Sunday, April 28, 2019

This workshop is helping desperate transgender youth become proud young leaders

From fear and dejection to confidence and hope, these young transgender women walked out with pride of who they are. 

April 25th, 2019. Sahodari Foundation and Rotary Club of Coimbatore Texcity began a major step in reaching out to desperate and deserving young transgender people and offering them a very useful and powerful youth leadership workshop which will lead them to empower their lives.
I conceived the workshop to identify and groom young transgender persons in India to pursue their dreams of living with dignity and happiness, a life away from the melancholy of begging and sexwork.

My idea came to a reality when I was invited to speak at Rotary Club of Coimbatore Texcity for speaking at their weekly meeting to its board members where I met Rotarian Suji Somasudaram of Rotary Club of Coimbatore Texcity who introduced me to the president of the club Rtn.Phf. Senthil Kumar.K, secretary and Rtn. MD.Vijayakumar.S.
My idea of a leadership workshop was immediately accepted as the club had the idea of conducting a RYLA (Rotary Youth Leadership Awards) for transgender youth. Both the ideas were similar, just the names different.

In a week's time, it became a reality. All thanks to the Rotary Club which came forward to support 70% of the costs for conducting this event. The rest 30% was funded by Sahodari Foundation.

After quite a successful outreach, all the 20 seats were registered in a week's time. Participants came from Kerala and Tamilnadu, from places as far as Chennai and Kannur. The program was conceptualised by Kalki and each segment, its activity and the invited speakers was carefully selected to give only the best knowledge and positive messages that will have deep impact on the young trans people.

My purpose was to change their mindsets from desperation and fear to hope and confidence. Though she has offered several workshops for the transgender community, this was the first time a full fledged leadership workshop was initiated.

Kalki Subramaniam speaks
Rotary Club of Coimbatore Texcity was so open and welcoming in conducting a RYLA for TransYouth. On April 25th 2019 at 9.30 a.m, the workshop was inaugurated with Rtn. K.A Kuriachan as the chief guest of the event. The president of the Club, the secretary and board members were present during the inauguration. Mr.kuriachan told the importance of equality, unity , strength and believing in oneself,  he guided transgenders towards confidence, self love and being strong. Special invitees A.Revathi and Olga Aaron were presiding the event. All the participants were excited for the day. Later the Rotarians of the club left wishing the participants their best wishes.

The workshop started with my speech on the purpose of the workshop and  how it is meant to help, support and empower the lives of participants. Though a one day workshop, I wanted to utilise every moment of time to its utmost potential. So I requested to participants to be conscious of time and give their focus 100 percent.

Hugs of Trust

After self introductions of everyone and moved on to two groups, the young persons were grouped as four and were assigned to senior transgender leaders for trusting and opening their hearts to speak out their major personal hurdles and seek out advice from them. The mentorship started with trust building, experience sharing and non judgemental genuine advice seeking. That was the most important opening session of the day since the participants spoke and we mentors listened.

In the next session, the participants present were seated in circle they were encouraged to speak openly about their life backgrounds, giving us a picture in which ways each one of them needed help, support and guidance in shaping their future.

Everyone in the room hugged each other bringing an assurance that they were not alone and provoked unity in the trans community. The guest speaker of the afternoon first session Mr. Ramesh taught the participants on the art of living with clean mental and physical state through yoga and meditation practices. This session was directed to be a part of powerful human change through discipline and yoga practices for better and conscious living.

Transgender activist, writer and theatre personality A.Revathi narrated her painful yet inspiring life story and the oddities she faced and how it made her weak and facing it with courage made her strong and a leader among the community. The next session was followed by Mr.Arun Balakirishna bringing the participants great fun and laughter with some amusing brain and physical games which made the participants bend their body and mind.

Bridget speaks on the power of creativity
Art curator and administrator of Art Houz Bridget Shibu Thomas of Jennys Club of Coimbatore gave a powerful talk about being non judgement about ones own creativity. She listed why self criticism is useless and thow he power of practice brings perfection.

