Student Media Cell
Jessica Lynn, a transgender rights advocate and activist, was the main speaker on day 3 of the distinguished speaker series organized as a part of Vista 2017, the annual business fest of IIM Bangalore. She spoke at length about her life and struggles faced both before and after her transitioning surgery. We caught up with her after her moving speech to know a little more about what she was fighting for and how it could be achieved.
Chandrashekar: That was an excellent speech, ma’am. Is there anything you would like to add to the IIM Bangalore student community in particular?
Jessica: You guys are a business school. You guys are all going to be CEOs, business owners and running your own corporations soon. Now if a transgender comes to you and asked for a job, If I came to you for a job, would you reject me because I am a transgender woman or will you look at the skills? You need to look past who he is or she is and see that they are just a normal human being. We need to accept the fact that they are just normal everyday human beings. We need to accept that people are who they are and so this is why I think it is so critical that we hit business schools and law schools as you guys can make the change happen. You should also continue the conversation that started with this session. You bring someone else next month, maybe from the local transgender community and start outreach programs for the general people to learn more about the community, not just the transgenders but the LGBT community as a whole.
Chandrashekar: The IIM B community and the student community, in general, are more accepting than the average person in India. But what can we do to make the general population more understanding about the LGBT community?
Jessica: Education. Do community workshops. Now my story was powerful, wasn’t it? Now you will talk to someone about it. Maybe your sister, and she will talk to more people. And that continues the conversation. You will start having more people come in, you will open up the conversation. You will realize transgenders are just normal people who like to paint and write, drive or just anything ordinary. It just takes communication and more exposure. We need to break down the barrier. That barrier is huge but you need to break it down to show that we are just normal everyday people. In India, people accept transgenders but just make them stay in they own place, without allowing them to mix with the society. If you have kids, will you not accept who they are and do what is best for them? But in the olden days, they did not do that. In my country, they would say go live in that community, they would try to pray the gay away. Some doctors have tried to ‘cure it.’
Chandrashekar: At least that phase is behind us now…
Jessica: Not in my country. Mike Pence still thinks there is conversion therapy, and he is our vice president. There are still people out there but you guys are taking over, and you guys are the future leaders. You guys are in your early 20s, you will become leaders in a decade, and you need to hire people because they are smart and not discriminate because the person is a transgender.
Chandrashekar: We generally don’t ask personal questions, but since the whole session was about your life…
Jessica: It’s fine, there’s nothing off limits.
Chandrashekar: Could you tell us how you felt when your surgery date was fixed?
Jessica: Anxious as all hell. Lot of girls that I know, sit in the morning of the operation and second guess their decision. I remember being wheeled into the operating theatre and I remember telling them to go and get rid of it. It wasn’t supposed to be there. If you have seen the name the title of the movie they are doing on me, “The Birth Defect’, it’s just like you have another extra finger. It shouldn’t be there. There’s a very fine line between males and female. We are all the same in the beginning stages of development till the first or second trimester and then the genitalia fall out and differentiate the boy from the girl. I could not wait to get the surgery done, I was so anxious and it felt so proper and once I had my surgery I felt comfortable. Now I just need to lose a 100 pounds <laughs> but I felt comfortable. It felt correct. I don’t know how to explain it to you. Imagine being put in the clothes of the other gender from the time you are 5 years old, dating the people of your own gender, would you not hate it? And that was what I felt for 45 years of my life. But I say I am a girl and society says I don’t think it’s right what you did and I am going to take away your child from you, and remove your parental rights and take your name off your child’s birth certificates. I have lived in the wrong body for 45 years and people tell me I am weak for transitioning. I finally felt good. Once they gave me the date, I kept asking my doctor to push up the surgery.
Chandrashekar: About the people like the judge who took away your parental rights, is there anything we can do right now about people like that?
Jessica: In North Carolina, the governor forced us to use the men’s bathroom. He fought it tooth and nail and said transgender people cannot use the bathroom of their gender. And businesses started boycotting North Carolina. People started revolting and the governor was voted out of office. The judges get old and retire. When I talk in law schools, I find that these are the people who are petitioning the government for our rights. Education is the biggest thing in the world. You keep talking about the issue. You don’t let it go by. You continue the conversation. You go out there and continue to change the world.
Chandrashekar: What differences do you find in the way transgenders are treated in the US and in India? You have been in India for a few weeks, what have been your experiences so far?
Jessica: People here look at transgenders and don’t think twice about it. They don’t snicker, it’s really a non-issue. In my country, they snicker at you. In some places they don’t think twice, but in some, they point, they stare and they snicker. When you go into the south of the US like Alabama etc, they beat you up, they skin you even… Kids are picked on at school. They are horrified.
But the people are getting more and more accepting. But Indians don’t think twice, but at the same time like to keep their distance. They tell transgenders, you stay on your side of the street, don’t come on my side of the street. In my country, there are laws that say we can’t get hired. After Trump got elected, there were a lot of setbacks, a lot of discrimination happening. A lot of hate crime happening. I was in Louisiana and there were three hate crimes at the University of Louisiana where I was, a week after Trump got elected. The positive thing is that people are realizing that they don’t want to be like him. They are asking me to continue the education about transgender issues.
I see a lot of similarities and a lot of differences. India has some good positives and the US has some good positives. I have seen a lot of campuses where a lot of stuff has been happening. Students are starting support groups in premier institutes. And I think that’s the key thing. I believe there’s a lot of work to do and that there’s at least another 5-10 years down the road, but hopefully, it will be sooner.