New Delhi: Ziya Paval always wanted to be a mother, and her partner Zahad Fazil always wanted to be a father. So, when he got pregnant, they were both elated. This week, Zahad gave birth via caesarean section to a healthy baby at a government hospital in Kerala’s Kozhikode. Along the way, he and Ziya also overturned traditional notions about pregnancy, parenthood, and family.
“I was not born a woman, but I always had the feminine dream inside me, of a child calling me mother,” said Ziya, 21, a dance teacher. “And just as I dreamed of becoming a mother, Zahad dreamed of becoming a father.”
This Wednesday, Ziya and Zahad made history as India’s first transgender couple to become biological parents. While Ziya was assigned male at birth, 23-year-old Zahad, an accountant, was assigned female.
Both were undergoing hormonal therapy to change their sex, but paused the treatment so that they could conceive a child naturally last year. The Kerala couple had mulled over adoption too, but found the legalities too cumbersome to navigate.
The couple haven’t disclosed the sex of their baby. They feel the child should have the freedom to pick a gender, eventually.
The newborn’s cries could be heard in the background when ThePrint spoke to Ziya over the phone Friday.
The new mother’s happiness came through in her voice. She said she was not just excited for her own family but hopeful for the transgender community as a whole.
“The transgender community lives in fear of society. There may be many trans men or trans women who wish to become parents like us. But they do not have the courage to go ahead because they fear humiliation and rejection,” she said.
When the couple’s friend Diya Sana, an activist and TV personality, broke the news of the baby’s delivery on social media, it quickly went viral, attracting a flurry of congratulations, including from Kerala’s social justice minister R. Bindu who tweeted that the birth opens doors “to a new, more inclusive, gender-aware world”.
It's heartening to hear that trans couple Ziya Paval and Zahad Fazil are now biological parents. Let the birth of their child – whose very existence subverts society's obsolete and rigid cisgender dichotomies – open doors to a new, more inclusive, gender-aware world. pic.twitter.com/GEJrBtAL5C
— Dr R Bindu (@rbinducpm) February 8, 2023
Kerala health minister Veena George also called the couple to wish them well and promised to meet them when she visits Kozhikode next. In a statement, the minister’s office said that provisions had been made to treat both Zahad and the baby free of cost.
“We have enough support from the government. We don’t need anything else,” Ziya said.
However, even amid these happy moments, the couple have faced rejection and ostracism from their own families and encountered many hurdles as they transitioned and tried to create a family of their own.
Also read: ‘She’s not always a woman to me’: Court cases on ‘gender-deception’ highlight true cost of stigma
Family by heart, not blood
Make-up artist and actress Deepa Rani is constantly multi-tasking these days. While she was speaking to ThePrint, she was also rushing to deliver food to the new parents.
“Ziya has been my daughter for five years, and Zahad has been my son-in-law for three,” Deepa Rani, who is also a trans woman, explained.
Right from the time the couple became pregnant, Deepa Rani, or ‘Deepa Ma’ as she is known, has become the de facto maternal grandmother of the family and has been there every step of the way. She’s the best person to talk to for updates about the baby or the parents.
“We got very special care from all the doctors, nurses, and security staff in the hospital,” she said. “The biggest thanks go to the superintendent of the Kozhikode Medical College, He helped us a lot.”
Breast milk had been arranged for the baby from a donor bank and a delivery system was in place, she added.
When asked if Ziya’s biological parents were in the picture, Deepa Rani said they were not. ”I am her foster mother. I took care of her. When she came out after struggling a lot and declared her identity, I was the one who accepted her.”
Ziya had had a tough life, she said. “She was the youngest child among eight siblings. She was not treated well. People teased her for her feminine look. She endured everything, but eventually decided to leave home and came to a shelter home for trans people in Kozhikode, where I met her. Zahad was in a similar situation.”
In an earlier interview with BBC, Ziya has described coming from a conservative Muslim family that did not let her follow her passion for classical dance and forced her to conform to masculine gender norms, including cutting her hair against her will. She has also claimed that she left home to participate in a youth festival, but never returned. It was only after she left home that she was able to pursue dance.
Another friend of the couple, who calls herself their “sister” is Diya Sana, perhaps best known as a contestant in the first season of Bigg Boss Malayalam. She has worked with the LGBTQI community for the last 13 years.
“I’ve known Ziya for the last four years, and Zahad for two years. I have been adopted by a transgender person myself, and that is why Ziya is my sister,” she said.
