On March 3, 2021, when Dr Aqsa Shaikh claimed in her tweet that she was the only transgender person to head a COVID vaccination centre in India, it left the internet abuzz and questioning whether it could be so rare, considering the fact that the country accommodates 4.8 million transgender persons (according to the 2011 Census).
"Can I lay claim to be the only #Transgender person to head a #Covid #Vaccination Centre in India? Will be very happy to have company of other Trans Folks in this spot," her tweet read.
But that is not all about Shaikh.
Besides being an only nodal officer of a COVID vaccination centre with interest in COVID-19 surveillance, vaccination, and research, Shaikh is an Associate Professor, Department of Community Medicine at Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, New Delhi, and a researcher in COVID vaccination trials. She is also the founder and director of an NGO called Human Solidarity Foundation. She has penned numerous books on subject matters besides contributing essays and chapters and blogs on issues of social interest.
She has a keen interest in medical education technology and medical humanities.
Shaikh was born and brought up in Mumbai, where she pursued her medical education before shifting to Delhi around ten years ago. But it hasn't been smooth sailing for her. She had been fighting a war with herself while trying to explore her identity and embracing it.
"There was a confusion in my life as to whether I was a gay person, a trans person, or a person from the 'hijra' community. These questions would literally eat me up from inside, there was a lot of anxiety," Shaikh told The Logical Indian.
"As a trans child, especially someone like me who has been in all boy's school, it's difficult, lonely, bullying kind of feeling where you are teased constantly for your feminine behaviour and so on," she added.
It was only around the age of 20 when Shaikh realised her true gender identity, after meeting a few mental healthcare professionals for counselling.
"I also tried to change myself, tried to make myself more masculine, naturally that came to more failure and frustration. As a child I could not even talk about it to anyone so that added to the misery," she said.
Her family, she said, was skeptical about her feminine body language. However, they tried to downplay it saying things will get better after marriage. Shaikh recals being emotionally harassed due to the family's unacceptance.
"My contact with the counsellors and psychiatrists broke the spell that something was wrong with me," she recalled.
Struggling to make her place in society, Shaikh set on a journey and moved to a city looking for a fresh start.
She said that her mental health suffered tremendously during the transition process, especially because she was facing it all by herself. She shared that at one point she gave up and decided to end her life. But with time, she realised the importance of life and decided to live for her happiness rather than worry about someone else's judgments.
"I'm still transitioning, I have undergone one surgery, there are more surgeries that I have to undergo," she said.
Acceptance Post Transition
When it comes to acceptance post-transition, Shaikh shared that acceptance was lowest during the process as it is the time when one looks very androgynous. It is the stage when one gets maximum teasing and comments from people, she believes
It has been a shock for her family post-transition, she said. "But acceptance is gradually increasing day by day and though it's not complete it's increasing," she added.
Nowadays, her daily routine involves going to the medical college, teaching public health students, taking part in research activities, visiting and monitoring the vaccination centre.
"The pandemic has been a challenging period for the transgender community, with many losing their livelihood during COVID times. It has also taken a huge toll on their mental health," she said.
Giving out a message to the LGBTQ+ community, she believes the community's mental health could be severely affected by the lack of acceptance, love, by not getting their rights in society. However, none of that is a reason enough to end one's life.
"If you have some mental health issue, talk to someone, you will find quite affirmative counsellors, you will find mental healthcare professionals. If you don't like them, change them, keep taking therapies, treatment and one day you will definitely find happiness," she said.
"It's a long way, we all need to work together for creating that kind of society that we want for ourselves. Someone is not going to make it for us, serve it to us on a platter, we need to work for it. We need to do the labour for it and that is the hard reality, unfortunately," Shaikh