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Only Human – Episode 6 – Sameera

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We are more than doctors and nurses and paramedics and patients. We are the sum of the stories we tell. Stories that have a beginning, a messy middle and, one day, an ending.

In this series, we want to remind you that we are all ONLY HUMAN.

You can read the transcript from this conversation HERE.

Becky Platt: 0:01 Welcome to Only Human, a podcast from Don’t Forget the Bubbles. This is Becky Platt with Henry Goldstein. And these are the stories that reflect the diversity of our community and the multitude of life events that come our way that shape us as professionals, and as humans. Sameera identifies as a transgender non binary woman, but her gender identity is still evolving. Sameera’s incredible story takes us on a journey of discovering the woman inside her as a child growing up in India, the discrimination and suppression that she has experienced as a result, and what it is like for her now to be a visible trans person working as a medical professional in the UK.

Sameera: 0:45 As far as my memory goes, in my childhood, maybe I was seven or eight years old. Always being with my sisters, my cousins and girl kids around me playing with pom pom kind of play, kettles and dishes, and having a husband and cooking for husband, taking care of a doll, those kinds of plays and games. Eventually I realised that you know, parents are saying that no, you are a boy, you’re not a girl. And boys don’t do this, boys supposed to work this way, boys supposed to talk this way, walk this way. All those kinds of imposition started. I was studying in a boys group, so I must be around nine years old. My dance competition for school’s annual function. It was a folk song where a farmer and his wife are describing their day, and as a loving couple how they take care of the family and as well as their farm and fields. The teacher, she alloted me a role of wife of that farmer, saying that the way I was like, pretty in my looks and dance. So I started doing the dance practice, and my sister saw me once dancing, and she just went ahead and informed to my father and my father was very angry. My mom came there during the dance class, and she said that these kinds of things are not allowed in our family. It was like a force on me that no, boys don’t do all these things. I had to suppress all those feelings. I feel like I would have been a big time Dance Queen by this time, I could not have that. I would have been a model, I would have been definitely in the fashion industry. All those things got chop chop. I was not allowed, you know, even to be walked or made hand gestures, you know, we were considered as a being feminised, and you should not be doing it up in that way were open comments were being made by my family members, and as well my friends and other extended family members too. Unfortunately, that created more and more guilt in me that because I was not understood, was not allowed myself being expressed what I am, of false imposition that I’m a boy, I should be living in this way.

Becky Platt: 3:34 Do you think they realised that there was this conflict inside you?

Sameera: 3:39 My father and mum realise that I’m, I’m a different child, and probably that’s the reason why they always tried to suppress me. Probably they had social pressure that their child could be this way and that’s not good, because socially it is not acceptable. So what had created more and more amount of guilt. My religion plays a very important part of that, having a rigid boundary about homosexuality and transgenderism and Islam. Homosexuality, yes, the windows are still rigid, but transgenderism is very well acknowledged and accepted. But that time 30 years ago, it was still a dark space,

Becky Platt: 4:25 When you talked about the dancing, I could see how happy that memory was for you. And then you had to come home and suppress that. Can you tell me what that was like?

Sameera: 4:37 Well, okay, I withdrew myself. I mean, I can say that even till this date, I do not have much of social skills of having peer interaction, which is something so important for a child. I just could not have group activities where I was all the time being self conscious that mum has said that you should not do like this. But actually I wanted to do it I wanted to talk in a girly way, I wanted to dance in those parties ,be like a girl being expressed. So I do not remember being attending any of the birthday parties, or any of the social functions, being a child

Becky Platt: 5:23Feeling suppressed and guilty about her gender identity forced Sameera to find ways to express herself in the only way she was able to…behind closed doors,

Sameera: 5:35 Expression of gender, apart from what you are fixed in that role is something which is extremely difficult. Fortunately, my parents were working parents, both were teachers, both were out at work, and my school timings were different from their school timings. So afternoons I used to be alone, the doors and windows of the house shut, and the Queen inside me is out.

Becky Platt: 6:03 What did that mean? How did you let the Queen inside you out.

Sameera: 6:07 So I used my sisters and mum’s clothes, and I used to enjoy, I used to play the radio and enjoy the dancing on those all beautiful Bollywood melodies of Lata Mangeshkar. That was the only way I had to express my gender, till the age of teenage and where it comes very sure about expressing your sexuality.

Becky Platt: 6:34 So you were fully you when you are on your own. And then you had to put that back in the box when you were with other people.

