Gazal Dhaliwal first became a household name when her story was shared on a Satyamev Jayate Episode titled “Accepting Alternative Sexualities“. Gazal has established herself as a strong voice in Bollywood giving us stories that draw from her personal experiences and make us realise how beautiful a world without prejudice can be and how painful it is as it is.
So this women’s day, we decided to speak with her and understand what the day means to her, what her life has been like and what she plans for the future.
We also spoke with Bidisha Mohanta, who is a stunning singer, drag king, queer activist and performer.
What does the word ‘womanhood’ mean for Gazal Dhaliwal?
The meaning of this word has evolved for me over the years. Growing up womanhood was all about being pretty, polite and other traditional feminine characteristics. Looking back, I now realize how narrow my thinking was. Today, womanhood to me is about strength, individuality and equal rights, in every sphere of life.
The year 2019 marks 12 years since your physical transition. How far has time and gender-affirming surgery contributed to help alleviate your gender dysphoria?
The alleviation is not instant, of course. For the first couple of years after my surgery, I was self-conscious and low in confidence. I continued to feel like I was in limbo somewhere, just stuck. Gradually though, it wore off, shopping for new clothes helped quite a bit. 😉
A small degree of self-consciousness does continue to linger post-op, for me and I think others because we have hated our bodies throughout our childhood and formative years and that is a deep-rooted feeling which goes away only slowly over time.
What advice would you give to people considering gender affirming surgery?
Make absolutely sure that you’re ready for it.
Read up about the process and do your research as much as possible. Read stories of other trans people online and try to learn from their mistakes, if any.
Do not take the decision in any haste and once you’re sure about your decision, begin your research about which doctors and physicians to go to. Treat it like a project and tell yourself that you must excel.
Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga, although not your first film, is still India’s first mainstream Bollywood love story. What did you anticipate the audience’s response would be before it released and in what aspects was the response similar or different?
Every writer wishes for her or his film to be universally loved. In the case of “Ek Ladki”, the intensity of that wish was tenfold. Mainly because of how important the film was. For mainstream Bollywood, this film is homosexuality 101. So, it was crucial that we should reach not only the LGBT+ community and allies but also the ones who are not yet aware. The film was written and crafted in a manner that any regular Indian viewer should be able to watch it.
The response was overwhelming. The most significant outcome of the film has been many LGBT folks being able to come out or to start a dialogue with their families. Almost everyone from the community had tears in their eyes by the end of the film. This was the first time they felt like they were seen. There was joy, anguish, empathy, longing – so many emotions in those tears.
I was a tad disappointed that not enough homophobic people came to watch the film and the ones who did, many of them left the theatres once they found out what the film was about.
This told me that on this journey of a thousand steps, this film was the first step, but we still have to go another 999.
And we will!
If you could say something to the mother of a child who feels trapped in the wrong gender, what would it be?
I’d say that your child would still be your child even in a different gender. In fact, your child would be a much happier human being if they get to live their life in their real gender.
Being gender dysphoric is accompanied by acute loneliness. Let your child find a friend in you – a friend who wouldn’t let them live with loneliness.
How do you plan on celebrating women’s day?
By speaking of women and all our wonderful stories!