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Amidst tribulations a transgender achieves identity and pride

Shoba Bartholomeuz (Photo Supplied)

Dr Malini Yugendran

Auckland, February 20, 2023

Auckland is home to one of the largest LGBTQ+ events in the country, the Auckland Pride Festival. Held every year during the height of the summer season, the festival offers a month-long celebration of Auckland’s LGBTQ+ community and culture.

This year features over 150 individual events and 70 highlights including pageants, parties, drag and burlesque, live music, film, new media, international theatre, and visual art exhibitions.

The festival events are spread throughout Auckland, including West Auckland, South Auckland, and Hauraki Gulf, with most activities taking place around the Ponsonby and Karangahape Roads.

The festival started on 1st February 2023 and will go on till 26th February 2023.

Shoba Bartholomeuz

Shoba Bartholomeuz, a Eurasian transgender, shared her experiences of understanding her gender identity, her family’s reaction, and her journey towards transitioning.

She realised that she was not her birth gender at a very early age.

“I must have been about 12 or 13 when I realised that  I was not like the other boys my age.”

She recalls feeling closer to her sisters than her brothers.

“I developed romantic feelings for other boys while in secondary school,” she said.

However, she felt confused and disheartened because she was unsure of what her feelings meant and what path to take.

Ms Bartholomeuz did not tell anyone about her gender identity for a very long time.

“My family and friends seemed to have an inkling that I was different due to my feminine behaviour and my love for helping my mother with household chores and cooking,” she said.

When she eventually came out, her family reacted negatively, and she faced physical abuse and was even thrown out of her house.

“I was beaten with a belt and my clothes were thrown out of my flat,” she said.

Despite these challenges, Ms Bartholomeuz remained determined to live a dignified life and worked hard to earn respect from others.

“When I was 27 years old, I applied for a job with Singapore’s only broadcaster. I was afraid that they will not accept me because the way I looked and the gender on my identity card was different. But I got the job. And today, at 61, I am still in the media industry. I journeyed from being a Floor Manager to a Production Assistant and Production Manager. Today, I am recognised in the industry and most importantly, loved. That is my biggest achievement – to be able to touch people’s hearts and earn their love and respect,” she said.

Shoba Bartholomeuz in ethnic Indian wear (Photo Supplied)

Challenges in public

Ms Bartholomeuz faced challenges in public spaces.

“I  remember the first time that I was redirected to the women’s restroom despite identifying as male,” she said and mentioned about her decision to go through with the sex reassignment surgery.

She said that she did not want to be stuck between genders and started by taking hormone pills and growing out her hair.

“The surgery was a scary process, but I was determined to be my true self,” she said.

She said that she had to save a considerable sum of money to travel to Thailand for the surgery.

“The procedure took six to seven hours, and it was a matter of life and death. You go to a land where you know no one and take the risk of lying at that operating table. It shows the conviction of how much I needed to transition,” she said.

She also had to undergo psychological evaluations to ensure that this was the right decision.

The way forward

Despite facing discrimination and challenges, Ms Bartholomeuz remained resilient and offered advice to others struggling with their gender identity.

“I encouraged people to speak up and confide in someone who has gone through a similar experience, rather than keeping it to themselves,” she said.

According to her, transgender individuals should “carry themselves with pride and not let stares or laughter from others discourage them.”

Ms Bartholomeuz called on society “to be more accepting and inclusive of diversity, as everyone deserves love and care regardless of their gender identity.”

Her story is a testament to the resilience of transgender individuals.

In recent years, many companies have started promoting gay pride through their product packaging. This is often done by adding rainbow colours to the packaging, a symbol that represents the LGBTQ+ community. Companies such as Kellogg’s, Skittles, and Nabisco Oreo have released special edition packages that feature rainbow colours and slogans promoting diversity and inclusion. These efforts by companies to support and promote the LGBTQ+ community have been well-received, with many people expressing their appreciation for the visibility and support.

However, some have criticised this trend as “rainbow capitalism,” arguing that it is simply a marketing ploy without any meaningful action to support the community beyond the product packaging.

Pride packaging of Skittles. (Photo Indian Newslink)

New Zealand Research

Research has shown that despite advancements in LGBTQ+ rights in New Zealand, discrimination and inequalities still persist in the community.

According to a 2019 report by the New Zealand Human Rights Commission, around a third of LGBTQ+ people in the country have experienced discrimination just in that year, with 14% experiencing discrimination in the workplace.

Transgender people face particular challenges, including high rates of harassment, violence, and discrimination in healthcare.

In addition, same-sex couples have lower rates of home ownership, are less likely to have children, and experience higher levels of poverty than opposite-sex couples.

These findings demonstrate that although New Zealand has made significant progress in protecting LGBTQ+ rights, there is still a long way to go in achieving full equality and eliminating discrimination.

Dr Malini Yugendran is an Indian Newslink Reporter based in Auckland.

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