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And today, as my movie is screened before me, walking the red carpet alongside luminaries like Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Sunny  Leone, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Saif Ali Khan, and many more.

Queerspeak 1.0

On a hot summer day, May 26, 1999, a child was born in a small district of Assam. Usually, children  cry when born; surprisingly, this child didn't. Maybe the child already knew that life ahead would be  tough, so why not start facing it with pride from the very beginning? That child is me today, Pratik  Permey, and the story ahead is mine.  


During my childhood, I was shy and timid. Growing up with my sisters (cousin), at the age of three  or four, I had no understanding of the difference between male and female. I delighted in wrapping  myself in my sister’s clothes, donning my sisters' skirts, dancing, singing, and transforming the  entire house into a stage. In my imagination, I was a star, one that only knew how to shine. I felt a  warmth and a deep sense of belonging to those dresses, traditionally reserved for women according  to the rules dictated by society. Wearing them gave me moments of fulfillment, and these were my  earliest memories of expressing myself— not through words, but through my longing to be adorned  in that way.  


In the beginning, my quirky behavior was a source of joy for those around me, earning me  compliments for my charming and unconventional antics. There were no restrictions on my  expressions, and my uniqueness was celebrated. However, as I grew older, around the age of six or  seven, what was once praised transformed into acts of subversion, insult, and even instances of  violence. Once, wearing a skirt, I stepped into the yard of my home. I spotted a few uncles sitting  around, and one of them called me over. When I approached, he mockingly pulled my skirt down,  leaving me exposed, and then lifted me onto a tree branch. I was frightened, crying, and helpless,  desperately asking for help to get me down. However, all of them continued laughing and making  fun of me until my grandmother arrived and rescued me. I was assigned different names such as -  Ladies, Hijra, Maiki (meaning a women), by those who couldn't fathom my divergence from  conventional expectations. Amidst the turmoil of a seven-year-old's life turning upside down, there  was an additional layer of distress, ‘Sexual abuse’ by a very close male relative in my family. For a  decade, I endured this unsettling situation, completely unaware of the abnormality of the behavior.  Mistakenly, I believed it to be a normal part of interpersonal relationships that everyone had to  endure. It wasn't until the age of 15, when I participated in a workshop at my school on ‘Child  Sexual abuse’ addressing the topic of personal boundaries. Then I began to unravel the complexities  of my experiences. The workshop revealed the crucial concepts of good touch and bad touch,  making me connect the dots and recognize that what I endured was far from normal. Empowered  with this newfound knowledge, I began resisting and pushing back whenever the close male relative  attempted to cross my personal boundaries.  


Throughout my entire childhood, I found myself ensnared in a relentless cycle of bullying from my  peers. I was incessantly questioned about my behavior, reactions, and speech, rendering me unable  to seamlessly integrate into society. In my quest to escape this harsh reality, I sought refuge in  education. Despite my initial academic struggles, I immersed myself in books, driven by a desperate  desire for validation. Gradually, I transformed from an average student to the topper of my class. To  my dismay, however, the bullying and teasing persisted even in the realm of academic achievement.  Seeking further validation and approval, I expanded my pursuits to include a plethora of extra 

curricular activities. I delved into every conceivable form of art—dance, singing, drama and  emerged as the focal point of every school event. The cheers and applause from the audience is  undeniable, but the moment I stepped off the stage, a disheartening chorus of derogatory names  awaited me: "Hijra," "Ladies," “Maiki”, and many more. Comments such as "Ladkiyon ki tarah  naachta hai, Nachaniya hi banega" echoed in my ears. Frustration and fury gripped me as I began to  question my very existence. Seeking additional avenues for validation, I immersed myself in sports,  participating in activities ranging from volleyball and badminton to racing and athletics. I garnered  numerous medals and accolades, hoping that these achievements would alter people's perspectives  towards me. However, despite my accomplishments, the perceptions remained unchanged, and I  found myself trapped in the unyielding cycle of societal prejudice.  


One day, disheartened, helpless, and tired of the incessant bullying at school, I came home and  couldn't resist crying. I questioned my grandmother, asking why people treats me differently, why I  couldn't fit into society, no matter how hard I tried to change people’s perspectives. "Why me?". My  grandmother replied, “Look at me, how beautiful I am.” Frustrated and furious, I couldn't hold back  and asked, “Are you out of your senses, Grandma? I'm sharing a serious concern here.” She looked  at me, smiled, and repeated, “Just listen and look at me, and see how beautiful I am.” In her 60s,  with grey hair and wrinkled cheeks, I dismissed her statement. Then, my grandmother shared a life 

changing mantra that I still follow today. She said, “I might not be able to change your  perspective towards me, but what you think is not what defines me. Don't bother about what  people think about you. Do what you like, be how you want, and pursue what makes you  happy.” 

