Mama Yangki, breaking boundaries and stereotypes

Mama Yangki graduated from Samdrup Jongkhar’s Dungsam Academy in 2015

TASHI PARYANG | Thimphu

Before changing her identity to Mama Yangki on her citizenship identity card, she was then known as Udai Rai.

Today, this 26-year-old transgender woman from Dangkarling, Samtse, is an active member of the
lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community and currently works in Samuh, Bhutan. She is the oldest of her siblings and graduated from Samdrup Jongkhar’s Dungsam Academy in 2015.

Her realization that she was a transgender was the biggest turning point in her life. At the age of 18, after experiencing multiple identity crises, she learned about the LGBTQ community and realized that she belonged in this community.

During her childhood, she always enjoyed feminine things and always wished to be like a normal girl and even wore dresses that were meant for girls. With time, she found herself more comfortable in her new shoes.

She also enjoyed dancing, applying makeup, among others, which made her question her sexual orientation even more. Later, when she learned more about the LGBTQ community she came out as a proud transgender.

“The story would have been different if I had revealed my gender to my family and friends first,” Yangki said.

Although her father opposed the change in her sex on her citizenship identity card when she sought to alter her name from Udai Rai to Mama Yangki, her parents did not object while they learnt of her sexual orientation. She also struggled to deal with her relatives, who discouraged her from transitioning and frequently questioned her future marriage and other personal affairs.

Even as she was going through an identity crisis, she encountered prejudice and malice throughout her middle and high school. She was called crude names like Chaka (effeminate), and some of her friends teased her for being the way she was. She said, those were the most degrading and frightening comments and that she is still stigmatized.

She added that even while working as a bartender, she was objectified and that transgender individuals are frequently stigmatized in the country.

Nonetheless, Mama always imagines herself working in an office where she wouldn’t have to interact with a wide range of individuals, especially discriminatory ones.

Today, she considers herself lucky to be working in a company like Samuh where she is respected and accepted for who she is. Working in a bar was the most challenging phase of her life.

Mama Yangki claims that some individuals are genuinely supportive of the LGBTQ community and appreciate their right to be who they are. She did, however, come across some individuals who claimed that they were merely acting in this way to attract attention and that they weren’t really gay or transgender.

She adds, “Ignorance is the sweetest response to her haters.” She also engages in self-advocacy by telling people her experience and her feelings about it whenever she has the chance.

A regular participant in meetings and awareness campaigns after becoming an engaged member of the LGBTQ community, Mama adds that the status of LGBTQ persons is improving compared to earlier.

“Now that we’re seeking assistance, places like hospitals and other places acknowledge transgender people,” Mama said.

She previously had trouble using hospital services because of her citizenship identity card. She was uncomfortable with it since she knew that people would judge her based on her outward appearance and bring her up in conversation.

Mama consistently wears kira (women’s national dress) when she is at work and on other days, reiterating the rule that only transgender persons should wear gho (men’s national dress). But occasionally, individuals among her community have to deal with social stigma, prejudice, and societal stereotypes.

Mama Yangki aspires to one day marry and lead a happy life just like any other women. However, she notes that because so many people in the country are uncomfortable with transgenders, leading a happy and married life would remain just a dream.

As she reflects on her life’s journey she says individuals like her have been living in a world where many look down upon and prejudices still exist.

“Despite all the campaigning, the transgender community still confronts a lot of hostility. Our greatest contentment would come if we were treated fairly and as any other humans.”