Priya Babu's journey from the quaint landscapes of Tamil Nadu to the bustling streets of Mumbai and back again encapsulates a life rich in experiences, challenges, and triumphs. Born into a traditional family, her early years were marked by routine. However, the idyllic childhood took an unexpected turn when Priya's gender identity became apparent. In this conversation with us, Priya shares her life’s journey and the lessons she learned along the way. She also unpacks the many initiatives she took to not only empower the transgender community but also raise awareness.

I was harassed in school and beaten up at home because of my identity.

In the conservative atmosphere of the 90s, awareness about transgender individuals was limited, leading to misconceptions and fear within Priya's family. As she navigated adolescence, her family's attitudes shifted, culminating in mistreatment and misunderstanding. The lack of understanding and empathy in her school compounded her struggles, with bullying and abuse becoming daily occurrences.

Faced with adversity, Priya found solace in her love for reading, a passion cultivated during her solitary hours at home. This habit became a lifeline, leading her to discover Su. Samuthiram’s groundbreaking novel - Vaadamalli. The narrative of a transgender individual's journey resonated with Priya, sparking a realization that her life could transcend societal expectations. Motivated by this newfound perspective, she left behind a life of begging and sex work in Mumbai, venturing into activism.

Her involvement with various organizations broadened her understanding of societal issues, particularly those affecting marginalized communities. Eventually, she returned to Tamil Nadu in 2001, armed with a wealth of experiences.

The world treats us differently because they don’t know our reality. I want to change that.

Her impact on the ground was substantial, evidenced by her petition in 2004 that granted transgender individuals the right to vote in their identified gender. This triumph spurred Priya to establish India's first transgender theatre group, showcasing over 100 plays addressing societal issues. Her evolution continued, and she transitioned into a writer, delving into historical and religious research on transgender communities.

The crux of Priya's advocacy lies in empowering her community. The Trans Kitchen in Madurai not only provides economic stability to transgender individuals engaged in catering but also serves as a platform for community networking. Similarly, the Transgender Resource Centre, with its inclusive approach, disseminates information, creates awareness, and supports students' research initiatives.

We may have come a long way, but there are still persistent gaps in society for transgenders.

Priya's relentless advocacy over two decades stems from a vision for a more inclusive future. As happy as Priya is with the changes her initiatives have brought, she believes there is still a long way to go because gaps persist in areas like reservation, education, marriage rights, and child adoption.

Undeterred, Priya emphasizes the importance of unity within the LGBTQIA+ community, the fight for reservation, and destigmatization via early exposure to the LGBTQIA+ community through education. These three reforms, Priya believes, will help bring the queer community reach parity with others.

My mother told everyone that when no one came to her support, her son did, as a daughter.

One poignant aspect of Priya's life is the transformation in her relationship with her mother. Overcoming societal norms and family expectations, her mother chose to stand by her side, defying relatives and public judgment. In her final days, Priya's mother declared her acceptance and support for her transgender daughter, leaving a lasting impact on their village.

Priya’s mother not only accepted and understood her daughter, but she also became an advocate for the community. She would go for interviews and meetings to tell others about the transgender community. She even encouraged other parents of transgender individuals to accept their kids and succeeded.

My creative efforts are my advocacy to dismantle the mainstream portrayal and create awareness about transgenders.

Priya's creative endeavors further amplify her advocacy. Her short film, "Arikandi," showcases the historical role of transgender warriors, challenging mainstream media's stereotypical portrayals. She endeavors to reshape perceptions through her creative outlets, demonstrating that the LGBTQ community encompasses individuals with diverse skills, responsibilities, and contributions to society.

As Priya reflects on her life's journey, she envisions a future where unity, reservation, and education pave the way for an inclusive society. Her dedication and initiatives offer a blueprint for the next generation of activists, grounding her story in resilience, compassion, and the pursuit of a more equitable society.

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