This mantra, spoken to a 15-year-old then, still guides through life's challenges. Since that day, I  became carefree, stopped seeking validation, and embraced myself for who I am.    

Breaking Chains: Leaving the Small Town Behind 

This incident and the life-changing lesson it imparted made me realize that perhaps this small town  wasn't meant for me. With dreams of becoming a celebrity and making my name known to everyone,  I had to break free from this place. I yearned to share my story, excel, dance, entertain, and bring  laughter to people's lives. However, whenever I shared my aspirations, people couldn't understand  and would mock me. Determined, I decided to move to Guwahati, one of the biggest cities in Assam. 

I worked even harder, achieved good marks in my 10th board exams, and, at the age of 16, secured  admission to Cotton College, one of the top colleges in Guwahati. Education became my escape,  placing myself in a completely new city for the first time, away from home. It was an opportunity to  explore both myself and the world. Regarding 'Coming out,' I believe I was always out; I just didn't  know that such terms existed. I wasn't aware that I was supposed to articulate what I felt inside,  revealing the beautiful tornado within me, hidden due to societal conventions.  

Arriving in this new place, I hoped for a different reception, perhaps more welcoming and accepting.  To some extent, yes, the people were welcoming, but there were still many who talked behind my  back and demeaned me. I realized that there was no fundamental difference between a city and a  village. The only distinction lay in the fact that in a village, people would say and bully me to my  face, while in the city, they would demean me behind my back. This phase also marked my first  encounter with social media, facilitated by the smartphone gifted to me as I moved away from home.  It was during this time that I discovered the existence of the LGBTQ+ community, delving into the  intricacies of gender and sexuality. I met new people, learned both positive and negative lessons  from them, and identified myself as a gay boy. I became a sensation in my college due to my bold  and wild personality. In an environment where coloring hair was not prevalent, I embraced it. I was  vocal about important issues like LGBT rights, sexuality, gender, climate change, bullying, and  assault, both in public and on social media, primarily on Facebook. In 2017, when I discovered  Instagram, I shifted my focus from Facebook to this new platform.  

I unknowingly developed a crush on a guy from my college—a tall, decent, handsome individual. I  publicly confessed my feelings for him. One day, he unexpectedly messaged me with a soft and  polite invitation, asking if I would mind coming to his gym. Since I already had a crush on him, I  couldn't refuse and agreed to meet him at his gym. While entering his underground gym, I found the  place very shady; the gym was empty, and the guy was with his six other friends. In the very next  moment, where I could understand what was happening, they all ganged up against me and started  attacking me. I couldn't comprehend what to do; I kept shouting for help and begging them to leave  me. Initially, it was painful, but gradually I felt numb. I lost my senses and partially unconscious; the  only thing I could hear was, “How can you say that you like me? Why are you spreading rumors?” I  kept shouting, expressing that it's just what I feel, and it's okay if you don’t like me back. But they  didn't stop and left me covered in blood.  


After this incident, I lived in fear for a long time. I was afraid of people, scared to meet new faces,  and hesitant to trust anyone. Nightmares and sudden flashes plagued my days, leaving me restless. In  2018, determined to overcome this, I took a significant step. Engaging in social work, I dedicated  myself to supporting cancer patients through the "Sanjeevani, Life beyond Cancer" program at the B. Borooah Cancer Institute in Guwahati. I also contributed to Fridays for Future, a movement led  by Greta Thunberg. A post of mine, advocating against firecrackers on Diwali, went viral on the  internet and subjected me to accusations of being anti-national. This experience made me realize the  immense power of social media.  

As time passed, it became the year 2020, and amid the lockdown, I reclaimed aspects of myself that  I had long neglected. I started wearing sarees, and the freedom I felt in them was indescribable and  impossible to express fully. The irony lies in the fact that the saree, often considered a traditional  garment, granted me the liberty to be true to myself. I also began wearing skirts, bought with my  own money, and embraced makeup – a practice not commonly associated with men. I shared these  experiences on Instagram along with my views on mental health and depression. Having dealt with  my own trauma and difficult life, I felt a profound desire to help others going through similar  struggles. I wished I had someone to share with and someone who could understand and empathize.  

