I am a woman. I have always known I was a woman.
Nayana Udupi, a marketing executive at ThoughtWorks, replies with a smile when asked what womanhood means to her. Womanhood is her identity, but to proudly express it wasn't easy for her.
Decades ago, Nayana agreed to uncertainty when she decided to travel to Pune, away from her loving mother and traditional father, looking for a job. She had left home knowing well that it would be a long while before she could reunite with her family. Her education and people skills were limited, and her resources nil. To add to her troubles was her having to deal with a societal conflict in determining her gender identity.
My only objective back then was to look for a job. But I did not know how to get it... I also had to complete college.
Nayana recalls the many anxieties that raced through her mind during her stay in Pune. After realizing that the transgender community would be the best people to provide her with employment, she sought their help and was soon presented with the means to earn her daily bread. She narrates how, at that time, although she did not have all comforts of everyday life, it was good enough for her as she was no longer being subjected to her father's taunts.
'Hijra' is one of many words that she remembers her father referring to her as. Life has taught her not to hold offense for a past she has long left behind, although the thought of the possibility of acceptance from her late father remains dear to her heart. Nayana fondly remembers her mother as the person who was always there to protect her from the harshness of her father and others with confined acceptance. There wasn't a lot to lose when she decided to run away.
Working long hours in Pune, Nayana's determination to better herself professionally and academically only grew stronger, and soon, with the help of a non-profit, she was working as a hotel receptionist at night and pursuing her college degree during the day. That was when the Indian workscape was seeing a boost in IT and increasing demand for computer engineers. Nayana instinctively knew that honing her computer skills would land her the job she had always hoped to get.
It wasn't easy. I got a job, but then the employer let go of me, and I could not understand why.
Nayana remembers how being out of work was the last thing she had wanted at that moment. But her disappointment strengthened her resolve, and she was soon taking up freelancing jobs and continuing with her computer education. Nayana's inspirational journey continues to provide strength to thousands of trans people struggling to establish their gender identity. She humbly accepts that her best contribution to the queer community is to come out with her story publicly. But apart from sharing her journey, Nayana has been actively involved with several non-profits channeling physical and mental aid to hundreds of people in India. While she hasn't been a vocal activist for queer rights, she has been an anchor in supporting the community fight for equal rights through her social work. All of this has eventually led to her gaining the acceptance of her family and loved ones.
Luckily, I was accepted by (my) family. That gave me strength. My mom was always there, you know.
This was important for Nayana after enduring a tempestuous decade that resulted in securing her dream job at ThoughtWorks. Nayana acknowledges that there are times when she looks back and tries to contemplate how she overcame the several obstacles life threw at her. Part of her success, she credits God and believes the rest came from her ability to never lose focus. She has been driving on a solitary path with blinkers on for over 15 years to achieve her dream of a successful professional life.
Nayana is content with what she has achieved. Her next dream is to write her biography someday and share her story with the world as it evolves towards a more tolerant and accepting society.