Till I was 17, I didn’t have a word/birthname for my identity. I didn’t know what sort of branch to fit myself in because I used to feel out of place everywhere. I obviously didn’t feel like a boy so I didn’t fit in there, and I did not have a girl’s body, but I knew that I didn’t belong here. I was studying engineering in Jaipur when the Internet arrived. That’s when I understood what it is to be a boy feeling like a girl. And that’s how I came across the word ‘transgender’ or ‘transsexual’. I remember I was reading blogs about many people. There were hardly any Indian stories in there, but there were stories that were about American transwomen who shared their journey and their pictures, and I felt like a huge burden was lifted off my chest. Because suddenly you feel like you aren’t alone, you feel like there are certain groups of people with you. That was the biggest relief I have ever felt. I learnt about sex reaffirmation surgery. When I came to Mumbai and studied film-making for a year in Xaviers, we had to make a documentary in a group of five, and I was close to my group. I came out to them as a transgender person.

I was extremely grateful that they were passionate about making a documentary on the subject. I had come out to my parents when I was 14, but it was this documentary that convinced people that I’ll be happier when I transition. While struggling during my writing days, going through a chain of people made me reach Tanuja Chandra, followed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, after which I finally met his sister Shelly Chopra Dhar. Shelly and I were trying to write, but we were struggling to find a new subject. I always wanted to tell an LGBT story. I never had that opportunity and I never thought that I would get one for a while. Because it seemed like nobody would find it commercially viable, and you don’t know how actors would get involved.

My script for Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga was written two years before Section 377 was decriminalised. Even though the script was written very consciously, any family can watch it and feel comfortable because we wanted to reach those who are not convinced. It’s been over a year since the film has been released, and I still keep getting DMs. When I came out, there were no apps. I mean I’ve never been on Grindr, but I’ve heard about it. I do know of these kinds of profiles where they think it’s okay to put terms like “no shemale please”. If Grindr is the first step a teenage gay boy takes into this world, then it’s frightening. It can be very harmful for their self-esteem to feel judged by people from their own community. But the thing is Grindr is largely an app for hooking up, although some people do find dates. But if that is going to be the first exposure of a gay person to the LGBTQ community, then that is going to be sad and harmful for them. This is why it’s so important to have more conversations, in the mainstream media, through inspiring stories. Grindr may not be the healthiest place to be, but at the end of the day, it serves a purpose. When there is so much oppression in the society, you have to stay hidden and hide your personality.

I will not say it’s hate, but I see a certain level of discomfort towards trans people and it’s more in the gay community, maybe not all of the LGBTQ community. But it’s a fact that there’s this need to distance oneself from trans people. At some level, it could be the need to assert masculinity, because you feel that the world might question your masculinity. Maybe they don’t want to associate with the trans community because it raises questions on how much of a man they are. This is patriarchal masculinity, which is a root cause for a lot of issues in the world. And this reflects in a certain discrimination against the trans community too.

Personally, I’m pretty much out there, so people are aware of me and my identity. And if someone isn’t, I tell them soon enough. And me being out with my identity can also be an issue for them. This again brings me to touch upon masculinity. To be with a trans woman would be a question on their masculinity. And so, if I were not publicly a trans woman, then that would not be an issue for them. This will be the decade when we will see the change in trans discomfort, because it is changing, I see it. We are headed into more inclusive times. And I think people will become more and more aware of what to follow, and all of that together, will be change the we want to see.