“It is time we don’t keep our lives confined to black and white, but start appreciating rainbows too.” - Milin Dutta
In the last issue of our magazine we had reviewed the film ‘Jonaki Porua’ (Fireflies) a coming of age poignant film about a young trans woman from the interior of Assam coming to terms with her identity against the social prejudices that piled up against her by the prejudice the people around her subjected her to. The project has been undertaken with great care and love by both its director and producer, a first for them both.
Born in Assam, Milin was the fourth child after one brother and two sisters. However, his body betrayed him when he hit puberty, a time particularly gruelling for adolescents. Milin grew up feeling a great sense of discomfort and felt displaced in his own body. One thing that Milin was clear was that he would have to render himself financially capable to be independent. He enrolled himself in the Regional Engineering College in Surat to pursue his education.
In his time in Surat, Milin encountered two incidents that were an epiphany for him. In Surat, he encountered a hijra for the first time in his life. The experience left him confused because although he could relate to the person before him, his then transphobia made him hesitant to embrace it completely. It was during this time that he encountered the term ‘gay’ during a tennis match, a term he was not familiar with. On much research and much to Milin’s relief, it was revealed to him that he was not alone and that there were several people like him, across the globe. At that time, Milin was in a relationship with a girl, however, destiny had other plans when the girl separated from him on the pretext that she needed to get married, that is, be in a socially accepted relationship, something that her relationship with Milin would not permit.
Pained by the separation, Milin decided to devote his energy to building his career. He wished to move to the United States. Milin continued to be closeted because he resided in the midst of fellow Indian software engineers and was unable to gather the courage to be comfortable in his skin. Milin encountered an old friend of his in the States, who was pursuing her master’s degree along with him. She was aware of his previous relationships and would often talk in disguised words. History repeated itself when she decided to end the relationship because of the same reason - marriage. Milin reiterates the sad truth of all his past relationships, ‘They wanted the love from me but at the same time they wanted social status’. Milin was resolute that he could not be in a relationship with a man as his head and heart had to be in sync. It was around this time that Milin decided to come out.
Milin started the ‘Out in the Backyard’ initiative in the want to a community whose goal would be to connect members of the LGBTQ+ community and bridge the existing gap between the LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ members. The programme offered 7 classes a week for free and continues to run till date.
In his personal life too, Milin was in a happy relationship with an American woman. They had everything one could ask for, a house, pets, and lots of friends. However, tragedy was soon struck when Milin came back from the US after visiting his ailing parents in India only to find that his partner had moved out and was now in a relationship with another woman who Milin and herself was helping. Milin describes this betrayal as the worst pain he has had to face even pushing him into depression for the very first time. Since then he has always had troubles adjusting whenever he would return home from the US. The betrayal left a deep impact in his mind. He then wanted to immerse himself in his work and bring about some positive changes for his community.
His love for the North-East of India, drove him to come back from the US and work towards the development of the trans and LGBTQ+ communities in the North-East. He came back in 2014, after Section 377 was reinstated and met with eminent people within the community as well as people from other states of India. He understood from what he had heard from them that many things were happening in the North-East but were not visible to other people and this prompted him to organise a gay pride. Following their advice he met with people who had organised the Global Day of Rage and with their help he organised the first-ever LGBT Pride Parade in Guwahati. When it was held, Milin was then in a women’s body and he mentions “it was led by all women''. Despite all the threats and vandalism against him and his team members, the march was a great success. He was also one of the torch-bearer of the first-ever queer collective in the North-East known as the XUKIA, which works towards LGBTQ+ issues, especially in the North-East.
Unfortunately Milin’s sister was diagnosed with cancer. Milin, under the fear that he might be carrying the same malignant genes underwent a genealogy test that showed that he was at high risk and had to undergo mastectomy to prevent any mishaps. At that point of time, everybody curiously asked him if he was transitioning, but he denied. He was extremely apathetic towards transitioning because he felt spending huge resources on sex-based transitioning was superfluous than spending on ‘real issues’. Also, his then transphobia led his mind to grasp the misconception that all transgnder people are hijra and he did not want himself to be identified as a hijra which was another reason behind his disinterest in transitioning.
However, later on he realized the differences and while representing ‘Out in the Backyard’ 2015 in the Trans Health Summit he understood that he had already covered the major part of transitioning that is the removal of breasts which he already had to go through. Being an Indian, he knew about the binary gender identification in India, and if he called himself a man without a man’s body though inside he was a boy, he felt he was deceiving people. On the other hand, for his American friends, superficial features mattered more than what Milin felt inside.
Relisation dawned upon him while watching a documentary film at an LGBTQ+ film festival and from there he learnt the meaning of a trans man and that he too belonged to the transgender community. Finally, rectification of the myth which his mind was preoccupied with since his college days relieved him and he was able to accept himself as a trans man.
In 2015, when he was going to retire, due to health concerns he had to go through hysterectomy and had to inject hormones. However, he was strictly against taking ‘estrogen’ because he did not want to make the same mistake as the almighty did towards him and eventually he took ‘testosterone’. On the day of the surgery he cried, because all these years he wanted to be in a man’s body, however, it was a mixed feeling as he also did not want the reason behind his transition to be only becoming a man. Accepting was a challenge for him because for the greatest part of his life he was against the idea of transitioning. Though he wanted to transition and be in the body of a man, it seemed reasonable to him to consider his health as the main reason and he found solace in accepting the situation. Eventually, support poured in from the American LGBTQ+ community which he did not expect at all as well as his parents supported his decision.
Today, Milin Dutta has made a name for himself. His motivation to create a gender-equal society drove him to venture into filmmaking (Jonaki Porua) which focuses on the situation of transgender people in Assam. He claims the North-East of India as his ‘longest girlfriend’ and is very passionate to build bridges between Minneapolis and Assam and create healthier communities in both locations. Unconditional love for his homeland (North-East India) encouraged him to start a grass-root organisation named ‘Anaajore’ which organises different projects to engage young leaders and bring about social changes. Dutta is a living example of how one can keep aside all the uncertain moments of life and still emerge successful. His adventurous life is a true inspiration.
Written by: Debarati Ganguly and Tanistha Bhagawati