Dr. Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju has never been more sure about being a surgeon than she is right now.
The 24-year-old witnessed her first surgery in April 2014 when she was in high school. At the time, becoming a doctor was the only aspect of Gummaraju’s life that she felt confident about.
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During that 2014 visit, Gummaraju was in the midst of grappling with her identity. She had come out to her parents when she was 13 years old and was coping with their denial of her queerness. She was also enduring bullying from other students and even teachers. And on top of all of that, she was battling internalized transphobia.
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“I would say that generally speaking, trans people are one of the most underrepresented and marginalized groups in India,” Gummaraju told In The Know. “The majority of trans people are not accepted and are disowned by their parents and have no access to actually participate in the economy at all.”
Gummaraju is the first transgender doctor in Karnataka, India, and it’s important to her to be as visible as possible — not only to serve as a positive role model for other transitioning or transgender people but also to be an advocate for transgender people in the healthcare field.
“We must be visible and assert ourselves, because we are very actively erased from the mainstream, very actively removed from conversations,” she explained. “There is a lot of structural and legal inequality that still needs to be addressed.”
For example, transgender people have very limited access to the most basic forms of healthcare in India.
“Medicine is still super conservative and pathologizing when it comes to trans people,” she added. “Only very recently was gender incongruence removed from the AMBIT of mental illness and mental health issues so to speak, right, so, unfortunately, that pathologization still exists, especially in India.”
In 2019, the World Health Organization announced that medical manuals would no longer identify transgender as “a mental health condition” — but there are still generations of people who have to unlearn their biases.
“It has taken [my parents] a good 10 years to sort of understand and wrap their heads around the fact that, okay, you know, we don’t have a son anymore, this is our daughter,” Gummaraju said.
In order to be the person Gummaraju wished she had had growing up, she started posting more openly on social media. She now has over 213,000 followers on Instagram, where she posts about her transition and being a woman in the medical field.
“For people starting their transitions or figuring out their identity, I would say, ‘You know what? to give yourself time,'” she said. “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t deserve to take up space.”
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If you enjoyed reading this interview, check out In The Know’s conversation with the first trans athlete to compete on an NCAA Division 1 men’s team.
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