Paras Dogra, a transgender who faced sexual abuse for years at the hand of his relatives, fears that if he is attacked or raped again, he might be forced to carry a baby to term.
Dogra, who lives in Kerala, says trans men are equally vulnerable in cases of violence and rape and at risk of being forced to carry to term pregnancies. “Yet, we are made to feel as if we do not deserve medical care,” says Dogra, 23.
After the recent reversal of the Roe vs. Wade ruling in the US, Indian trans activists and allies have highlighted the dangers transgenders faces in the country and have been urging for legislation toward a more inclusive abortion law to include trans men with respect to their right to privacy and bodily autonomy.
Under India’s current abortion laws, pregnant women regardless of their marital status are protected and can choose to undergo the medical procedure per the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971.
Introduced in 2019, The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill does prohibit discrimination against transgender people. The bill gives transgender persons a “right to self-perceived identity” but requires them to go through a government screening body to get themselves a trans certificate from a District Magistrate.
“I am just as much a human as you are,” says Dogra.
Dogra said he was sexually abused on multiple occasions by his maternal uncle and his grandfather until he was 19 years old. He says that being born a girl, “they have seen me like their property and since childhood, they have been doing this.” “As a trans person I was not allowed to be myself, and once they got to know that I was a trans they tried to be more strict with me,” he says.
Years of speaking out and fighting back resulted in further abuse until his father finally stepped in. His father tried to file an FIR and get in touch with a lawyer but he passed away before taking any further steps.
Dogra was able to escape his past with the help of Queerythm, an organization focused on helping transgender people in India find safe homes. He now lives openly as a trans man. He now finds comfort in writing poems. As he gets onto the writing every morning, he calls it, “reconnecting with myself.”
Most experts agree that the solution to eliminating the fear is part education and part legislation.
Manavi Khurana, a counseling psychologist and the founder of The Karma Center for Counseling and Wellbeing (KCCW) in New Delhi, says safe sex education lies at the core of the conversation.
“A lot of trans persons are at the hands of brutality such as getting sexually assaulted and raped and have higher chances of contracting HIV and other STIs. Hence, information regarding certain preventative measures can be life-saving but unfortunately, it is not even publicized,” says Khurana.
“There are limited resources available for trans men when it comes to abortion which acts as an additional barrier to access.” she adds.
Sumedha Kathpalia, a clinical psychologist at KCCW, echoes similar views. “As a society, we are still very confused about sex and gender and are using it synonymously,” says Kathpalia.
KCCW works with several other networks to facilitate and “move towards a socially constructive aspect of gender on a non-binary stance.”
For healthcare workers like Kathpalia, abortion is a reproductive health issue that everyone should have access to. She says, “In our laws, even in the Trans Bill, there is limited talk about abortion. And there is no mention of particular identities and bodies in certain spaces.”
She says our laws need to be reinvented towards an intersection approach. “Living in a diverse country like India, you cannot ignore diversity at any point.”
After years of living by “adjusting” himself, Nishu Yadav, 21, who was born a woman in Uttar Pradesh’s Hathras district, decided to come out to his parents.
The next day, he said, they took him to a local doctor fearing that something was medically wrong with him. He recalls the doctor saying, “aisa kuch nahi hota” (there’s nothing like that). “The doctors here are also very unaware. So in such a situation, the question of giving abortion rights to trans men does not even arise,” says Yadav.
Recollecting his past experiences of being misgendered in hospitals by invasive doctors, Yadav says, “If a trans person is a victim of sexual assault and goes to the doctor to get an abortion, the doctor will ask ‘sau sawaal‘ (hundred questions) about unnecessary details regarding the case. They might get personalfaltu mein‘ (unnecessarily).”
He said he ran away from his “abusive” family that was assaulting him and forcing him to marry a cis man. After escaping for the fifth time, he now lives in one of the shelter homes in New Delhi, provided by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. Not-for-profit organizations such as United For Transgender Health (UTH) conduct various sessions at the shelter home from mobile photography to educating the trans community on menstrual health.
Yadav is currently taking oral testosterone capsules as part of his hormonal therapy to live as he has always wanted to. “I have a mustache now. And I look great!” says Yadav.
Yadav admits that he hasn’t undergone surgery yet, but has been taking hormones for over a year and no longer menstruates. “Even though I don’t think I can get pregnant now with my hormones, I’d still like to have the choice about my body to myself,” he says.
Trans rights activists say the fight for abortion rights and LGBTQIA+ rights are connected and both lie in the fundamentals of protecting one’s bodily autonomy and on the notion of privacy.
Dr Prateek Makwana, a Consultant Embryologist at Vasundhara Hospital Ltd, says the privacy or the identity of the person undergoing an abortion cannot be revealed by the hospital to anyone unless the court says so. However, he said, “It also depends on the doctors and a lot of the time, the doctors are very judgmental.”
Referring to the MTP Act, Dr Makwana says, “The medical language that they use doesn’t cater to the LGBTQIA + community. People with uteruses are not necessarily every time women, yet the law clearly states women as the point of concern.”
“To maintain their privacy and affordability they most probably resort to unsafe abortions.”
Experts point out that it all starts with acknowledging the existence of the LGBTQIA+ community and more specifically, in this case, trans men and including them in conversations around fundamental rights.
The United Nations says using gender-inclusive language is a powerful way to prevent gender bias and promote equality. Gender-inclusive language as described by the UN “means speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes.”
In the West, countries such as Canada have more gender-neutral abortion laws, where the language is “everyone/individual” instead of “women” who can have access to safe and consistent reproductive health services, including abortion. It also recognizes the barriers faced by the LGBTQIA+ community and under its project, Action Canada, financially helps individuals to term pregnancies in a stigma-free manner.
Striving for tailored reproductive and sexual health care, there are trans folks who want to be a parent like any other cis-gendered woman and get access to medical care without being subjected to misgendering.
One such person is Akshay (name changed on purpose), who gave birth to two children but now identifies as a man. In a podcast episode titled, “Can men get pregnant?” by The YP Foundation, Akshay, who is also a queer affirmative therapist, talked about how he took his children on his journey from being their mother to a father now.
Despite the transition, he refrains from identifying himself as a trans man. He says, “The word trans is an adjective. Why pay so much importance to an adjective?”
After four and a half years of adapting, his children now call him appa (father in Tamil). “When I first got pregnant, I just couldn’t believe that this was happening. It just gave me so much unhappiness to see the bumps and feel the kicks,” he says.
He admits the state of worry he was going through was much higher as he was perceived as a woman throughout the process. But when the babies came out, he says he “was so euphoric”. “More so, the parental feeling at the time was too precious.”
In 2019, he got his gender affirmative surgery along with the warmth of his children and his ex-partner’s acceptance. At the same time, he said every transgender might not prefer surgery. Some would go for hormones and while others remain as they are physically, but continue to identify as whoever they want to be, he points out.
“Each journey is unique and we should at least give this much space and respect their choice.”