From India to Scotland, Mridul Wadhwa has faced a lifetime of myths about her existence as a trans woman of colour in public life - but in this special blog for LGBT History Month, she says she's going nowhere.
February makes my heart flutter with joy, hope, reflection and inspiration. It’s my birthday month. The mango tree which shaded my childhood home would have been blooming with flowers promising a bountiful mango season.
Spring in Scotland is not too far and in recent years, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of LGBT History Month events. While in-person events for LGBT History Month are as rare as riding in luxury on a Scottish train, this February, I have spent some time thinking about the mythological narrative that has surrounded my existence as a trans woman from a minority ethnic background in public life, both here and in India. (Too much time, if we were to ask the commissioner of this blog).
I had lived my whole life in the same city in India before moving to Scotland, seeking anonymity. Which through a combination of life choices and circumstances out of my control, I have failed to achieve. In fact, now if I want anonymity, I go to India.
Pre-transition there weren’t many myths that I can remember, just abuse. The myths began when I was a young trans woman with a professional life. They were mostly positive stories that I didn’t think caused harm; in fact, at the time, I thought they helped me.
"These assumptions were made mainly because of Indian society’s continuing obsession with whiteness; my whiteness definitely softened the blow of transmisogyny and transphobia."
I was perceived as someone who had more privilege, wealth, connections than I actually had. It was as though it was almost impossible for me, as a trans woman, to be in paid work in a job that I was good at without these so-called privileges.
These assumptions were made mainly because of Indian society’s continuing obsession with whiteness; my whiteness definitely softened the blow of transmisogyny and transphobia. The cost of that narrative was that while I was the diversity darling of the workplace, a case study in their management training; I was never quite good enough for a promotion.
In Scotland, I became more aware of these stories when I was a candidate in the 2017 council elections. Those were the days when there was still hope for trans people in public life; in fact, no part of my identity was newsworthy.
"It was as though it was impossible for me, as an immigrant trans woman of colour with two jobs, who financially supports her family in India, living in social housing, to have the skills and the ability to be elected."
But the myths that justified my candidacy persisted: I was told by some that they thought that I had founded the charity that I worked for (it was set up when I was 8!); that I was a single parent (which I am not); that I was a human rights lawyer. Some of those same assumptions that I had experienced in India about my wealth, education, background: a very imperialist perception of privilege.
It was as though it was impossible for me, as an immigrant trans woman of colour with two jobs, who financially supports her family in India, living in social housing, to have the skills and the ability to be elected, much like it was impossible for me to have a job as a trans woman in India.
Yet, no questions were asked of so many white male candidates who contested based on the fact that they had lived, gone to school and/or had a profession. White woman candidates may have had it slightly easier than me, but they too had to prove their worth in a way that the men didn’t have to.
The things I read about myself in the press, on social media, in blogs are myths again, this time being used to push me back, remove me from the work that I do, condemn me into the darkness along with my trans siblings. The flip side of the coin.
Where in the past my participation in public life was because of perceived exceptions in my character and background: the goddess! Now it is because of the perceived flaws in my character and background, the demon!
I, of course, much like my trans siblings, people of colour, and other marginalised, oppressed groups am going nowhere. I will be here for many more joyous Februarys.
Mridul is a trans woman of colour from India and has worked in the men's violence against women sector since 2005.