Be like a man.

Why are you so effeminate?

Man, he is so girly, what's wrong with him?

For Zara Sheikha, acting 'like a woman' was normal. But the world around her, made her think she was different and 'abnormal'. Zara Sheikha was born as Nishanth. For the world she was a boy, but Zara felt nothing like a man. In a world grappling with its own insecurities, people like Zara become a bait to feed on. But Zara clung on, she fought and she survived. 

Zara is now the first transgender woman in Kerala to get a job at a reputed Multinational corporation.

Zara says,

I was always very effeminate as a child. I started learning classical dance from the age of 4, and I was extremely passionate about being a woman while dancing. My family wasn't supportive and I did not have many friends while growing up because of my 'girly' attitude. They mocked me. Only my teachers supported me and gave me the courage to face all kinds of circumstances.

While growing up, many of us girls remember dolling up and wearing our mother's sarees. For Zara, it came at a heavy price. 

I used to secretly dress up in my mother's sarees and apply make-up. When my father found out, he burnt my clothes and broke my make-up box. Something I will never be able to forget.

At an age where you are anyway dealing with your own sexuality and sexual preferences, Zara only truly realised she was transgender when in college.

Zara came out a couple of years ago. She is 26 now. 

As an educated adult, I never had issues accepting myself, my true self. But I did have bitter experiences, there is a lot of stigma attached to your gender identity in this country, and I faced it from a very young age. However all those experiences became my courage and motivated me to do what I wanted to do and reach my goal. 

You don't wake up and decide to be trans, it is not an acquired 'characteristic', the stigma around the LGBTQ community is hard to dispel and for Zara the battle has only just begun. But she is happy, she is part of the change. Now employed at UST Global, an MNC in Kerala, Zara is hopeful her case will serve as an example in the fight for equality.

I feel really proud that I am the first TG who got placed in an MNC. One of my friend Smruthi Sasidharan, she is an independent HR professional who is working for LGBTQ community across India. She gave my reference to UST and the company was really impressed with my CV and called me up for an interview. After 3 rounds of successful interviews, I was selected by a panel of HR managers. I should thank each of them from UST for supporting me and giving me this great opportunity and for looking beyond my gender identity and giving me a job on merit.

And her colleagues at work, do not make her feel any 'different' . She uses the ladies washroom, dresses up like a woman and lives her life her way. Zara wanted to break free and did, pretty much on her own terms. And like any one of us, is hopeful to find true love. She chuckles,

She hopes her story inspires others to come out and live a life of dignity. And she is overwhelmed with the love and support she has received, since her story came out. Even Shashi Tharoor ended up sharing her story on his Facebook page. 

The fight still goes on, but stories like Zara's make you hopeful that we are not far away from acknowledging and loving the other person for who they are, just the way they are. 

All images sourced from Zara Sheikha/Facebook