Sameera: 6:42 Yep, exactly that way. When the time is over, you have to go back to what the world wants.

Becky Platt: 6:49 I think that phrase, ‘what the world wants’, is incredibly evocative. That makes me feel so sad, because so often what the world wants is just not the right thing for the individual, is it?

Sameera: 7:02 True, and that was the world for me. Closed windows and closed doors. This continued till the age I was doing my MBBS. Can you imagine from an age of eight or nine years till the age I was 24/25?

Becky Platt: 7:25 Sameera talked to me about how she developed a false impression of what love, relationships, and sex meant through accessing porn on the internet. Because in her early life, she had no other source of information to help her make sense of her feelings. This meant she found it hard to form close, loving relationships until she moved away from her hometown.

Sameera: 7:50 I had my first sexual interaction with my neighbour. There is no other means that you express your intimacy or love. So the only way you express love is just having sex. And that is unfortunately the only thing was possible that time. So when I moved from my hometown, as I say, to an educational institution, where I worked as a junior doctor, 1000 kilometres away, I broke up this relationship and started exploring around and that’s how I met my second relationship, which was another three years. I fell in love with this man. And that was the time I realised he loves a woman inside me. He doesn’t see me as his male partner. He loves the femininity inside me. That whole thing started making me realise that there are people around this world they see a woman inside you. And this is what exactly I was looking forward.

Becky Platt: 8:59 I can see that that’s a happy memory. And that must have been incredibly freeing for you.

Sameera: 9:04 Yes, it’s such a liberation. Liberating a woman inside you, seeing each and every aspect about expressing yourself as what you want to be what you are actually. Unfortunately, that relationship didn’t last. He was not okay with socially we both being open and out. Because in India, that is something, those relationships are not acceptable. He chose his woman partner. He had his own married life. He went ahead with that. I started battling with my own depression during that time, to an extent that I became suicidal. I started realising more and more about it, that it is not the relationship which is causing me or giving me depression. It is me battling up with accepting myself fully, wholeheartedly that I’m a transgender person. Or I need to realise that when I’m being at my social place, at my workplace, at my family, I need to be open and out. Yes, there will be vulnerabilities, periods of vulnerabilities where socially you will be brutally being hit on, but you need to take a chance. Life cannot go this way.

Becky Platt: 10:28 At that point, Sameera made the decision to seek help for her depression and begin her journey towards being open and out, an accepted trans women, which wasn’t easy, especially at first.

Sameera: 10:43 Okay, I made a plan 10 years ago, let’s fight back. My mental health professional friend, very prominent friend helped me out throughout all my journey. I lost him in between because I realised that he was losing a boundary of being a friend. And as a professional, he had such a honest, you know, communication with me, saying that I can’t bear the pain when you when you lose your job. If you lose your job, I’ll blame myself for that, because I helped you out to come out openly as a transgender person. And that pain, I just can’t bear it. I’ll make a whole lot of my friends available for you. Just start your journey with with my friends, and all the best. So can you imagine how much amount of dilemma you know, being a medical professional and being a friend of people who belong to LGBTQI community goes. He had a battle that ‘how can I protect my friend? And at the same time, how do I accept this professional challenge?’ But at the same time, he made me capable of dealing with all those challenges – how to deal with depression, what are the, you know, coping mechanisms. He made sure that he built me all those resources around made me capable of dealing with all those things.

Becky Platt: 12:21 Sameera continued to strive for acceptance and support through online research regarding gender law, and by reaching out to other trans women on social media. After engaging with people online who truly understood her, she made a brave and bold decision, but one that could potentially cost her career.

Sameera: 12:42 So the first person to whom I came out is was my boss, Professor Ravishankar and told that there is a woman inside me and I have taken a decision that that woman is going to be open and out.

Becky Platt: 12:59 Oh, my gosh, how did that go?

Sameera: 13:01 Well, I was like in tears. And it all happened in in his home. Morning, I told that ‘boss, I want to come to your home, because I want to share something which is very intricate and important thing about my life’. He said that ‘okay, come home’. He was sitting on a sofa, I just sat next to him. I was I still remember I was I was holding his little finger. I was crying. And I was trying to tell that ‘this is what I am, and I have taken a decision to do gender transition, and it is going to be a whole lot of challenge for you. Because it’s not going to be easy thing. People are going to come to you saying that this person is abnormal diseased, how are you going to interact with it? Is it okay that I continue still in your department in this institution or you think that I should go back somewhere else and continue my journey?’ And then he says that ‘look, my child, this is the safest place for you. And we will take care of you. I’ll take care of you’.

