SHOCKING! Why Adam Harry Can’t Be A Pilot In India

‘How can I pursue my dream forgoing my identity? I want to fly as a trans man.’

 

Adam Harry got admission at the Rajiv Gandhi Academy for Aviation Technology with a scholarship from the Kerala state government to be a commercial pilot in 2019.

But he is yet to start his training at the Academy.

Reason: He was denied admission by Directorate General of Civil Aviation on medical grounds.

Why was he rejected by the DGCA? Because he was a trans man on hormone therapy!

Adam then got a private pilot’s licence from South Africa.

Is this how India treats a trans person?

“The DGCA want me to do many more medical tests. I have no money to spend on so many tests. I have already spent Rs 45,000 on medical tests. As I am the first trans man applying for a pilot’s license, it has been very hard for me,” Adam tells Rediff.com‘s Shobha Warrier.

As a child, did you dream about becoming a pilot?

It was my dream from the time I could remember. My Uppa had gifted me a fighter plane when I was in the 2nd standard, and that was one of my precious and favourite toys.

Because my Uppa worked in Oman, we used to go to the airport to see him off, and that was something I always looked forward to.

The sight of so many planes landing and taking off gave me a kind of excitement which was difficult to put into words.

Not just aeroplanes, the sky itself fascinated me. My favourite pastime was looking at the sky for hours. I used to rush out whenever I heard a plane or a helicopter flying.

So, from a very young age itself, it was my dream to be a pilot and fly planes.

When did you start thinking about taking up flying as a profession?

When I was in high school itself, I had decided that I wanted to undergo training to fly airplanes.

For Plus 2, I took up subjects that would help me pursue a career in flying.

At that time, I had not come out about my gender identity.

When did you start feeling the conflict inside about your identity?

Even as a child, people used to comment that my gender expressions were masculine.

By the time I turned 11 or 12, I started feeling the conflict, and those were very difficult days for me.

I felt my identity did not match with my body and it can be very disturbing for a person.

During my teenage years, I felt attracted to girls. I also knew that it was not about my sexual orientation but my identity itself.

But at that time, I had no knowledge of transgenders. In fact, I had not even heard of that term.

So, I felt conflicted inside, unable to understand why I was feeling different from my body. I thought there was something wrong with me.

Did you confide about this conflict to anybody?

Though I hadn’t spoken to any of my friends in school about how I felt, my classmates always spoke about how I looked and behaved like a boy.

I never had long hair; I preferred to cut it short. I was masculine in my actions and behaviour.

I thoroughly enjoyed performing as male characters in the school plays. I felt that was the real me.

I was very active in athletics, participating in long distance running, javelin throw, discus throw, etc. I also played many games.

I loved sports and games because they gave me an opportunity to wear the dresses I am more comfortable with.

At the same time, I just could not accept the changes that were happening in my body. It made me very upset.

My family sensed that there was something wrong with my behaviour, but they were not ready to accept it.

Even the so-called educated and professionally qualified people living in the cities have no knowledge of gender or sexuality.

So, you can imagine the situation in a small village near Thrissur in Kerala. Such a society will look at you as an aberration.

When I was around 13 or so, I happened to read a Supreme Court judgment on trans people. That was when I realised I was not alone in this world, and there are many others who go through such identity conflicts.

From that day onwards, I started thinking about a medical transition so that I would come out of the conflict I was going through.

How did you go about the medical transition? When I spoke to many trans persons here, they used to say that they received support and help only from the trans community…

Life experiences of trans women is entirely different from what a trans man goes through. They live in communities, and they have a place to go to. Our life is totally different.

In my case, two things were very important to me; my identity and also realising my dream as a pilot.

After Plus 2, Uppa took an education loan and sent me to undergo pilot training at Johannesburg.

My family knew it was a dream that I carried with me from childhood.

Actually, because ours was a conservative family, there was a lot of opposition when Uppa agreed to send me to South Africa. But then my teachers and some relatives made them agree as I was so passionate about flying.

So, in 2016 at the age of 17, I flew to Johannesburg to undergo private pilot training for one year.

It was the first step I took in realising my dream.

I could work as a pilot only if I underwent commercial pilot training too. But I had to come back after a year.

That was also because of the problems that arose in the family after I started slowly expressing my true identity.

I was sent to South Africa with a warning not to do any such unwanted things. But I did.

Did you feel like a bird flying away to freedom when you flew to Johannesburg?

No doubt about it.

Where I grew up, nobody understood what I was going through. But when I reached there, I realised I could be myself, away from the prying critical eyes.