During lockdown, I came across a show called RuPaul’s Drag Race. I encountered a contestant who  identified as Genderfluid, and in that moment, it felt like I had found a term that resonated with me,  as if it had always been within me, undefined. In 2020, I openly declared on Instagram, “I am a  gender-fluid person. I have always been this way, and I will always embrace myself like this. I hope  you too embrace it.” Since then, many friends have acknowledged and asked me about the concept,  marking a positive shift in awareness.  


Gradually, the term Genderfluid began making headlines in Assamese news channels. Subsequently,  these channels approached me for interviews, and soon enough, I became one of the first openly  Genderfluid individuals in Assam. Amidst this journey, I received support from various quarters,  including my school teachers who, having witnessed my struggles, proudly commented on Facebook  posts, saying, “That’s my student.” It left me feeling proud and amazed simultaneously, wondering if  such acceptance was even possible. This boosted my confidence significantly. My public acknowledgment opened doors for people to connect with me, sharing their experiences and seeking  guidance for self-exploration. Conversations about LGBTQIA+ gained momentum, and many rallied  in support. However, as the saying goes, with the good comes the bad. Some individuals trolled and  cyberbullied me for being who I am. Dealing with online negativity and the challenges from people  around me became increasingly difficult.  

Gradually, I felt that perhaps Guwahati wasn't the ideal platform for reaching a larger audience. As I  had always dreamt of becoming a star, I made the decision to move to Mumbai. Pursuing education  became my escape. I completed my Bachelor's degree and secured admission for my Master's at Tata 

Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. Unfortunately, during the first year of my master's, classes  were conducted online. However, in the second year, I was fortunate that the college resumed its in person classes. seizing the opportunity, I packed my bags and arrived in Mumbai for the first time.  Upon landing in Mumbai, I became a part of it and realized that it's a place where people pay less  attention to what you do. I felt a sense of liberation and the freedom to express myself without guilt.  Whether I wanted to wear a saree or express myself in a gown, Mumbai allowed me to do everything  I had always wanted. Throughout this journey, Tata Institute of Social Sciences became my runway,  a place where I discovered more about myself. I found acceptance from people, and the validation I  sought came naturally without asking. Encouraged by this acceptance, I stood for the post of  President and, fortunately, won. My campaigns went viral on the internet, becoming the talk of the  town and getting featured in various newspapers. Messages poured in from the LGBTQIA+  community all over India, appreciating and rooting for me. They acknowledged that I was doing  something they couldn't, and I was helping them by being an inspiration to speak up for  themselves. One particularly touching message came from an openly non-binary person from another  college, saying, "I contested for the post of Cultural Secretary twice and lost both times. Seeing you  win makes me happy; it's almost like my dream that was never fulfilled has come true by just  watching you."  

I started openly express myself even more, and my creativity took a significant leap. I crafted a short  film exploring the intersection of gender and peace, which earned a nomination among numerous  films worldwide and secured a place in the finals for the JCS International Young Creatives Award,  which is a part of the Emmy Awards. Although we didn't secure a win, the recognition itself was a  triumph. Undeterred, I collaborated with friends to produce a film titled "City of Mirage" and  submitted it for consideration at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival. And today, as my movie is screened before me, walking the red carpet alongside luminaries like Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Sunny  Leone, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Saif Ali Khan, and many more, seeing myself on the big screen triggers a flood of memories.  

From the days of enduring bullying, surviving molestation, and facing assaults from a group of men,  to seeking validation, acceptance, and questioning my very existence - these memories flash before  my eyes. Reflecting on my journey from one place to another, exploring my identity, and  discovering the truth about myself as a tribal queer genderfluid from the Northeast, coming to  Mumbai and witnessing myself on the big screen, experiencing a whirlwind of emotions, learning  that the same movie will be featured in the London Film Festival. I realize that every struggle, every  sleepless night filled with nightmares, has been worth it. Life has never been easy for me, but it has  taught me not to shed tears since the day I was born. However, today, my eyes are filled with tears,  not because of the assaults and bullies I faced, but for the strength and courage I have shown each  time fighting back. The journey of self-exploration and self-acceptance will never be a catwalk; difficulties and challenges will be in each step. But what matters is, are we brave enough to first  accept and explore our inner selves? Once it’s done, it means you are at the edge of winning life. I  feel pride in knowing my struggles didn’t let my dreams die; in fact, they have always encouraged  me to show the world how capable I am.

My journey from struggle to pride might be a common  story, but I want each and everyone to takeaway the lesson. "Embrace your unique hues in the  grand tapestry of existence. Dive deep into the ocean of self-discovery, let self-love be the  anchor, and dance freely in the currents of authenticity. Remember, your story, your journey –  and never allow the community to define or limit the boundless beauty, that is you.”  




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