Becky Platt: 14:09 Oh, that’s so amazing.

Sameera: 14:11 Yeah, and it’s been 15 years with him, Becky, and it’s like a second father for me.

Becky Platt: 14:19 A very strong man. I actually I was really smiling when you said this is gonna be very challenging for you. Fueled on by being made to feel comfortable and accepted at her workplace, and with a new relationship on the horizon, it felt like the right time for Sameera to come out to her parents.

Sameera: 14:41 I met this man who came to me and said that ‘I love you as what you are and not what your body is all about. And whichever way you want to be – whether you’re Sameer, Sameera, both or none, it doesn’t matter’. That’s how the journey started. It. That was the point when I came out to my parents too. And I told them that, ‘you know that I’m cross dressing. And I have decided that I’m going to come out openly and I’m going to start living as a trans woman. Medically, I’m going to transitio’n. That was I who thought that it is difficult for my parents to understand me. But Becky, I’ll tell you, it was not like that. When they went back once a vacation was over. My father called me and I can never forget that call. First time in his life, he was crying on phone. He knew that I’m a transgender person since my childhood. And only think he told me, ‘my child, you’re the most beautiful child I see around. And I’mw orried for you that I won’t be there as your father to protect you and take care of you’.

Becky Platt: 16:00 Oh, you’re going to finish me off here in a minute.

Sameera: 16:03 What more you wanted that one statement sums up everything, Becky, that my gender identity is acknowledged.

Becky Platt: 16:11 Do you think some of that suppression that had happened in your childhood was just about him trying to protect you?

Sameera: 16:18 Exactly. You exactly got the point. He was so much worried about me as a child explicitly behaving and probably getting discriminated during that time.

Becky Platt: 16:30 Another huge change in Sameera’s life was moving to London to begin work as a doctor. This was a chance to start a new phase in her life as a visible trans woman. But how would her new colleagues react when they found out?

Sameera: 16:44 It was a 10 years long journey for getting accepted at a workplace. It was on that transgender day of visibility. On that day, I just wrote a small short message on my department Whatsapp group. When the handver was done, Dr Nithya turned towards me and said that ‘Oh, Sameera, do you have anything to say about this, about this special day?’ I saw I just turned that him and say that ‘Oh, yeah, what a surprise, okay, I have something to tell’. And I said it what is mean by being a transgender person and visible, very openly interacting with my colleagues and exposing my vulnerabilities. Me being vulnerable does not mean that I will be having a negative outcome out of it. ‘Whichever way you want to express yourself, you have a liberty to express, but it is my choice. It is me who have chosen this moment to be vulnerable, being open and visible person, I’m extremely sure that it is going to be positive. And you all are going to be there, understanding the whole lot of journey which I have gone through and be being your transgender colleague, at this institution’. I can’t describe that moment. Their eyes were all telling me that they were just so much happiness was there so much gratitude and thankfulness was there, that I express myself what I am. After that my consultant after one month sat next to me and said that so Sameera, I understand that you have expressed yourself, but I still have some more doubts about you. ;Okay, come, just let’s say I talk what is mean by gender, gender identity?’ And he was so open about that and so comfortable in discussing about understanding that, and that is what exactly I wanted. Somebody coming and sitting next to me, my consultant sitting next to me, and discussing about it, having comfortness around that.

Becky Platt: 18:55 Sometimes I worry, particularly talking to young people in my own practice that I’m going to, just somehow get it wrong. But it seems like you’re saying, ‘just ask me, just be honest’. Is that the best thing to do?

Sameera: 19:08Exactly. You ask that person, what you feel, what you are, how you want to be. It’s kind of a responsibility on me being visible, being vulnerable, being talkative about what you are in that space. Come come and discuss with me. It’s okay if some people do not want to talk, do not want to tell – respect their space. But if I’m there around, if somebody is there in that institution, you can have that comfortness of discussing.

Becky Platt: 19:40 I’ve got goosebumps hearing that. I’m so pleased that that’s been your experience here. We don’t get it right across the board. But I am so pleased that you feel more accepted and for being you.

Sameera: 19:53 Thank you. Thank you Becky. It’s wonderful. There’s so much love around so much comfortness around now. Feeling so confident that gives such a, that boosts special kind of confidence in me. Life has become so easy for me.

Becky Platt: 20:12 Thanks for listening. You can find more episodes of Only Human as well as details of events, courses and other resources at DontForgetTheBubbles.com. Until next time…

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