23-year-old Aily Yumkhaibam is a trans man from Imphal East district, dubbed as the sports powerhouse of the country. Born a female at birth and with the gender identity of a man, he has always loved football—playing at local grounds with his brothers and male cousins. Recently, he got a chance not only to play a proper football match, but also to publicly express his gender identity during a first-of-its-kind sporting event in the State—a football match of trans men, lesbians and bisexuals.
A Unique Coming Together
This unique match played on 27th May inaugurated a football tournament named ‘The 3rd Village-Wise Seven Men Aside Under-17 Years Boys Soccer Tournament 2017’ which was organised by Empowering Trans Ability (ETA), a registered organisation comprising members from the trans men (biological female with male sexual identity), lesbian and bisexual community in the State. Aily proudly wore Chest No 33 for team Empowering Trans Ability (ETA) and played against the Women Football Association (WFA) which too comprised people from the trans men, lesbian and bisexual community.
Held at a small village called Haorang Keirel in Sekmai Assembly Constituency of Imphal West district, the tournament was supported by two other organisations—Haorang Keirel Youth Club (HKYC), and Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHI). Altogether, 16 teams, mostly all-male teams, from various adjoining villages are participating in the tournament which is yet to go into its finals at the time of filing this report.
Social Affirmation of the Transgender Community
According to the President of ETA, Oinam Hemabati, the tournament aims at raising awareness on the issue of transgender rights and promoting their social and economic inclusion. ‘I may be born as a biological female, but to myself, I am male. So when they asked me to wear skirts and phaneks in school, I felt sad and harassed. This is one of the main reasons why many among us drop out of school,’ said Hemabati. ‘This stigma and discrimination, this forced assimilation into socially perceived norms of male-female binaries creates a lot of problems in accessing social security provisions of education, health, or welfare schemes. We are hoping to raise public awareness on these issues through this football match,’ she added.
The secretary of ETA, Thokchom Thoibi, a former national level sportsperson, spoke about how he as a trans man had faced a lot of difficulties but found resort and recognition in his love of sports, especially karate. He thanked the people of the surrounding areas and the members of Haorang Keirel Youth Club (HKYC) for supporting his venture. The senior Program Manager of SAATHI, Randhoni Lairikyengbam pointed out that various studies show that the first level of discrimation of the transgender community starts at home, and families need to encourage their transgender children in following their own gender and sexual identity, instead of hiding them. Umesh Lourembam, the president of the All Manipur Nupi Manbi Association (AMaNA), Ranjit Maimom of Maruploi Foundation, Laishram Toto Meetei, secretary of the Haorang Keirel Village Development Authority and Irom Ibemhal Devi, Up-Pradhan of Lairenkabi Kadangband GP also spoke at the inaugural function.
Talking to this writer, Aily said, ‘At the end of the match, an old man came up to me and said, You played well’. Even if I did not score any goal, those were precious words of encouragement for me. Now I dream of building a team of trans men who can play football professionally’. Team ETA won the match three goals to none. ‘When I came back home and informed my parents that we had won, they were happy too. They urged me to tell them all the minute details of the match – who scored the goals, how, etc.,’ Aily said with a smile. ‘The match was not about winning, but the social affirmation of the transgender community,’ adds Hemabati.
As compared to other parts of India, the transgender community in Manipur has received limited inclusion and acceptability through their work in the traditional Sumang Leela theatre and fashion sector, especially as dress designers and beauty parlour workers. However, greater acceptability in various other economic arenas is still curtailed by prevailing stereotypes and prejudices of the patriarchal society.
ETA along with the All Manipur Nupi Manbi Association (AMaNA) – which is an organisation of trans women, biological male with female gender identity – has been working to raise awareness in schools, colleges and even government departments about rights and inclusion of gender and sexual minorities. They have also been networking with private institutes and business enterprises for employment facilities. As a result of their efforts, various colleges in Manipur had recently introduced a separate option of transgender in the gender column of admission forms. Through their initiatives in 2016, Manipur became the first State in the Northeast to constitute a Transgender Welfare Board, which has the State Social Welfare Minister as its Chairperson.
By Prasant Ningthoujam and Thingnam Anjulika Samom