I was constantly motivating the participants, encouraging them to speak out, address their issues and inspired them not to think themselves as victim of circumstances but to be strong, challenging and design our own destinies with right decisions and how to take that right decisions.

The last session of the day was conducted by transgender youth and upcoming artist V.Kanchana. She asked the participants to dream their ideas of themselves in five years. They were encouraged to visualise their life and dreams. some of them wants to be a mother, a model, a dancer, a winner , a leader and just like they all have their own ideas of love and life they can be a human resource in the society.

At the conclusion of the workshop Ms. Olga Aaron shared her speech about how it is important for transgender persons to understand the rights and duties and to have dignity. She spoke on the importance of law in the society, to create to a secure place in workplaces including private and government sectors for transpeople. She talked about the human rights and constitutional violations against transgender community that has been in practice since the history of the community of transgender people.
Sara visualises her dream of becoming a Television presenter

Participating in this workshop is a big step towards a good and healthy life they wish for, they take courage, hope and leadership skills with them. Along with me, Mr. Kurianchan and Ms. Olga invited the participants and offered them certificates to recognise their participation in the workshop.

That evening they left with pride and lots of friendships to nourish and cherish their lives a very very long time. Bondings and inspirations that will inspire and uplift their lives.

Sahodari Foundation will reach out to more and more trans youth and support them through a series of these workshops in the future.

Visit our website

Report: Kalki Subramaniam With inputs from Chinasha Notiya

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

When scars trasition to poems..

Last year, I did a series of poetry films named  வடு (Vadu - The Scar), my poems from my published work of Tamil poetry 'Kuri Aruthean'. I made my poetry into beautiful high quality poetry films made professionally with the help of my friends.

I chose five of my poems, recorded them with recitation in a sound studio, added royalty free background music and released one by one in YouTube and Facebook. These poetry films had been screened across many universities and colleges and also at Schwules Museum in Germany.

Here are the poems:

ஈழம் என்றொரு சிதைந்த யோனி -  Mutilated Vagina called Eelam 

விதியை எழுதினேன் - Fate, I wrote

ஓங்கிக் கை தட்டு - Clap Louder, Thirunangai!

அம்மா! - Mother!

வரம் கொடு! - Give me the boon!

குறி அறுத்தேன் - Phallus, I cut

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why art is so important for Indian transgender people?

The majority of Indian transgender population (census of India 2011 survery says 4.88 lakhs, but it could be 5 times higher) is not educated, mostly ostracised by the family, thrown out of our homes and have lost the opportunity to study at school or college. This rejection makes us disqualified for well paid jobs and pushes us into the street for begging and sex work to make money to meet all their needs.
While food and shelter become a priority, education fades away as a distant dream for us, and art is something not in our priority and needy list at all, we see it only in films or occasionally in newspapers and ignore. But I, being a transgender woman who was one of the lucky few to be accepted and adored by my family, had the privilege to get educated and to travel the world, and as well be an artist, knew the importance of art in our lives, the transgender people’s lives.
When you can’t write what you think, when you can not wisely express the issue that is bothering you and bothering others, when you have an urgency to speak out a need or burst with happiness and euphoria, but don’t have words, or ears to listen to your words, art comes as a powerful medium to express.
Our  Art show at Central University, Thiruvaroor

Art comes to heal you. To balance, to pacify and bring out those emotions exactly as they are. Raw, colourful, abstract, bizarre and bursting as much as we, the transgender people are.
It began as a personal journey for me at the age of 13. I used to draw, paint and write poetry when no one could understand the gender non conformity I was going through. The internal struggles could not be expressed in sounds and speech. I wrote poetry and made art to live myself, my self. Art was a therapy, I had no doctor to help me, no psychiatrist to counsel and guide me, and I found great solace in painting and poetry. Years later, I published my poetry book in Tamil and began my career as an artist besides the other identities I don.
Making art heals me from the wounds and scars of the past, art heals the pain I had to go through of who I wanted to be and how the world perceived it and shamed it. For thousands of transgender men and women in our country and around the world, art could mean so much. Indeed, art can change our lives for better, make us healed healthy human beings. Make us the healers.

