“I don’t deserve to have had to beg or pick up prostitution to support my living.

If only parents would stop disowning their children merely to impress the society,

If only children are accepted the way they are, and given the chance to complete their education

If only my community is given the rightful chance to work and earn a decent life…”

Hers is a story of grit, determination, and courage. Inspirational, to say the least, but it didn’t come without a cost. There’s immense pain and struggle. One can only bow down in respect and hope our society changes its outlook towards the transgender community. These feelings should be a thing of the past and no one should have to go through this.

Born on 7th September, 1983 in Nellore district, Andhra Pradesh. It was a happy day for the family. They rejoiced on the arrival of a second child. Subba Reddy and DurasanAmma, welcomed Sudhakar into their home. Like all children, Sudhakar was pampered and loved – but this didn’t last as they soon realized Sudhakar was different.

The signs started showing up early on as a 3-year-old child. He liked to play with girls, loved to adorn his hands with mehandi, and dress up in outfits for girls. This became even more obvious as Sudhakar grew up to be a teenager. Soon, all the love started turning into admonition.

He was good at studies but that did not stop others from bullying and harassing him at school for his feminine inclination. This didn’t deter Sudhakar and his academic competency earned him a seat in pre-university college. In college, the abuse got worse as he picked women’s clothes for himself. Even the professors did not spare him.

Post the pre university gig, he was sent to Chennai to pursue BDS. A whiff of relief for the family as they thought sending him away to a distant place will help keep people’s mouth shut as they were fed up with the mockery. But who would have thought that it would be a whiff of relief for the boy himself? He finally met people like himself in the large city! He finally could relate to people. He made friends there and finally was happy and no longer confused. With the newfound clarity, he dropped out of college, grew a long mane as he always wanted to, and started living a free life.

Alas, his happiness was short-lived! His family wasn’t happy at all. They brought him back, thrashed him and forced him to meet a psychiatrist. Lucky for Sudha, the doctor was very supportive. Even though the doctor tried helping the family understand his complex life and pleaded with them to support the child, they did not budge.

One day, he just left his home determined to find an independent and free life. He trusted that his education would get him a decent job. But was proven wrong. No one was ready to give him a job claiming an odd person would bring chaos to the workplace. Distraught he turned to the only two options that the society had left the people of his community with – begging and prostitution. He faced the insulting and sleezy gazes as they handed him a Rupee or two. He wanted to run back to his family who had given him love in abundance while he was a child. But again, he stayed back determined to earn his freedom. He saved up from begging and prostitution and earned enough to get the gender change surgery done.

Finally, his dream did come true. She chose to call herself Sudha. She was all of 19. New dreams unfolded. She started working part time at an organization called Sahodaran, founded by Mr Sunil Menon. Finally, she could see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Seven years after she had left the family, she was called back. Her father was ill. She met him at the hospital. She was told that she was the reason for her father’s illness. The once strong and handsome man, a rice trader, had taken to illness because of the strangeness of his child. When her father passed away, the visitors were more intrigued by the changed child – her long hair and feminine clothes. She was barred from performing any ritual for her father’s funeral. However, amidst all this, one person supported her. Her brother – Hazrat.

13 years elder to Sudha and a journalist, Hazrat supported her. With his support Sudha slowly won the acceptance of rest of the family. She had a respectable job and worked with an NGO too. She helped create an awareness on HIV. For most into prostitution, this was a big problem. Her urge to break stereotypes and help create a safe community for transgenders, led to the birth of Thozhi.

Thozi was established in 2007 with the support of Mr Sunil Menon. She started the organization with 5 others on board. She ran the NGO out of her own pocket until 2012 when Thozhi was finally registered.

Today, Thozhi is in the forefront – fighting for rights of transgender community, their health, social recognition and spreading awareness. They even started night shelters for the transgender community. During the pandemic they opened their doors to people across different communities and lent their helping hands to anyone in need.

When asked about religion, she says she doesn’t believe in caste or religion. We love all Gods.

She now leads a very content and happy life – with adopted children, grandchildren who are successfully working in eclectic fields. They live with respect and love for each other.

Her work with Thozi had taken her places. She has travelled the world spreading awareness and sensitizing people towards the need of an inclusive community. In fact, BBC has featured her as well – something she is proud of. For her incredible work towards the upliftment of her community, she has been conferred an honorary doctorate by the International Tamil University, USA. She is now referred to as Dr Sudha.

She says the journey has just begun. We have a long way to go. Even today, people belonging to the transgender community are orphaned, or live their entire life without coming out of their shell for the fear of rejection from society. You’d be surprised, some of them are as old as 70 and they continue to live in hiding. It would be good to be live in a family with acceptable and unconditional love – that’s her wish for all.

Sometimes, she thinks back. If I didn’t break away from prostitution, my life would have been different. I might have been sick too. But that’s all in the past. For now, she continues to transform lives and helps people avoid the path she had to take.

– Written By SAP Volunteers for SAP stories