Sadam Hanjabam from Manipur has been conducting a separate sporting event for transgender people to help them showcase their skills through his initiative named ‘Ya All’. The fourth edition took place early this year and as many as 20 trans men participated in the match.
The LGBTQ community has been pleading for acceptance for a while now. However, these thoughts are not seeping down into the minds of the people so often. Trans people are expected to stay behind closed doors and not be vocal about their true identity. Sadam Hajnibam from Manipur had experienced this in his childhood as he belonged to the queer community. It made him well determined to change the plight of the LGBTQI community. He launched an initiative of creating a football team for transgenders to provide them with a platform to showcase their skills in sports under the name of “Queer Games”, a flagship event where sports and games are used as a tool for LGBTQI awareness and mainstreaming.
Every year a five-day-long festival known as the “Yaoshang Festival” is celebrated in Manipur to mark the onset of spring. Many games and sports are organized for the people of the state. However, only the binary genders participate in sports. No place was given for the participation of transgenders. They remained deprived of the platform through which they can show their talent and skills to the people. Sadam sensed an opportunity. “Football is the most popular sport in Manipur, so I decided to use this sport as a tool to break the stereotypes of society and make a separate transgender football team,” he says.
He planned to get his idea rolling through his queer-focussed organization “Ya-All”. The initiative is based out of Imphal. The NGO reached out to the communities through social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp. The response was good. In 2018 between six transmen and six transwomen played an informal friendly match. This match was a pilot run to observe the response of the people. Surprisingly, the idea of an All-trans football match attracted a lot of crowd and press. The players were exhilarated. It was one of those rare moments when the crowd cheered for them and celebrated their victories alongside them. There were emotional moments and overwhelming ones too. More than that, the players had found a new level of comfort. They shared a team with people who were like them and knew what their struggles were.
Sadam had just found the right platform to bridge this gap between the community and society. He went to the drawing board to map his plan out. Which inevitably involved a few more games in 2019. In 2020, the first official match with a full-fledged football team was played. It was the first transgender football team not only in India but also in Asia. This initiative gives a platform for the Queers to play with their own identity openly.
However, it was not easy for Hanjabam to come up with the initiative and make it successful. The major challenge was the fear of stigma among Queer people. They were hesitant to come out openly as trans. They feared that if they joined the transgender football team, they would not be able to play in any other category. Often their family did not want them identified as Transgenders. Hence, it was difficult to initially gather them for a team. With a lot of conversations and confiding, they were convinced. Their first match in 2018 openly as transgenders changed everything for them. They realized that they are more confident among the people of their community. They found a place where there was nobody to judge them based on who they were.
Through this initiative, a gradual change can be seen in the mindset of the people of Manipur. Sadam says, “Now people have become welcoming towards us, they give their grounds to us for practice before the tournament. We are welcomed in schools and colleges to conduct counselling sessions. We have narrowed down the gap between LGBTQ people and society through this initiative”.
The initiative provided rigorous training to the players in sports. It also works for their holistic development by providing them with year-long counselling on their mental health, physical health, and sexual health. “We provide a free-of-cost service on personality development and training to the team members. Unlike many other academies or organizations which take money for providing their services, we give every service free of cost and mould the players into smart and positive human beings through counselling. Seeing the change, parents have also become more accepting of their children’s identities” says Sadam.
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Currently, the team consists of a squad of 21 trans members, out of which 15 players are fixed for the team. This year the latest edition of Queer Games was held to celebrate the first anniversary of the tea. About a hundred people attended to watch the seven-a-side friendly match. The NGO is planning to include more games and sports under this initiative and make it a bigger event. “We are hoping to participate in the next Gay Games to be held in Hong Kong in 2022”, he says. He hopes for more players to come forward to join the team and be a part of tournaments held for LGBTQ individuals. He wants his team to be recognized by the government. “Things will change. I can see the start. I am happy that I am a part of building that change where I live”, he says.