The uncommon name Vihaan means "A new life," a life which started after 30 years of gender dysphoria and struggling to come to terms with his self-identity. A new life which he wants to share with people and tell them it can get better. Not only better, but as he says, "he is happier than he has ever been." Vihaan is now happily married, working in a senior role at a global investment bank, and has the love and support of his biological family as well as his chosen family. Most importantly, he has discovered a medium through which he can give back to the community that has given him so much.
I socialized. I was active in sports (in school). Now when I think of it, I always made up for not liking myself by getting validation from others.
But the thirty years before that is strife with stories and mishaps which are not uncommon to other trans people. Vihaan felt uncomfortable with the gender he was assigned from a very young age. As time and patriarchal social expectations to behave as a woman increased, so did his gender dysphoria and depression. "I knew I liked girls but hated it when I was called a lesbian. Because that was not the term for me. I did not know what the term was." The complete lack of conversations about the LGBTQ community kept him in the dark and prevented him from reaching out to his family. After attempting to end his life, when his mother approached Vihaan, he finally told her, "Amma, I am not a girl." Like many others from the queer community, he also tried everything possible to accept the gender he was assigned at birth. He then proceeded to work his way through three potential solutions; the first was to "try the arranged marriage route." The second, try and fit into the social conventions of being a girl, hoping that he would get used to them. Both of these proved disastrous. The third option was to achieve financial success. From studying in Stockholm to working in Dubai, he proceeded to secure everything he needed materially. However, his gender dysphoria continued to make him extremely unhappy, lonely, and depressed, ultimately leading to alcoholism. With his mother's support, Vihaan finally decided to change his life by accepting who he is and becoming what he always felt from within.
My social transition, changing my gender markers, was a 6-month battle with the Kerala government!
Vihaan has reached a point in his life where looking back at his journey, he can laugh at some of the absurd experiences he has had. But living them out, in reality, has been a different matter altogether. Vihaan assumed that his home state Kerala was a progressive one since it had been one of the first to pass a State Policy for Transgenders in 2015. However, he got a rude reality check when he realized the ground realities were much worse than he had imagined. Government authorities were uncooperative, shockingly unaware, and utterly ignorant of the policy and its required procedures. Even the most senior well-known doctors in Kerala proved unprofessional, uninformed, unhelpful, and did not care about the privacy and dignity of the person. His efforts inspired many from the trans community to come forward to seek help and guidance from Vihaan, which only strengthened his resolve to complete the necessary procedures. Although these processes were illegal and humiliating, he knew he could eventually file an official complaint and make sure the process was changed for others.
Vihaan also had a new purpose in life now. In his four years of entering the advocacy space through Queerala, a community-based organization for Malayali queer people, he has already amassed an impressive record. Vihaan serves on multiple boards - Queerala, Malayali Transmen Association Kerala, Dhwayah Transgenders Arts and Charitable Society and is also a member of the recently constituted National Council for Transgender Persons. He is an International Visitor Leadership Program Fellow and has won the Cause Champion: LGBTQ Rights Award from Youth Ki Awaaz. He has been a speaker at multiple conferences, seminars, and workshops over the years, aiming to raise awareness and empower and educate the LGBTQ+ community and government officials. Vihaan has written in several publications about his journey to help visibilize his community and the issues they face. He would consider his efforts to be a success if parents, after seeing his interviews, initiate a conversation with their children who feel they are different. If children want to reveal their gender identity, they should know that safe and accessible spaces to come out and engage exist.
Vihaan was quite appreciative of the change he has seen in corporate India towards diversity and inclusion. In this context, he considers his current employer, Goldman Sachs, to be a 'trailblazer' and cites it as a key reason behind his decision to join the company. He called the company quite advanced since they provide a range of comprehensive benefits for LGBT+ employees such as gender-neutral campus washrooms, same-sex partner benefits, and insurance coverage for gender affirmation surgery. He believes his integration into its diversity and inclusion team was worthwhile because he could amalgamate information and concerns of the LGBT+ advocacy network and his own lived experiences to facilitate corporate interventions that served the community's interests. However, he also recognizes that a lot more work must be done when it comes to gender sensitization in corporations. Vihaan outlined a few immediate steps, such as introducing compulsory gender sensitization for all employees, setting up gender-neutral washrooms, and deploying a zero-tolerance policy for homophobia or transphobia.
The new life of Vihaan also involved him finding a partner in Rajashree, a fellow board member of Queerala. They were married in 2019 and fulfilled his lifelong dream of having a wedding ceremony. Filled with appreciation and love for her, Vihaan asked himself, "Where was she all my life?" After 30 years of struggling, Vihaan is now happy, blessed, and loved. He has been lucky enough to have had a family that has always supported and grown with him. To sum it all up, he says, "Something that has enriched my life has been the friends from the LGBT community. The kind of relationships I have forged within it are out of this world. And that has made up for the last 30 years when I didn't have any friends".