Transwoman Vinitha in Sahodari's art workshop

I became more balance after I started to paint. I wanted to give that wonderful experience to my sisters. Recently, we at Sahodari Foundation held an art & healing workshop for 10 transgender women from underprivileged backgrounds. It was a three days workshop held in Satdarshan, a serene quiet holistic centre in the middle of forests of Western ghats near Anaikatti hills, Coimbatore.
From day one, all the ten women participants were passionate about learning, drawing lines to circles and shades to shadows, they learnt the basic with attention and focus. We did not miss to play and have fun in between. The first two days were the basics, on the second day in the after noon, the girls began to sketch their art on canvas.

Kalki breaks the stereotypes on art and creativity and prepares them to learn

That evening, the magic began to manifest. Colours began to flow, shapes began to fill, emptiness began to vanish and creativity was bubbling in the room. There were smiles, sizzling chats and each participant was constantly going to the art teacher requesting help to help, asking him doubts and questions. The canvases began their journeys filled with joyful colours there. One by one, the women were completing their first art on canvas in life. There was excitement. That night we had bon fire and danced till we ached.
The third and the final day of the workshop was buzz with activities, time was too short and those who had done their first art pieces started to do their second, those who were in the middle of making their first art work were a little concerned if they could finish it in time. Some even forgot their breakfast and were immersed in their canvas. Between breaks, we had games and dance performances too.

Our art teacher and friend, Hariparthan was full of patience, instructing and guiding them all one by one, supervising their art, giving ideas and helping with brush strokes. The final output of the girls were spectacular. See for yourself their patience and hardwork and some of their art:
The amazing workshop ended with wonderful pieces of artworks created by people who have never touched an art brush in their life. I was totally happy to see their excitement. Soon, Sahodari Foundation will be organizing an exhibition to showcase their talents to the worlds. Any sale of artworks will completely go to the artists who created it.
The time came to go our ways, to our places and once again face the world. The girls took with them the joy of creating, the experience of peace and togetherness, an unforgotteable gift of art making.We packed our bags, got into the tempo traveller waiting for us and reached Coimbatore. We hugged and kissed and almost were in tears and said good bye to each other. Yet, the excitement was there in us throughout.
Art opens us a new world of possibilities, it heals our wounds and scars of the past and balances us, it playfully takes us to the colourful path of the future. Making art is a sacred experience for the transgender community of India, like dance and music, art will become an important part for celebration and healing oneself. Art can also help our livelihood too, we need to tap our talents with focus and dare to experiment boldly. I thank our friends Matilda, Elin, Cris Cyders for immense support. I thank my friend artist Hariparthan for teaching art in a friendly way. I thank Anand and Satdarshan for the place. I thank our friends Prema and Heena for the wonderful food preparations and looking after us like mothers. I thank Sadhu the little puppy who played with us through out our stay and mama who was very supportive.
I heard Viji speaking to other girls :
When I go back home, I will go to a store and purchase art materials and canvas, I will practice more and make more artworks. I am astonished to discover that I could make art”.

Support Sahodari Foundation's initiatives. Please visit to know all our work for the transgender community.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

How I wish my art will transform the lives of disadvantaged people

It is good to love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is well done.” 
― Vincent van Gogh

In March 2016, after an inspirational meeting with the art curator and teacher Latha Kurien Rajeev in Trivandrum, I started to paint seriously. Since then, literally speaking, I have transformed everyday of my life very colourful. Art is transforming my life for better and I hope to transform others lives better through my art. 

From childhood, I loved art. Art was one powerful medium through which I withered my gender identity crisis. 