In fact, I had a very difficult and taxing time when I was doing my Plus 2 years.

In a weak moment, I had confided to some of my friends about my true identity which they used to bully me and ridicule me.

In front of the teachers also, I was ragged.

I was also thrown out of NSS (the National Service Scheme) because of how I felt.

Were you able to express your true identity when you were in a foreign land?

Yes. I was dying to escape from where I was.

Many people say they felt nervous to go to an unknown place. It was not for me.

I was excited and happy to be in a place where I had the freedom to express myself.

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.

After one year of private pilot training, I didn’t want to come back, but then I didn’t have any money to continue my training as a commercial pilot.

With just a part time job, you can’t survive there.

How did you feel when you flew an aircraft as a pilot, a dream you carried from childhood?

I had no words to express how I felt sitting in the cockpit and looking at the sky all around me. I felt like a bird.

How do you describe the one year you spent there?

It was not without tension. Not living there, but the steps I took to come out.

I started posting about how people like me truly felt, on Facebook. Though I didn’t write directly, it was obvious that I was writing about myself.

Then, I wrote indirectly about my true identity.

Finally, I came out by writing that I was a trans man, and that the pronoun I wanted to use would be he/him.

My family and also the people in my area read the post, and what followed was an explosion.

After I came back, I was under house arrest for one year.

My family was very ashamed of me. They took me for counselling thinking I would be okay after counselling.

Unable to bear the torture meted out to me, I ran away from home with just my certificates in hand.

After that, they never enquired after me. I am also not in touch with my family for the last 4 years.

At that time, I had only one thought in my mind; I wanted to live as me at least one day in my life.

I knew in my heart that I would survive and be able to live as Adam Harry.

How did you survive after running away from home?

I went to Fort Kochi where I met a few trans men.

I also started doing odd jobs at many places including working in a juice shop. It was not easy making money doing small, odd jobs.

With the money I made, I consulted a doctor and started hormone therapy.

How did you get admission at the Rajiv Gandhi Academy of Aviation Technology?

The Mathrubhumi newspaper first wrote about me and my struggles to realise my dream to be a pilot as a trans man.

After the news appeared, the social welfare department asked me to apply for a scholarship at the Rajiv Gandhi Academy.

The social welfare department also arranged accommodation for me in a shelter home.

I got the scholarship to get trained as a commercial pilot for three years at the Academy. By the time I got the first instalment of the scholarship, it was early 2020.

The problems started with the medical examination.

When the DGCA came to know that I was undergoing hormone therapy, I was rejected.

There are many trans pilots all over the world, and there is no such restriction anywhere in the world.

As I had to renew my private pilot license which had expired by then, I went to South Africa.

When I underwent the medical examination there for renewal, I found that they had no issues with the hormone therapy I was undergoing.

After I came back, I informed the state government that I would not be rejected in South Africa because I was undergoing hormone therapy. Then, the state government asked me to transfer my admission and scholarship to South Africa.

I have applied for a transfer and the procedure is going on.

It was reported that after the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment called the DGCA’s action discriminatory and violation of the Transgender persons Protection of Rights Act, and the DGCA has asked you to apply again for a medical assessment…

In January 2020, I was told I was temporarily unfit to fly for 6 months as I was on hormone therapy.

In August 2020, I was given a valid medical assessment when I stopped my therapy, but then my doctors advised me against it as what I am undergoing is a lifelong therapy and I am not supposed to stop it at all.

So, it is a question of my identity. How can I pursue my dream forgoing my identity? I want to fly as a trans man.

The word DGCA is using now is ‘stabilise’. What do they mean by stabilise?

They are using such words because they have no idea about trans people at all.

The hormone therapy people like us undergo is not something you can stop or stabilise; it is a lifelong treatment.

I had submitted medical certificates from psychiatrists that said there was absolutely no problem in me flying an aircraft.

Now they want me to do many more medical tests. I have no money to spend on so many tests. I have already spent Rs 45,000 on medical tests.

As I am the first trans man applying for a pilot’s license, it has been very hard for me.

Has your life changed a bit now?

Nothing has changed! It is still the same.

I still do a lot of odd jobs to survive which include taking classes at medical colleges and other educational institutions on gender sensitivity.

The attitude of society has also not changed. For example, I had done quite a few shows for Sabha TV on trans people, but many of those programmes were not aired at all.

I had my first pilot training at 17. I am 23 now. Sometimes I feel I am growing old while still chasing my dream.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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