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The activist versus the person: Akkai Padmashali on love

In this excerpt from her memoir ‘A Small Step in a Long Journey’, trans rights activist Akkai Padmashali looks critically at her own views on love

Outside of my family, many people challenged our relationship. Within the hijra culture, I was beaten up because I had a relationship with Mithun. My gurus said said that Mithun was not a man, and I was not a woman, so we could not be in a relationship, recalls Akkai Padmashali (Screenshot from a Josh Talks video on YouTube)

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Mithun and I were in a live-in relationship. Mithun was a trans man. We worked together at Sangama.

From the beginning, our relationship was difficult. Mithun had another partner. His partner knew about our relationship. Mithun had told her very openly that that he was having an affair with me, that he loved me and liked me and wanted to live with me. His first partner did not agree to this. They had a big fight and she even came and hit me in the Sangama office, in front of all the staff.

I understand the emotions. If you have a perspective on partnership that includes being faithful to one another alone, things are not easy.

Mithun and I lived well together. We shared everything equally—socially, financially, emotionally. We were together for almost three years. We were happy together, and we were good friends. On top of that, Mithun was gorgeous. He was, as they say, khubsoorat maashooq. And he knew it.

At first, I told only Sowmya, my sister in the hijra community, and my younger brother Pradeep about my relationship with Mithun. Eventually, my family accepted Mithun wholeheartedly. They never saw him as my partner. They thought of him as a son in the house. They had that much love and affection for him.

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It was a sign of the atmosphere in my family. My family has a certain openness. It was not easy to bring a transgender man into the family as the partner of a son who is a daughter. Few other families would have accepted him so easily.

Outside of my family, many people challenged our relationship. Within the hijra culture, I was beaten up because I had a relationship with Mithun. My gurus said said that Mithun was not a man, and I was not a woman, so we could not be in a relationship. I did not care. What is a man, after all? A person with a penis is a man, and a person with a vagina is a woman. I wanted to break that simplistic understanding. Why are relationships between men and women normal, but relationships between trans men and trans women against nature?

Before I travelled to the United States, I was the one who got Mithun a job. He had good experience working at Sangama. But after some disagreements there, he wanted to quit. I got him a job at Hasiru Dala, a wastepickers’ collective, as a finance officer. I was the one to pay for almost all of his sex change surgery, though Mithun put in some money too. And when he got his operation done, I made sure he got time off from work.

A Small Step in A Long Journey, A Memoir by Akkai Padmashali; published by Zubaan Book, 244 pages, Rs. 495. 
A Small Step in A Long Journey, A Memoir by Akkai Padmashali; published by Zubaan Book, 244 pages, Rs. 495. 

Mithun was originally from Kerala. I was the one who taught him Kannada. And whatever English I learned, I taught him that too. I told him how important it was for us to learn to speak English. I encouraged him to settle in his life. I convinced his family in Bangalore to accept him, and made it possible for him to go back home. I made sure he achieved a stable livelihood, as I’ve done for many people. As a person and as an activist, it was my responsibility to do so.

After all this, during the forty days I was in the United States, Mithun was raised in love. He was in love with a cisgender woman who worked with him at the Hasiru Dala office. When I returned to Bangalore, I suggested that we break up for six months. But Mithun said he was no longer satisfied by sex with me. ‘You don’t have a vagina,’ he said. ‘You have not had breast implants.

I was on hormone therapy, and whatever breasts I had acquired from hormone therapy, were enough. I didn’t have a man’s expectations of breasts. Mithun, on the other hand, wanted big boobs. I did not have big boobs. Nor did I dress the way he wanted, in jeans, T-shirts, and skirts. I wore full-sleeved blouses and saris.

I challenged him. We had been happy together. Just because he had an affair with another woman now, how could he undermine my identity? At home, Mithun had to show that he was a man. He wanted a kind of power. Transgender men also practise patriarchy.

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The two of us were on the same ship. He was a transgender man, and I was a transgender woman. I told him we needed to respect that. Politically, saying that I believe in multiple relationships is a good statement to make. But personally, I felt it as a loss. I was selfish when it came to my partner. I did not want him to be with anyone but me. This stupid selfishness filled my mind.

As an activist, I believe in respecting people’s diversity, their fluidity of sexuality, their multiple sexual identities, and I believe in openness about these things. But as a person, I was a believer in a faithful relationship with one person. This is still my belief today. Whoever I sleep with, that person should be my own. I’m selfish when it comes to partners. I’m a jealous woman. I feel that my husband should be with me alone, that he should not see anyone else. He should stay with me, and only love me.

I don’t know what word to use to describe this belief. It’s not exactly patriarchy. Maybe it’s just loving too much.

Mithun’s new relationship felt like I was losing the person I loved. In multiple relationships, not everyone is like me. There are people with white skin, with big breasts. There are black-skinned people, with small breasts. There are cisgender women with vaginas. There are transgender women. It was not just about sex. I was liberal politically, but it was destroying me inside.

When it came down to it, Mithun told me he didn’t want me. ‘You’re not beautiful,’ he said. ‘I want that girl. I’m going to marry her.’ Then he took a plastic hairbrush and hit me on the head. Here I was, an activist, getting beaten by my partner. I wondered how this situation could have even come about.

 

From Akkai Padmashali's memoir A Small Step in a Long Journey, published by Zubaan Books. Excerpt reproduced with the permission of the publisher.

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    12.07.2022 | 03:00 PM IST

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