Maya Jafer, a transgender Muslim woman from South Asia, shares her story in the documentary, “Rites of Passage.”
Growing up in India, the only person who knew Mohammed Jafer’s true identity was a Buddhist monk: “I see the woman in you,” he said, “and I want to call you Maya because I see a lot of love in you.”
But the 42-year-old — now Maya, who said the name means “love” — from Tamil Nadu always knew she was a woman, even if virtually no one else did.
By Avni Nijhawan,
In India West, Jun 18, 2012
“I am a woman in a man’s body …” she said, referring to how she felt before she began her transition to physically become a woman. “I was trying to fix everything else, until I realized I have the option inside me.”
That’s the story a new documentary, called “Mohammed to Maya,” tells as it follows Maya, a male-to-female transgender individual, in a physical and spiritual journey into womanhood that pushes the limits of tradition.
The feature-length film is currently being submitted to major film festivals everywhere, but a shorter version called “Rites of Passage” has already been screening at film festivals worldwide. It premiered at the Los Angeles Transgender Film Festival, where it won the Audience Choice Award. Most recently, the film had its Asian and African premieres at the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival and the Durban Festival, and will be shown next at Outfest in Los Angeles, Calif. July 12-22.
Director Jeff Roy, a graduate student of ethnomusicology at UCLA, and Maya spoke with India-West over the phone about the film’s development. The film is Roy’s first, and one he had never imagined making during his research on dance performance in the hijra community.
Born into a tight-knit, orthodox Muslim family of naturopathic healers, Maya’s decision did not go over well.
“They still see me as a man, and they still address me by my original name,” she said. “I have not seen my family in over five years.”
Maya began physically transitioning into a woman during her late thirties, and lived as a woman for two years before getting sexual reassignment surgery in Thailand because she couldn’t afford one in the U.S.
Maya, who herself has two doctorates in naturopathic medicine, including one from Bastyr University in Washington state, said her decision was not a frivolous one.
“I didn’t just lose my mind coming to America,” she told India-West. “I would have committed suicide or done the transition to become a complete woman. I had no other way.”
Maya’s story is as much about her physical transition into womanhood as it was about her spiritual one.
“I’ve had to redefine my relationship with God because I used to be an orthodox Muslim myself,” she said. Now, Maya considers herself “a Muslim with Buddhist approach.”
“We are literally treated less than human,” she said. “We’re not asking for special treatment. We’re asking for equality.” “I feel God loves me just the way I am, and for the first time in my life, I’m beginning to love myself,” she said. “And I still love my family even though they’ve rejected me.”
SOURCE: indiawest.com (18/06/2012)
(Photos courtesy Jeff Roy)