On a recent trip to Krabi, Thailand, I made a new friend. She is from Krabi, and works as a Manager at a popular beach side restaurant. When I first met her, I noticed her charm, buoyancy and the way she communicated with guests and staff. I reached out and requested her to join me for a breakfast meeting so that I could understand more about her and her life. And she was kind enough to agree.

What was so special about her, you would wonder. Apart from being an effective manager and host, Olivia (Name changed) is actually a man.

She opened up about her life, her challenges and her dreams at breakfast the next day. She was 4 years old, when she first started behaving like a girl and started showing signs of being a transgender. In a country where the term “lady boy” is so openly used, I was surprised to know that there are civil employment restrictions and marriage restrictions. Olivia’s father, out of concern for her future, was angry, and tried to stop her from being what she was.

At the age of 12, she was sent with other boys to study religion for three years, where she had to dress and behave like a boy. She was mocked, but she endured.

When she returned, she asserted her sexual identity, and this time her father relented- on two conditions- 1. Study 2. She will not undergo change of gender surgery. She agreed to both.

Olivia went to the university in Phuket to study management. She started taking hormones to help her live the life she wanted.

She got into a relationship. It was illegal for her to marry a man, but with blessings from both families they had a live in relationship. In her own words, “I did everything like a wife would do- clean, cook, take care of his mother”. One day, he abruptly tells her to leave, because now, he wants a family.

Olivia was sad, and she struggled with her emotions. But she had the support of her family and friends, and she had her dreams. Her dream is to work hard, excel in her profession, buy land and have her own home.’

And having met her, seen her at her workplace, and having spoken to her, I know she can.

I am sharing this episode, because meeting her, spending time with her touched me. It made me realize that there might be so many Olivia’s in India, around the world, who struggle to assert their sexual identities, to have resources to study, to find employment, to find dignity, to have relationships and live a normal life. And what can we do, as a society to help them feel supported, respected and integrated?

Author: Sonica Aron

You can also read the article here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/meeting-krabi-sonica-aron/