”Ziya’s mother and father are not supporting them, even though that baby is their blood too. But they have Deepa Maa with them,” she added.
The family also has a ‘brother’ in the form of Adam Harry, widely known as India’s first trans pilot.
The 23-year-old trans man told ThePrint that Zahad, who comes from Thiruvananthapuram, had also fallen out with his family after he came out as trans, but that his mother and sister came around after he got pregnant.
“Ziya is earning her living by working as a dance teacher and Zahad is an accountant in a supermarket,” Harry added.
Love and then parenthood
According to Deepa, Ziya and Zahad met at a community function some three years ago.He had recently arrived in Kozhikode for a job. The two immediately clicked. They were both estranged from their families and both were in the process of transitioning, and it wasn’t long before they fell in love.
At the time they met, Ziya had already got breast implants and Zahad had had a mastectomy five years ago, Harry said. However, Zahad’s ovaries and uterus were still intact, which meant the door was still open for him to carry a child.
About a year and a half into their relationship, the couple decided they wanted to become parents, after which they temporarily ceased their hormone treatments upon the advice of a doctor. Not long afterwards, they were able to conceive naturally.
The due date was 4 March, but though the baby arrived a few weeks early, there were no major complications. In an Instagram post on 8 February, Ziya announced: “Mashallah…The baby was born by around 9.30 am through a caesarean section at the Government Medical College Hospital.”
In a Facebook post, Harry offered the rationale for not disclosing the child’s sex. “A healthy baby is born. Not a baby girl or baby boy…after all who are we to assume their gender. Let them grow and explore their identity,” he wrote.
Both father and child are doing well, Deepa Rani said, and will be discharged from hospital in a few days.
‘No less of a man’
The decision to have a child biologically was not an easy one for Zahad. He had fought hard to express his gender identity as a man, but carrying and delivering a baby are seen as quintessentially female. However, his trepidation gave way to excitement eventually, Harry said.
Further, trying to have a baby naturally was simpler than jumping through legal hurdles for adoption.
While the ‘third gender’ has been officially recognised in India since 2014, transgender people are still not fully accommodated in the law. Further, though India decriminalised homosexuality in 2018, same-sex marriages are still not recognised. This has implications for adoption too.
According to experts, the law does not prohibit adoption based on sexual orientation or gender, but under the Juvenile Justice Act, only single persons or a couple in a stable marital relationship can adopt. This leaves out live-in couples.
If an LGBTQI person wants to adopt, they can apply to the Central Adoption Review Authority (CARA) as a single parent only. Activists argue that legalising same-sex marriage is the only way to end the “discrimination” against LGBTQI couples who want to adopt a child together.
“There are many childless women in this society, it’s a world where people strangle their own children. But when we had a child, a lot of negative comments and videos came out. We won’t give up on this. It’s very difficult for us trans people to adopt a child. That’s why we chose this way,” Deepa Rani said. “But now more people will come forward. Let’s wait for the new good generation.”
She and Harry both also noted that the law wasn’t the only problem. The couple also had to deal with vicious transphobic comments on social media ever since their pregnancy became public.
“There are a lot of people posting bad comments against them. Like anyone else, trans people have the right to love, conceive a child, and live a life,” Harry said.
It didn’t matter how a baby was brought into the world, he added. “IVF and surrogacy have become more accepted now. Just because somebody else carries a child, a mother doesn’t become less of a mother,” he added.
Harry said that the child’s mother was Ziya, because that’s what the couple had decided.
“Just because Zahad carried the child, it does not make him any less of a man or a father,” he added.
The couple have planned for Ziya to be the baby’s primary caretaker while Zahad will return to work as soon as he recovers. She too plans to increase the number of students at the dance centre.
The pair hope they can legally marry once they complete their sex transition.
‘An example to follow’
For many in the transgender community, Zahad and Ziya have opened a new world of possibilities.
Vidya Rajput, a Chandigarh-based trans activist, told ThePrint that she was delighted that the couple had decided to become parents.
“This (a trans man bearing a child) has happened in the West, but now it is happening in India. Many others will follow their example. Even parents (of transgender people) now don’t have to worry that their children can’t raise a family,” she said.
“After this couple, others will get courage and people will now understand that we did not commit a crime by falling in love and having a child,” she added. “We do have the right to love and live.”
In a tweet, Kerala social justice minister R. Bindu also said that the birth of Ziya and Zahad’s baby should “serve as a guiding light” and replace the “traditional, heteronormative idea of a family” with one that is “defined by love and acceptance.”
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
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