We all express our happiness, sadness, confusion, desire, love, compassion, anger, lust and every human emotion in words, sounds, gestures, expressions, movements and writing. We have people to listen to. For me, paper and pen, brush and colours were my medium for expressions, that was where ai was not judged or bullied for what I expressed.  

Around 11th August 2016,  I came across crowdfunding platforms and realised their potential to showcase and sell my art and raise funds for myself and for the causes I believe in. That is how my campaign happened. After 3 months, i sold most of my paintings through the platform and raised my target which was INR 2,00,000. Taxes minus campaign charges, I will distribute 60% of the funds raised to the four chosen trans women and one more struggling activist brother of mine who need support.  

In the upcoming months and years I want to make more art passionately, sell them to people who genuinely cherish it and raise funds to support not only transpeople but also those poor and disadvantaged children who will need such support to pursue their studies. 

I hope and wish I have all the creative energy and the strength to pursue it and make young people's dreams for a better future gets closer to reality with my effort. 

I am blessed and feel I have been chosen for this great purpose. It gives a true meaning to my life, to my art.

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science.” 
― Albert Einstein, The World As I See It

Support Sahodari Foundation's initiatives. Please visit to know all our work for the transgender community.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Woman by choice

People call me a second type woman, a transgender woman, a hijra or whatever. I don't care about criticism, about being labelled and about people telling me that I am not a complete woman. To me, there exists no complete woman or a complete man. In every man, there is a woman and in every woman a man.

During my teen years as a gender nonconforming student, I have faced severe verbal abuse, bullying, harassment and physical abuse in schools. In a country where woman are worshiped as goddesses—the nation itself is worshiped as Bharat Matha—I am shaken to know that India is the most dangerous place in the world to be born a girl. I, and people like me, who transitioned with so much obstacles to live in our true identities, to live as women, are continuously abused, discriminated and socially rejected for more than a century remaining marginalised, invisible and unwanted.

Born as the only biological male child of a middle class Hindu family, I was given the best education possible by my parents. I consider that as the biggest gift and the most precious asset my parents had given me. My education and the drive I had in me for more knowledge, a better life, and my pursuit for self searching, gave me the courage to endure the shame and pain which the world fiercely threw at me. The mother plays an important role in designing the entire destiny of a child. Transgender and gender non conforming children are chased away from their homes and face end up being the most under privileged and highly exploited. If every parent accept their gender nonconforming child and give them the love, protection and a good education, you will not see so many transgender women begging on the streets during the day and standing at street corners as sex workers at night.

Are women aware of their power, are women aware of their being? Do they appreciate their self worth? It took years of struggle for me to be recognised as a woman in the society. Once recognised, I now struggle for a respectable and an equal place in the society. Because I choose to be a woman, I cannot be a victim of exploitation in the name of tradition and culture, or in the masks of family and social acceptance. Because I choose to be a woman, I cannot accept the iron cuffs of patriarchy and sub-human treatment. For me, and dozens of transgender women like me, the freedom and liberty to live a life that we choose is more important than socially being accepted as women and then exploited.

For me, being a woman is a celebration of my freedom, my beauty and my femininity. Before accepting me as a woman, please first accept me as a human being who has the right and the liberty to live a life that I want to, that I choose to. A society that is ashamed of the new born baby girl will never flourish to be a healthy society. Celebrating our women symbolises celebration of equality and human rights, and acknowledgment of the uniqueness that exists in all of us.
A society that celebrates its women will celebrate womanhood in acknowledging, accepting, and being inclusive in diversity in gender and in sexuality.
Freedom to be a woman and to rejoice my identity is my right.

A guest column By Kalki Subramaniam | March 07, 2016, The Week, 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Young India - My journeys in teaching gender diversity and gender equality to our children

The importance of teaching Indian Children to celebrate and respect Gender Diversity and Gender Equality and how teachers have a major role to play...
Kalki speaks to students of Mont fort International School - 2011

 If we need to create a safe and respectable future for our young Indians, we need start the right education from schools.

