Dhaka Courier

Tashnuva: Transgressing the border for trans-women in the society

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Ever since the human regime started controlling the narrative of mother earth, the species got addressed in two different shapes and forms - or at least the history pretended so. It made a certain classification within humans and even within other species, that there must be two genders - male and female. From the beginning of the human race, the society has opposed to receive, adore, admire and nurture those people who were born differently - not by their choice, but the design by the almighty - yet, the society hesitated to acknowledge the people, even opposed their existence.

Years and years have passed and coping with the continuous societal harassment even in this 21st century, there are some people beyond their gender identity who have always refused to give up and had to fight relentlessly to establish their respectful positions in the society, against all scrutiny. A tough task indeed, something that the society itself made comparatively easier for the two ‘common genders’, ironically - male and women. Being labelled as the ‘third gender’, the journey for any human from the community is understandably tougher - but the willpower of a warrior can surely create a difference and set examples in the societal system. And this story is going to portray the narrative of such a willpower-driven persona named Tashnuva Anan Shishir, a struggling but successful and passionate trans-woman who has been transgressing the barriers through her every step towards her goal and vision.

“The society calls us the ‘third-gender’, so who are the first and the second one and based on which theory of merit? How can we, the trans community, have automatically been demoted to the third level? This sort of illogical discriminations has been happening to the community for ages and years, and I am working within the culture to change the culture,” Tashnuva, one of the two Bangladeshi trans-women recently obtaining the opportunity to pursue higher studies on the Master of Public Health (MPH) program at the Brac-James P Grant School of Public Health (JPGSPH), Brac University, told in a recent interview with Dhaka Courier.

Along with another iconic Bangladeshi trans-woman Ho Chi Minh Islam in two different categories, Tashnuva Anan Shishir has obtained the scholarships to study in this coveted Master’s program, being enrolled in the course with 45 other students from 15 different countries including the majority of Bangladeshi students. Being a woman inside, Tashnuva has been harassed, oppressed and bullied for acting feminine as she was born a man. Today’s Tashnuva Anan Shishir challenged the identity of Kamal Hossain Shishir, her old self -  and eventually came out as a trans-woman during her twenties, alongside starting her solo journey with social works, dance and theatre. She has been an active member of the renowned theatre troupe BotTala, and recently she has been signed for two upcoming movies including Anonno Mamun’s film ‘Koshai’ as a detective officer, and Syed Shahriar’s cinema ‘Goal’ where she will be seen as a football coach.

Also, Tashnuva’s influence is slowly but surely getting the spotlight by national-international organisations and community. Recently, her Facebook profile got verified with the iconic blue badge which generally labels the globally influential profiles and pages of important public figures, organizations and brands. She is now working as the Case Management Officer in the Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP) from June 2020, worked as the project officer in Bandhu Social Welfare Society and also worked in other voluntary projects before, for renowned organizations including Sangat - A Feminist Network, Roopban, Oboyob and Bangladesh Youth Leadership Center (BYLC). She also served as the Executive Officer for the National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh; Research Assistant for Re Think Bangladesh and ICDDR,B (International Centre for Diarrhoeal Diseases Research, Bangladesh), as well as the Cultural Facilitator for SEPP (Social Economic Enhancement Program). Before joining her international Master’s program, she completed her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Social Work from Govt. Tolaram University College in Narayanganj..

Narrating her journey from the beginning, Tashnuva said, “I was born as the son of my family and received the name Kamal Hossain Shishir, after my parents welcomed my four sisters. Deep down inside, I knew and felt different than my existence as a male child. I was forced to be and act like a boy, a male - just for the sake of society and its norms. I loved to dance, and my elder sisters encouraged me to get into dancing in my juvenile years but my father heavily opposed, being a conservative Muslim. My family thought dancing was the reason behind my unhappiness with my manhood, which they certainly misunderstood.”

“When I reached the height of my adolescence in 2016, I realised that things were becoming stranger within my body - my mind was telling me that I was a girl, but my physical appearance and mental condition stated otherwise. The society also noticed the change and it never missed an opportunity to harm me and my family with continuous bullying and taunting, which really hurt my family's sentiments. As a result, I was shifted to my uncle's home in Narayanganj to continue my studies. My passion for theatre began there and the interest in dance grew even stronger, and I continued taking lessons with my earnings from the tuitions and freelance performances. When I started working as a volunteer for Bandhu Social Welfare Society which particularly works for mental health and transgender rights, I began my counselling but primarily the doctors acknowledged it as a psychosocial disorder, which was clearly not the case - so I went to Kolkata. I was working there in some professional projects and got the right destination for my physical treatment, thus I proceeded for the transformation.” And surely, the rest is history.

Lamea Tanjin Tanha, the Founder and CEO of TransEnd (a youth-led organization that cares for the marginal community of transgender people), has been pretty close to Tashnuva and working together for the betterment of the community. Fondly addressing her as ‘Didi’, Tanha opened up to DC describing how wonderful a human being Tashnuva really is. “I can proudly say that knowing Tashnuva didi has been a privilege for me and my initiative. She has been working as an advisor to our organization, and she is an ‘achiever’ in all her endeavours. There are people who intend to motivate you only through their words, but didi is motivating and inspiring everyone with her day-to-day activities. Even during this pandemic, she came forward to rescue the community and others with various charitable projects despite being a struggler with her limited resources. Her willpower of creating a difference is unimaginable, and more than inspiring to people like us.”

Zabed Hasnain Chowdhury, currently working as a photojournalist in UNB and DC, has personally worked with Tashnuva and became familiar with her socio-cultural activities. Sharing his experience, he said: “Tashnuva is a wonderful human being who has been struggling to prove her worth in the society for so long. Being a photojournalist, I was privileged to observe her professionalism and I can proudly say that she is crafting a legacy of her own and that will continue to motivate the others in the society.”

Tashnuva’s journey is certainly far from over, and she dreams that her story will continue motivating people across all sorts of gender discrimination. “Only enthusiasm for knowledge and dedication towards passion led me to be who I am as a person today. No one can truly shine through unnecessary backbiting or jealousy, pulling others down. The scenario is changing through the dedication of myself and other beautiful people from the trans community, and the socio-cultural aspect of Bangladesh will surely be more ideal to the others from what we see today, if the society listens to our voices without being judgemental,” Tashnuva says, believing in the better days.

  • Trans-Women
  • Transgressing
  • Tashnuva

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