An unrelenting battle for gender equality

Sameera Jahagirdar says MBBS textbooks continue to ‘criminalise’ a transgender

Sameera M. Jahagirdar

Sameera M. Jahagirdar is now going to take her fight for the rights of LGBT+ to the Medical Council of India, which has not yet recognised the need to restructure the MBBS curriculum in which the textbooks continue to criminalise a transgender or a homosexual or anyone who does not fall within the two-gender sexual orientations of society.

Her journey as a woman trapped in a man’s body and taking up the medical profession to unravel the biological enigma of the human body was one of continuous trauma. The fight within herself to realise her sexual orientation leading later to gender identity and with society’s unrelenting stand on homosexuality and transgender was too much to handle as she had no one to talk to about what she was going through.

“I used to internalise everything that it damaged my psyche,” said Dr. Jahagirdar, Assistant Professor, Department of Critical Care Medicine, Mahatma Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute, Puducherry.

At one stage she decided to run away from Pune, her native place, seeking a life that would help her live her life the way she saw it.

“I had turned to medicine hoping that learning the human biology threadbare would provide some answers. But, no, she said. All the medical texts were very harsh on homosexuality. This increased my sense of isolation in society, many times even contemplating and attempting suicide.”

It was much later while working at JIPMER, going through medical literature in the institute’s library, she realised that her sexual orientation was not a disorder. The American Psychiatric Society had done some good work in the field in the 1970s, she said.

That was in 2003 and she stopped running away from her own self thereafter. But, then, to actually take the sex reassignment surgery, it took about 13 years. The battle was only half won with herself at that time. The society at large still was the same. Backed by the Supreme Court’s ruling on creating space for another gender, Dr. Jahagirdar began her advocacy in the institution where she works.

“It was an uphill task, but I got positive responses from the staff and colleagues, which was a beginning in itself.”

Her work was recognised by Annamalai University that conducted a meeting on the nursing curriculum board of studies. The National Health Mission, Tamil Nadu, appreciated her work in establishing gender affirmative procedures and building a dedicated multi-disciplinary team.

“My educational qualifications have given me the rights to live with dignity in the institution. However, the society outside the walls of my workspace continues to be harsh. When I found that people were not ready to give me house on rent, I thought of buying an apartment. But even for that, I had to rely on my partner to get the work done in my name,” said Dr. Jahagirdar.

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