Male-to-female (MTF) Transgender persons, locally known as "Aravaani" in Tamil Nadu, South India face innumerable difficulties in their day to day existence such as barriers to accessing health care, social stigma and gender discrimination. Despite the government of Tamil Nadu being the first in India to initiate schemes to improve the social acceptance of transgender persons—issuing ration cards, providing houses and free lands for their use, they are still highly vulnerable to several mental health problems, such as depression, anxiety, risk of suicide and HIV/AIDS infection and substance abuse.
Method - The study combined the two arms of research—qualitative and quantitative techniques of data collection and analysis. The study consisted of transgender (n=33), and that had been selected for the study by using Purposive sampling technique because it was a challenge to collect data from the population, given their obscurity. A standardized Tamil version of the Wellbeing Questionnaire -12 (Gold Berg 1972) was used. Content Validity was established. The test-retest reliability of .07, shows a good correlation between the test scores. On the other hand, an in-depth Interview guide was prepared, and carried out in order to understand the practical difficulties faced by transgender community. Descriptive Statistics and Qualitative coding analysis were used to analyze the data.
Findings - As for the results of the quantitative data, 75.76% of the samples fell under Average Wellbeing Category, 24.24% of samples fell under Better Wellbeing Category and 0% fell under Poor Wellbeing Category. From the In-Depth Interviews it is inferred that the socio-economic status of Transgender is very poor, they feel inferior to others and are constantly humiliated and ill-treated by the society at large. However, support within the community is strong.
Excerpts from Interview with Transgender persons
"We have been born like this; People don't understand why we are like this! We force ourselves to live with no other go"
(A Transgender, 45yrs, Pulianthope).
Transgender persons reside in the interior parts of Chennai, usually in Slum Areas. The infrastructure in their houses is very poor. People generally do not prefer to have transgender persons as tenants and so rental accommodation is hard to get. Often the number of Transgender persons living in a house is more than the capacity of the house.
"We, seven are living here in this small house, no bathroom and toilet facilities, many of our neighbors pressurize our house owner to make us vacate this place. Being an empathetic woman, she has permitted us to stay here"
(A Transgender, 30yrs, Vyasarpaadi)
Males who identify themselves as Female join the Aravaani Community. The community takes the responsibility of sex reassignment surgery. Most of them live as a group with a strong bonding. This facilitates them to have the 'we-feeling' and recognition to share their emotions. Very few of them are accepted by their families and hence they often associate among themselves even if living in different places.
"When I was abandoned by my family, this elder sister (indicating an elderly Transgender) gave me the hope, shelter and food. I live now just because of her"
(A Transgender, 20 yrs, Kannikapuram)
A lay man's perception of Transgender persons is very inferior. The community has low economic status and due to social stigma, they not offered jobs even though they are qualified. Most of them are beggars and/or sex workers.
"I have studied up to 12th standard, and I am willing to do any work that suits me. Even NGOs except very few like 'Thai' hesitate to recruit us! See, this society looks down upon us as Sex Workers and cheaters. But what mistake did I make in my life? Is having been born as Transgender my fault? Only in Sex Work and Begging, they don't ask any qualifications"
(A Transgender, 29 yrs, Kannikapuram)
For both physical and mental health workers, understanding Transgender persons has been difficult.
"When I went to a government hospital for my illness, the workers there including doctor looked at me as an animal."
(A Transgender, 23 yrs, Vyasarpaadi)
"There is no one in this society to care for us really. Many people come here to interview us like you. We cry in front of you, you would say something and go away. We know, nothing big is going to happen. "
(A Transgender, 19 yrs, Choolaimedu)
Even in the West, research on Transgender is not much when compared to Lesbians and Gays. In India, it is much less. As far as Chennai is concerned, very few studies have been done in the field of HIV/AIDS Prevention on Transgender population as a component of the disciplines such as Psychiatry and Social Work, which makes the current study all the more relevant in highlighting the plight of the transgender population in Chennai.
A STUDY ON GENERAL WELLBEING OF MALE TO FEMALE TRANSGENDERS LIVING IN CHENNAI 2010, by Karthik Lakshmanan RM, Counseling Psychologist and Joseph Victor - Faculty, Post Graduate Dept. of Counseling Psychology, Madras School of Social Work., Chennai, submitted to the University of Madras.