Sensuous in Satin

Reflections on Transgender life

India on my own terms - the experiences of a trans traveller

Posted by Adrian • Monday, January 1. 2018 • Category: Being transgender

Experiences of a transgender traveller in India

I recently returned from 3 weeks exploring Central India with my partner. This was an adventure for us on many levels, but personally this was the first time I had freely expressed my gender identity whilst on holiday. Before heading off from Sydney I looked on the internet for hints about what I might expect as a trans traveler but there wasn't a lot written. So I'm posting this account to help other trans travellers to enjoy India.

On reflection our trip was enhanced by my decision to travel on my own terms. At no stage did we ever feel threatened, and we were met with nothing but smiles. Indian women and girls were happy to approach us, and Indian men treated us with respect (and some amusement).

Wherever we went we were the subject of constant good natured attention. We will never know how much this was a result of my being trans, or because we were fair skinned, or because ladies don't travel on their own in rural India. But if you are a wallflower, avoiding attention and hoping to blend in, then this experience is not for you.




English is not widely spoken outside the tourist centres, so our verbal interactions with Indians were quite limited. Waiters and hotel staff have learned to address foreign couples as Sir and Madam, and I was addressed in both ways quite randomly.

There was something surreal about dressing for dinner in a Kurti, Dhoti pants and a scarf and being addressed as Sir. If you easily take offence at being misgendered (even by someone not speaking in their mother tongue) then again, this experience is not for you.




But for those trans women who want to travel somewhere safe and welcoming, India in my experience is a perfect destination.


Travel Notes

Where you go, and how, may influence your experiences as a trans traveller in India; so here is some background on our trip. We flew to Jaipur from Australia picking up a car and driver on arrival. Our itinerary didn't include any of the big cities (where women are I believe more Westernised in dress), nor did we visit any of the big sights (where inbound tourists are commonly encountered and ignored). We stayed in reasonable hotels, ate extensively in local restaurants, and tried completely unsuccessfully to blend in.

Security Screening

At some point if you are flying into and out of India you will have to pass through airport security. In India all screening is performed with separate channels for men and women. The difference is that women are frisked behind a curtain (and the queue is much shorter). I never received any questioning about lining up in the women's channel, but frequently was called out when I queued with men. It's nice to be validated in this way - but you need to think through how you are dressed, what your travel documents say, and how you want to be treated in advance; then just queue with confidence.

What to wear

To be accepted as a woman in India you must dress as a woman. This means leaving short sleeved tops, short skirts and summer dresses at home. Women are expected to cover themselves completely in public. Although Indians freely expose their midriff and backs a Westerner trying the same look would just appear silly. For the same reason don't try wearing a sari if you have fair skin. I bought a number of Indian kurtis (tunics) online before the trip - coupled with loose pants these were comfortable in the heat. Most clothing sold in India is too small for a trans woman, and getting items made to measure is cheap but difficult if you intend to be travelling around frequently.





Public toilets are always an issue for the trans traveller. In India public toilets are generally so dirty (and smelly) you would have to be desperate to use them. We had no issues using the toilets in cafes and restaurants. You have to be prepared for there to be no toilet paper, and in the nicer places there will often be a lady cleaner. She isn't the gender police - just give her a small coin and a smile.











Indians are very used to the concept of a third gender - Hijra (trans) women can be seen in many temples. But trans Westerners are a rarity, they look very different so Indians don't seem to readily make the connection. I was asked once (by a boy in a temple) if I was man or woman and when I answered "both" he walked away without any obvious confusion. In one hotel the manager wanted to know why I presented as a woman, but when told I was trans he was completely accepting.


As you can see I only had positive experiences of travelling in India on my own terms. It won't be long before we plan another visit.


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