Adam Harry was 11 years old when he made his first flight.
He liked this experience so much that he decided to become a pilot when he grew up. His family was supportive in the southern Indian state of Kerala. His parents took a loan to send him to a flying school in South Africa.
But halfway through that, they stopped funding her after she emerged as transgender.
“They weren’t ready to accept me for who I am,” says Mr Harry, now 23.
An estimated two million transgender people are in India, although activists say the number is higher. In 2014, the Supreme Court of India ruled that they have the same rights as people of the other gender.
However, they still struggle to access education, healthcare and jobs. Many are also forced to leave their families due to the stigma and prejudice attached to the community.
After his family retreated, Mr Harry received a private pilot’s license – which would allow him to fly planes as a hobby – but could not complete the course.
After returning home, he continued his efforts, even receiving funding from the Kerala state government to complete his studies and obtain a commercial pilot’s license from a local academy.
But then, he hit a roadblock. He alleged that Indian regulators declared him “unfit to fly” in 2020 after a medical examination because he was on a hormone therapy drug – which suppresses female secondary sex characteristics – for sex change.
According to the Medical Assessment Report released by the Institute of Aerospace Medicine, the reason was that as long as a person takes the drugs, he is suffering from gender dysphoria.
Gender dysphoria refers to the discomfort caused by a perceived mismatch between biological sex and gender identity. Experts say it can cause depression and anxiety.
Mr Harry says he was told he would be able to ask for a review only after he stopped taking the drug. He says he followed the instructions for a few months before his endocrinologist told him he would have to continue taking the medication for the rest of his life.
Mr Harry is making ends meet by doing odd jobs – he hosts programmes on local TV channels, speaks on gender sensitisation to college students and sometimes works for food delivery apps.
He says the public battle he is waging has received support from old friends and teachers, some of whom would mock him at school. But his family still hasn’t communicated with him.
“I don’t blame them because our society isn’t accepting enough regarding gender and sexuality. They had faced a lot of bullying from relatives. So they were under pressure to stop me from transitioning,” he says.
“I miss them, but I now have a large family in the transgender community.”