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Aspiring transgender pilots will not have to undergo what I have faced: Adam Harry

Adam Harry, a transgender person from Kerala, is getting closer to his dream of becoming a pilot, but has a long way to go.

August 17, 2022 / 08:03 PM IST

After almost two years, Adam Harry, India’s first aspiring transgender pilot, still finds it difficult to fulfill his dreams in the country. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) recently issued guidelines that said a transgender applicant’s fitness will be assessed on a case-to-case basis.

Harry said there are still some grey areas in the guidelines and it would be better for him to get a commercial flying licence from South Africa.

But he is happy that future aspiring transgender pilots won’t have to undergo what he faced, Harry, 23, told Moneycontrol in an interview. He added that there is still a lot left to do for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community in Indian aviation.

Edited excerpts:

Q. Given the media attention on your case, do you feel a responsibility to keep fighting for the rights of people from your community?

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I don’t think I am the spokesperson for the transgender community in India or the LGBTQ community in India. I am just following the footsteps of those before me who have made it possible for me to follow my dream.

I am hopeful that after the DGCA, other departments of the government also come out with guidelines to accept transgender people. I hope that in the next few years there will be new norms in the Indian navy, air force, and other departments.

Q. What is the one change you would like to see in society?

I would like comprehensive sexuality education to be included in the school curriculum. Most people have no idea about transgender people and being transgender is still considered a disorder or disease. Some medical textbooks still consider homosexuality a disorder, which is very strange.

The International Classification of Diseases has already updated their list of diseases and the same should be done in India.

Q. What are the more frustrating things you encountered in your journey to becoming a pilot?

Transgender people have to have to face a lot of issues in everyday life. We have to explain to each and every person about our transition when we need to get some work done, be it when visiting a hospital for a small medical issue, to getting copies of government documents, or even getting ration.

Most trans people find it very difficult to get proper documentation from government organisations because of which there is a lot of mismatch in our documents and that makes everything hard.

In August 2020, when I had gone for my medical examination at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine, I faced a lot of discrimination from the officers there when they found out that I was an aspiring trans pilot. I almost broke down that day and started crying after all my medical tests were done and I still failed and was declared unfit to fly.

Q. How was your experience of attending an aviation academy in South Africa different from your experience in India?

In Johannesburg, for the first time in my life I got the feeling that there was no one to judge me or question me. I could be myself. Everyone there was very respectful of my identity and even now they are very helpful. I had gone back to Johannesburg a year ago with the help of the Kerala government to revalidate my private flying licence and I faced no prejudice or difficulty in obtaining my licence there. I was cleared medically to fly.

Getting the medical licence in Johannesburg was very easy and I just followed the normal procedures. But in India, when I had applied for my medical licence, I was forced to undergo a number of tests. It was very difficult for me to pass the medical examination and prove that I was physically and mentally fit to operate an aircraft.

I tried to reach out to some faculty at the Rajiv Gandhi Academy for Aviation Technology as well, but while they were respectful, they couldn’t help me out because their knowledge on transgender people was limited and they relied on the medical professionals.

Even the Directorate General of Civil Aviation had limited knowledge back in 2020 on transgender people. I had even submitted guidelines on transgender pilots by the Federal Aviation Administration and Civil Aviation Authority. But back then, the DGCA was not ready to consider my request.

Now, after nearly two years, the DGCA has come out with a set of guidelines for transgender people to apply and become pilots.

There are still some grey areas in the guidelines that the DGCA has come out with, but I am happy that future aspiring transgender pilots will not have to undergo what I have faced.

Q. Do you plan to re-join the Rajiv Gandhi Academy to complete your training and obtain your commercial pilot licence?

The Rajiv Gandhi Academy returned my fees to the Kerala government back in 2020 when I couldn’t get cleared to fly. I no longer plan to re-join the academy. The social justice department currently has my funds and I have asked them to release my funds soon so that I can continue my education in Johannesburg.

I am hoping to complete my commercial pilot training from South Africa and then come back to India to work. I will be a lot more comfortable being myself in South Africa.

Q. Have you reached out to airlines or have airlines reached out to you to help you out with a job or funding?

No Indian airline has reached out to me yet. One airline has gotten in touch with me to conduct gender sensitisation classes for its employees but nothing has been finalised.

Q. When did you start feeling the conflict about your identity?

When I was in school, I realised that I was not like other kids in my class. So I thought that my being different was something bad and I could not explain my identity to any of my friends due to the limitations in our language. We don't have proper words in Malayalam to describe trans people. I was also afraid of rejection by my friends.

I started exploring and discovering my identity when I read about the NALSA judgment (of 2014, which declared transgender people as the ‘third gender’). I realised that I was not alone and that there were a number of people who felt like me in the world.

Q. How did you go about the medical transition? How did you start the process and how did you garner funds?

I started my medical and physical transition in 2018. I started my hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and later I underwent my surgery. The government of Kerala covered the cost of my surgery.

Q. Have things at home improved in the past few years?

Not yet. I am not in touch with my family at the moment. I think they will need a lot more time to become comfortable in accepting who I am. They were also subject to a lot of ridicule and bullying when my story started getting media attention. They live in a small village in Thrissur and there is still a lot of prejudice in those places and they are quite conservative.

Q. What is the one message you would like to highlight to the trans community, the LGBTQ-plus community in India?

I want to tell them to be proud of who they are. When I was 18, I was confused and I didn't have anybody to tell me that I was fine. Everyone struggling with gender identity should know they are just like any other human being, not less.

I want to tell people that the process of accepting who you are is difficult and in your transition or coming-out journey, you may face some difficulties or you may hit some roadblocks on your way. But don't lose hope. Just fight for your rights. And you deserve a better life.

Q. What is the one message you would like to highlight to society in general?

I would just like to tell society to be more accepting of people who might be different. Just because someone is different doesn’t mean they do not have the same rights or feel the same things.

People should be a lot more open to educating themselves about the rights of transgender people and learn basics such as gender pronouns. Not everyone is comfortable talking about gender and sexuality, but that shouldn’t limit people from educating themselves.

Q. What is your favourite aircraft and which aircraft do you hope to fly commercially?

I love Airbus planes; I am a big fan of all Airbus aircraft. I am hoping to start flying the A320 aircraft when I complete my training.
Yaruqhullah Khan
first published: Aug 17, 2022 07:06 pm
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