I did not like it one bit that I would have to stand on the podium with women after winning a competition.

Aryan Pasha, who has become an inspiration for hundreds of trans-athletes in India, said while talking about his school day competitions. A passionate sportsperson, Aryan was 5 or 6 years of age when he stubbornly refused to wear women’s clothing and go to school. His headstrong attitude soon prompted his parents to transfer him to another school, where he could wear a boy’s uniform. One can perceive a childish innocence in his smile as he takes a trip down memory lane to recall how stubborn he had been in asserting his identity since childhood.

Aryan had loved skating from his early childhood days and had built this dream of succeeding as a sportsperson in the field of speed-skating. But he wanted men to be his competition. Aryan identifies two primary reasons for this: Firstly, he was uncomfortable with taunts he received from the crowd while competing in the female category. Secondly, he had instinctually established his gender identity as a man.

When I first started skating, my coach hid from me that he knew I was a woman.

Aryan fondly recalls how his coach lied to him about accidentally putting his name in the female category for an event. Aryan’s life by then had started revolving around skating. Aryan recounts how he would wake up at 4 am every day from class six through twelve to train. His passionate stubbornness welded him to the skating rink, and in his school days, be it the assembly, the zero period, or any other free period, Aryan would be in the skating arena, practicing. The 28-year-old remembers those days when he would complete his tutorial lessons and head off directly to the skating rink.

Initially upset about participating in the women’s category, a 12-year-old Aryan burst out into tears, refusing to participate. It was then that his coach requested him to take part in this event and promised to place him in the men’s category next time around. As an easily gullible child, the thought put a smile back on little Aryan’s face, and he participated in his first-ever speed-skating competition. However, his coach would soon fail on his promise, and Aryan would be representing his school in a national speed-skating competition in the women’s category. Aryan recalls how difficult it was and appreciates his coach’s efforts in protecting him from taunts and barbs from peers who called his participation unfair. After finishing school, Aryan would decide to push himself towards building a muscular body, and at the age of 19, have a sex reassignment surgery.

When I came out as a transman and participated in the bodybuilding competition, I could help so many people.

After four years of training, Aryan had built the confidence he needed to pose on stage at a bodybuilding competition. Aryan had applied for a U.S. visa when he heard about Trans FitCon, a transman bodybuilding competition in Atlanta. His visa was, however, denied. But, for the iron-willed athlete, the disappointment turned into determination, and he started writing to bodybuilding organizations in India, asking if he could participate in their competitions. He soon found himself as one of 125 participants at Musclemania, where he bagged the second prize.

Aryan says that he was not competing to win, but only to test himself at a stage hitherto occupied by only men. The win came as a bonus. Aryan had clarified to the organizers that he was a transman, and his victory made him a media sensation. He successfully put across the message he always wanted to: being a successful athlete was not limited to gender binaries.

Beneath the body of steel he built with years of dedication and hard work, Aryan is a soft-hearted person, extremely close to family, particularly his mother and younger brother.

My mother was the first who understood my gender. In fact, she encouraged me towards the surgery.

Aryan said while speaking about the unparalleled support his family members gave him to achieve the success he has today. Aryan recalls how he was even unaware of the term transman, but when he learned about it at the age of 16, his life was filled with a new ray of hope. Aryan remains very close to his younger brother, who has also taken inspiration from his fitness routine. Aryan’s brother has been a constant support and accompanied him to almost every significant event of Aryan’s life. Family remains a central pillar of Aryan’s life.

When Aryan is not training in the gym, something he has not been able to do since the COVID-19 pandemic struck, he keeps himself busy in social work, and his activism is not limited to LGBTQIA+ rights. A lawyer by profession, Aryan has been continually providing relief materials to those in need during the pandemic. As a practitioner of law, Aryan points out that a lack of representation continues to be a deterrent towards trans people.

Describing the procedure of surgery for a transman, Aryan talked about how the Transgender Act misses important facets of identification and imposes a financial burden on them. He hopes to use his skills and popularity to raise awareness and bring about a much-needed change in society’s perception of gender-queer people.

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