On a Friday afternoon, on 16 January 2015, the student soon to be formerly known as Krishna Singh stepped up in front of a packed assembly hall at Delhi’s Vasant Valley School. “I guess I always knew I was different. I wasn’t exactly a normal kid,” Singh said. “But then again, what is ‘normal?’ Everyone is different, everyone is unique. So why aren't we allowed to flourish with our individual identities?”
Over the next few minutes Singh went on to describe her struggle with gender and identity, and eventually come out as a transgender woman to her peers and teachers.
From that point onwards, her transition to Naina Singh became an assertion of her right to be comfortable in her own skin. As the youngest Indian to have identified as transgender, Singh was all over social media, the news, and public discourse; her private decision was suddenly under the glare of the public eye. And she responded with aplomb—she spoke at public events, appeared on news channels and even started a YouTube channel, where she documents her progress with Hormone Replacement Therapy, and answers questions that pertain to gender and identity. Part agony-aunt, part-activist, and a tall, striking, young woman, NainaQueenB (as she is known across her various social media accounts) has travelled a long way from the fear and stigma that had shrouded her early years.
At 17, she is a role model for transpeople across the country and perhaps the world, some of whom are born into environments harsher than hers. She recounted speaking at length with a transperson from Saudi Arabia who was feeling suicidal. “I’m not going to be India’s youngest transgender for long, but it’s not like I will stop trying to create awareness or not help,” she told me. Singh said she always stresses that she is not a counsellor and encourages people to seek one, but that she is familiar with how confusion and isolation “sucks, and can lead to self-harm and suicide.” “I can’t counsel people–I am not trained and do not know their circumstances. But I can prevent them from being dead,” she said. She described how she once accidentally called the Dutch police while trying to help someone in the Netherlands find a counsellor, and recounted the time she told a girl from a small town in Uttar Pradesh to choose life or she’d never be able to give herself the beauty and the joy that she deserved.
My first impression of Naina when I met her at her home on 30 April 2016 was that she was like any other teenager; Instagram and boredom were recurrent themes when it came to conversations about everyday life. The most exciting thing about her life, she said, was the makeup course she wanted to pursue over the summer holidays.