Image: Maira (Supplied).

Meet Maira, a trans woman campaigning for more diversity at an Indian finance company

Currently the diversity, equity and inclusion lead at Godrej Capital — an financial services company — Maira works to improve diversity at her workplace, and increase awareness around gender identities. 

CW: Discussion of self-harm

For a large part of her life, Maira, a 36-year-old trans woman, wondered about her gender identity. As she grew up in the city of Bhopal in central India’s state of Madhya Pradesh and negotiated the frequent bullying in school, she tried to find answers for herself. But the lack of accessible information on gender identities, and empathy from broader society did not make this an easy journey.  

Currently the diversity, equity and inclusion lead at Godrej Capital — an Indian financial services company — Maira relentlessly works to improve diversity at her workplace, and increased awareness around gender identities. 

“In my current role, I am responsible for making the workplace inclusive for everyone – women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, persons with disabilities. I look at things like if we have the right policies in place, if the infrastructure is inclusive — all gender washrooms, and accessible buildings. We try to aim at how to make sure everyone feels belonged while also performing to the best of their abilities,” says Maira who goes by the pronouns of she/they.   

But there is no denying that coming out to her family, and eventually finding her gender identity helped Maira find alignment at the workplace. After finishing her post graduation in business administration, she switched a number of jobs for a while. 

“How can you be happy in your professional life if you are constantly in conflict between your mind and body? I was never content in those years… there was always restlessness... How can I show up to a place six days a week and work for eight to nine hours if I am unhappy? I started adapting after making peace with my gender identity.”

Exploring her identity within the lived realities of her gender-binary surroundings was an uphill task. “If you recall a textbook, the opposite of man was a woman. The internet was not that accessible while I was growing up, and the information available was not easily understandable. As I read more, I came across the term gender dysphoria. I started understanding myself better and my discomfort with being boxed under categories like cross-dresser,” says Maira.     

She adds terminologies can change the lived experience of a person struggling with gender identities. For Maira, there was another layer of complexity – she was also diagnosed with dyslexia and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).     

But choosing her name as a trans woman was the best part. “You can choose your name, and not stick to the name chosen by your parents. Initially, I had tried some other names. I did not like it much. So I changed it to Maira,” she adds with a laugh.  

When it comes to her transition, Maira says she is taking it slow. She has accepted that medical transition is a long process. “My hormone therapy has started. But I am in no rush.” 

As the conversations around rights and equity flow in the aftermath of International Women’s Day, Maira admits trans women are far from feeling included in society with rights being curtailed because of their identities.

For example, while Indian courts have recognised the rights of same sex couples to be in relationships, they have stopped short of allowing same sex marriage.

In other countries like the US and Australia, the legal recognition of same sex couples has often been a signal of more widespread acceptance of LGTBQIA+ folk.

“A trans woman does not have the same rights as a cis-woman in India. There is also transphobia in society. I was bullied a lot because of my appearance. People from the transgender community continue to die by suicide due to bullying.” 

“Those who are transitioning also find it difficult with the lack of infrastructure in public places like all-gender washrooms. Educational spaces, and healthcare facilities need to be inclusive. We need to speed up the process as we are already behind in time,” says Maira.

Ritwika Mitra is an independent journalist based in India.