If Indian schools want their students to be the best, they must educate their teachers and teach students to be compassionate, inclusive, open minded and humane with higher values. They must teach the children about gender equality and gender diversity and it must be a priority in Indian schools.  It must be included as a part of the education curriculum.

Traveling around India speaking, advocating for transgender people's rights and sensitizing thousands of university and college students, I strongly believe, if we want our children to be confident and exercise their rights of equal opportunities fearlessly, if we need to curb the violence against women, if we need to stop rape, if we want our young men to value women and womanhood, then we MUST teach the young Indians about gender diversity and gender equality. I always say in my speeches, 'A society which respects and values women, will respect and value transgenders and third gender people'. If todays's youngsters have the right knowledge about genders, they will treat women as equals and not as objects of pleasure and to be used and discarded.
Kalki is welcomed by the school authority at Mont Fort

It pains me to see transgender people beg for money from shop to shop, in the trains and public utilities. It pains me to see them queuing up to pick up clients for sex work. Majority of them are not qualified enough to go for a better job and have a better livelihood. The livelihood opportunities are very limited, the major reason is that majority of the transgender population are school drop outs. They are unqualified to pursue white collar jobs. The only well paying profession is sex work. So they opt for it. Eventually they are unable to come out of this vicious circle and continue to do this till they are wanted.

If India needs to change, the teachers can be the catalysts of change.  I have an urgency about addressing the desperate situation of teenagers at school who may be gender non conforming. I prioritize it as higher importance.

 In their Approach Paper on Education and Employment opportunities & Challenges for Transgender presented to the Ministry of Social Justice, Government of India, Dr Rajesh (Head) and MD Aslam Naved(Research Scholar), Faculty of Social Science from University of Delhi have mentioned the following:

"Absence of community sensitive teachers: Influenced by predominant norms and values of society, teachers accused transgender persons. The insensitivities of teachers and staff towards the community have adverse impact on the mainstreaming transgender persons in educational institutes. The teachers and staff do not have adequate knowledge and sensitivities about the community to support the transgender community in making education accessible and mainstream them into the system. The transgender person who is already excluded from the family and society does not find any support with the teachers and therefore forced to discontinue the education in between."

Today the society looks so cheaply on transgender people who beg and do sex work. Do you know that we, transgenders, too were children once up on a time, we were teased, bullied or even abused at schools, rejected by our parents. Many of us wanted to continue schools and graduate, but those dreams were shattered, left in the vicious lurch of darkness with a very uncertain and insecure future.
Gender Diversity - an art by Kalki Subramaniam

If only those children were not bullied at schools, if the teachers had been supportive and caring towards them, if the families had accepted them as they are, they would not be living this lower self esteemed life, this feeling of being an out cast, this feeling of worthlessness would not have been there at all.

We keep creating generations of transgender beggars and sex workers by denying their opportunities. It is time we stopped it, the law and government are gearing towards helping those transgenders by legally recognizing us and passing bills at the houses for those who live in shackles to claim their space for equal opportunities at all spheres like any other citizen of India.
Group photo after the seminar on Gender diversity at Mont Fort International School, 2011
 Law can protect us, but how far can a law or a bill change the stigmatizing behavior of the society? Can the government or judiciary bring the change in the mindset of a common man? How long will it take?

Encouraging students to understand Gender Diversity through art
As a mother who could never be one biologically, and as a citizen of this country, I care to protect our gender non conforming children from stigma and discrimination and ensure a very safe, secure and happy life for them. I do not want to see another generation of beggars and sex workers. To achieve this challenging goal, it is of great importance to teach our children about gender diversity and gender equality. But how do we do it?
Kalki with the faculties and staff of Montfort school - 2011

We do it in schools. Do we educate students? Yes, but before that we must educate the teachers. We, the people who work for the rights of gender non conforming people and transgenders, must consider the issue as prime importance and work on educating the teachers in schools all across India.

