Meet 23-years-old Adam Harry from Kerala, in India. Adam was denied a commercial pilot’s licence for pursuing his gender identity as a transman. Yet, against all the odds, the young man is now set to take to the skies.
Adam explains, “I was born a biological girl and raised in an orthodox family. From childhood days, my dream has been to fly as a pilot. At the same time, I grew to realise my unique self-expression was different and that is how at the age of 13, I came out to myself, with what little I could understand as ‘queer’.”
In his teens, when Adam had just begun emerging out of his closet, he was taunted by the school staff for his queer mannerisms and self-expression. But these experiences have enriched the young man’s determination to fight against the barriers thrown in his way
“The teachers at school forced me to practice walking and behaving like a ‘girl’. Since I was still young at that point, I did not understand that this was bullying and assumed that something could be wrong with me” Adam recalls.
While in school, his peers also refused to socialise with him, which forced the teenager to isolate himself. At this point Adam came across an article about a transgender person and started to research online. Adam then understood that he was a transman. He realised that there was nothing wrong with him and explained his gender identity to his family. It did not go well.
“I was already skeptical that my orthodox family, who would not even approve of me wearing pants, would actually accept my gender identity, irrespective of the fact that I was being honest and came out to them as a transman. As expected, they were disappointed with my gender identity and demanded that I stop being ‘queer’. So, I falsely promised them that I would not be ‘queer’ anymore. This false promise eventually led my parents to fund my childhood dream to pursue further studies as a pilot at a university in South Africa,”
Adam then enrolled at Skylark Aviation Academy in Johannesburg, South Africa, where he had the freedom to be himself without fearing the cis-normative boundaries.
“When I was abroad, I was free to be myself and came out as a transman on social media. This embarrassed my family further and they stopped funding my pilot training midway. So, I began working in restaurants and did odd jobs to financially aid my pilot training”
Adam’s hard work paid off! He successfully gained a private pilot’s licence and returned to India. But to his shock, his family placed him under house arrest based on the false promise he had made earlier.
“Once I returned from South Africa, my family members house-arrested me and forcibly took me to various religious correction therapies which broke my spirit and confidence as a human. However, I managed to escape from house arrest and got away my family. I stayed on railway platforms and the streets until a queer friend offered me shelter and a job at their shop, where I worked as a juice maker for one year. My queer friends then helped me rebuild my confidence.”
As Adam continued to work at the juice shop, he was spotted by the media as the first transman to become a pilot and soon became a hot topic! The social justice minister, KK Shailaja Teacher of the Kerala Government, picked up Adam’s determination to become a pilot via a news article and granted the young man a scholarship to study further.
Adam later also went through sex reassignment surgery under a State Government reimbursement scheme specifically for trans people. However, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s (DGCA) Medical Assessment Board, which falls under the Central Ministry, stated that gender dysphoria rendered Adam unfit to fly and denied him a medical fitness certificate.
Adam continued, “The DGCA has no guidelines for transmen and thus informed me that if I underwent sex reassignment surgery, I would be ineligible to attain a commercial pilot’s licence. Nevertheless, I did not want to give up on my career as a pilot nor my true identity. I underwent the sex reassignment surgery. Now, I am determined to be a certified commercial pilot – which has been my all-time dream”
With the help of an advocate, he is now on a journey of persuading the DGCA in the courts to reverse their refill to grant him the necessary medical certification. Currently, Adam serves as a gender rights activist in Kerala and supports several queer folks in crisis.
The persistent young pilot insists “I am determined in my attempt towards amending the unfair system that curbs the growth of Indian trans and queer community – not only in the field of aviation but in many other professions. As much as being a transman or a pilot has been a part of my identity and goal, I also envision Bering able to bring about changes for the queer community. After all, everyone is entitled to live with dignity.”