In 2018, Praveen Nath from Nenmara, Palakkad, became one of the three students to get admission in the transgender quota, first time in Kerala, for undergraduate studies in Maharajas College, Ernakulam. Two years later, when he quit studies, no one expected him to don a bodybuilder's role.
The 24-year-old became the first transgender bodybuilder from Kerala, and that too by winning Mr Kerala title in the special category.
But life was not a bed of roses for Praveen, whose transformation from a girl to a transman involved struggles and humiliation.
It included not-so-silly teases during school days and invalidation from family.
"I don't wish to blame anyone because this is what society has taught them. People like me are not normal humans in their eyes. This will change with time and effort is what I have learned so far," says Praveen. He underwent sex reassignment surgery two years back after realising that 'he' was captivated in a 'she' body.
He took to bodybuilding a year back, unexpectedly.
"I wanted to burn excess fat and joined a gym in Palakkad, but was not comfortable there. RS Fitness Centre in Thrissur was my third destination and luckily I got Vinu Mohan as my trainer. My life took a turn from there," Praveen said.
Vinu Mohan, a former Mr Kerala, played a vital role in Praveen’s journey to the same title in a different category. Praveen appeared in the transgender category, introduced this year by the Kerala State Body Building Association (KSBBA) after the persistent efforts of his trainer.
"We were able to convince the association and are really thankful to them. Special gratitude to Panicker sir (M Panicker is an international judge and General Secretary of KSBBA) for giving Praveen a platform and sending a message of inclusiveness to society. I am glad to be a part of it," says Vinu in pride.
Praveen was confused before getting into the arena of bodybuilding.
His experiences from the other two fitness centres were not that pleasant and that’s when Vinu suggested not to reveal his gender identity to the gym-mates.
It was only in April, after bagging Mr Thrissur title, that everyone got to know that Praveen is a transman.
"I felt the stares and comments from people will bring down his confidence. Now, when he is here with a title, everyone congratulates and speaks well of him. This was a tactical move and it came out well," says Vinu, who masterminded Praveen's success story.
When asked about a moving incident after the victory, Praveen emotionally recollected his family's validation.
"My mother is the one who has been blamed by the entire family when I came out as a transman. She is the happiest in my success and we are celebrating it together."
Praveen also said one of his brothers, who hasn’t even talked to him for years, put up an appreciation post on Facebook after the achievement.
"Most of us (queer community) are overturned by our families but what we seek the most is their presence and backing in life," added Praveen.
He is also excited to receive honours from his native place for the first time in life.
Praveen is a member and advocacy coordinator of Sahayatrika, a Thrissur-based organisation for the LGBTQIA+ community.
"Sahayatrika moulded me into the person I am now. I wouldn't have reached anywhere without them," says Praveen. The organisation has been working for the past 20 years within the community providing support like counselling and crisis handling.
A queer can't live a relaxed life is what Praveen says from his experience.
"It is sad that we are not seen worthy unless we garner some achievements. I am going to utilise this and actively work for the community through Sahayatrika," added Praveen.
Seethal Syam, Renju Renjimar and several other prominent people from the trans-community appreciated him in person for creating history and being their voice. "They have always believed and stood with me. We are a family," Praveen added.
"After the victory, I receive messages from trans people who have doubts regarding their body and fitness to get into the field right away," explained Vinu.
Praveen is awaiting Mr. South India competition in two months and Mr. India in February but is uncertain about participation due to financial difficulties.
"I need to follow a strict diet plan which itself costs Rs 600-700 a day. We managed to accumulate money from individuals till now but without receiving a sponsorship, things are going to be difficult," says Praveen, who got ready for the Mr India competition within 20 days by working out three times a day.
Praveen's journey is an inspiration for the queer community. Moreover, it is also a wake-up call for those who snub someone for their gender identity.