Writing a Life Between Gender Lines Conversations with A. Revathi about her autobiography The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story
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A. Revathi was born physiologically male but felt and behaved like a girl - this is how she tells her story, as will be clear from the interview below. Nearly her whole childhood, spent in a village in Salem district of Tamil Nadu, was plagued by this deep and nagging unease of being trapped in the wrong body and by 'a growing sense of irrepressible femaleness'. But when she behaved like one of her girl-playmates, it only meant repeated humiliation and violence by her family and community. This affected her academic performance, and she had to drop out of school after failing the tenth grade. In a quest to be true to herself, Revathi, still in her teens, ran away from home and travelled to Delhi to join a house of hijras. Hijras are male-to-female transsexuals who undergo a surgical removal of the genitals (often performed surreptitiously and in unsanitary conditions) and comprise a distinct community across India with elaborate customs and regulations of their own. Hijras are given ritualistic importance by mainstream Indian society (for instance, their blessings are considered to bring good fortune) but at the same time they are easy targets for sexual crimes, discriminated against in public spaces, and have few options for livelihood apart from performing at social events, begging or prostitution. Revathi, now in her mid-forties, discusses all this with remarkable candour and courage in her autobiography The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story, translated into English from Tamil by V. Geetha and published by Penguin India Books in 2010. This autobiography is among the very first of its kind in India, uninhibited with regard to divisive gender lines, sexual hypocrisy of 'traditional' societies, and the dismal lack of public discourse on the rights of sexual minorities.