For the past  nine years, I have spoken at a number of academic institutions, colleges and universities across the country on transgender rights. Students and academicians raise all sorts of interesting questions on gender diversity and I answer them all. I think educating the educators is of prime importance presently as they need to completely understand the spectrum and fluidity of gender identity and sexual orientation. This understanding will help them to educate the students in the schools about gender diversity so that the students understand that "It is okay to be different" and will be tolerant and understanding those who are gender non conforming or transgender.

I was invited by a pioneering academic institution the Montfort International School in Yercaud. I visited the school in 2011 and again in 2013 for the a special lecture to the students on gender diversity. Speaking to students about gender diversity is a very challenging task. You need to get into their mindsets, speak in their language with out being offensive and tough. It was challenging for me but not for them. However, I was very successful in make them understand that gender is a spectrum and we must be open-hearted to accept everyone as who they are. They clearly understood my message, threw me all sorts of questions with a very humane and broad perspective. For me, as an activist, it was the richest and the most satisfying experience I had. Children are pure, more balanced and more open compassionate and friendly than most adults I have seen.

The love and affection children show me is something I can't explain. They make me go breathless with their showers of sweetness. They have no reservations to accept me as I am. They see me as a person, not as a transgender. Isn't that awesome?
Isn't that great? If we teach them to be tolerant, compassionate, inclusive, look at things in a humane perspective, accept people as they are, not being bias with gender, caste, religion, race, skin color, economic value or health.

Where do they teach this education? I want to go back to a school where I can unlearn so many things I was taught and learn afresh. If children love me for the person I am, if they are able to see me beyond my 'transgender' identity, why is it so hard for adults to do it? Aren't the adult minds saturated with poison of hatred and prejudice? When these people's children grow up, these prejudices are slowly passed onto them and their mindsets too become narrow and short.

The big rush : Children at Montfort International School getting autographs from Kalki
A teacher has a major role to play in teaching boys and girls to respect each other and acknowledge their equal space. Likewise, a teacher has a major role in making the children understand that India is not only a country with many languages, cultures, traditions and religions, India had a history in being tolerant, in accepting the different identities of genders of people and respecting their space in the society.

It is important to educate the teachers on gender diversity. Followed by Montfort, I had spoken at Vishwasanthi Vidyalaya Matriculation school at Kotagiri and also at the remote Nilgiris place Kil Kotagiri Government higher secondary school. Unlike Montfort, where children from economically sound families study, the students of Kil Kotagiri Government Higher Secondary School come from poor families from the surrounding small villages. Children are children everywhere. I was touched by their keenness in understanding transgender people's rights and place in the society. The boys came up with so many questions on the social status of the transgender people. They were concerned about bringing solutions to poor transgender people's problems. That noble thought of their was overwhelming me.

Chennai is the most tolerant city for transgender people in Tamilnadu, yet schools of Chennai had not taken up the issue of transgender to be discussed at school, and have yet to organize sessions on Gender Diversity. State Bank Officers Association School was one of the first schools in Chennai to organise such a sensitizing program on gender diversity for its students. I will be happy if other schools begin to organize such events and invite speakers to educate the students and faculties.

Kalki talks to students at Kil Kotagiri Higher Secondary School

I appeal schools to:
  • Invite gender activists to speak on gender equality.
  • Invite transgender rights activists to speak to students about gender diversity and transgender issues.
  • Organize sensitization and awareness programs for teachers, faculties and school staff on gender diversity and understanding gender non conforming students, handling bullying and being supportive to gender non conforming students.
  • Screen films that teach children on gender diversity and gender equality.
Educatng Gender Diversity: Kalki Subramaniam with the students of SBOA School, Chennai

Dear reader, the Change can be brought only by people like you and me. Let us be the catalysts of change. Visit our website Sahodari Foundation. Support Sahodari Foundation's initiatives. Please visit to know all our work for the transgender community.

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