. There was no separate category for trans people. Finding a fitness trainer who was okay with his identity was another challenge.
Finally, Vinu Mohan, a former Mr Kerala himself, agreed to train Praveen. The trainer went out of his way to persuade associations of Mr Thrissur and Mr Kerala to introduce a third category for trans people. His efforts proved successful, and the category was finally introduced.
Although Praveen’s training began around the same time that coronavirus entered India, he did not back down, for he knew this was his chance to make a difference. He could shatter all outdated but still prevalent definitions of being a ‘man’.
So he dedicated several hours of his day to training and focussed on a healthy diet. Upon winning the title, things changed drastically for Praveen in more ways than one.
From getting a shoutout from social media influencers and celebrities to coverage in news, his brothers posting about his title on Facebook, and Public Service Commission (PSC) including a question on Kerala’s first transgender bodybuilding champion, the waves of change followed.
“People who earlier detested me for my identity are now proud of me. So many of my childhood friends and classmates messaged me on social media. I received heartwarming messages from trans people from across India, sharing their stories and calling me an inspiration. While I am glad to see the transformation, I wish it had come before the accolades. Do we really have to win something in order to get people’s attention and love?” says Praveen, who is now preparing for Mr South India championship.
Praveen is looking for sponsorships for his upcoming event. You can get in touch with him here
Image Source: Praveen Nath
Edited by Divya Sethu