India’s first transgender football team is just getting started

“I can’t be myself at home or away because I constantly feel like I have to live up to people’s expectations and I let them down by choosing myself and my happiness” , admits midfielder Anao Phanjaobam. “But when I’m with my team, I can be myself. The only thing they expect from me is that I improve my playing technique and win games,” he says with a smile. In a way, the most important service Ya-All has done for these young men is giving them the gift of family. Often victims of mental suffocation at the hands of their families of origin, players find themselves breathing easier on the pitch with each other, even if they get out of breath engaging in strenuous physical exercise. Watch closely and you’ll notice a noticeable spring in their step as they cross the sideline and step onto the turf, the weight of social fanaticism gently sliding off their shoulders as they put away their duffel bags, the thud of the ball blunting any nagging thoughts in their heads. Having attended mental health workshops and sexual and reproductive health and rights sessions together, the boys are quick friends off the pitch as well, which is evident from their honest and refreshing locker room conversation, the exchange of warm hugs and homemade food, and a steady stream of laughter shared in each other’s company. Khuman succinctly sums up his feelings about being part of this record-breaking team: “I joined Ya-All out of curiosity, but I wasn’t sure it would last. Yet I continue to endure, as does the team. It’s definitely a sign of something bigger than me.

HEAD IN THE GAME: From left to right, on Chaoba (top): Vest, KHANIJO. On Miller (bottom): T-shirt, shorts; both ADIDAS X GUCCI. Shoes, ONITSUKA TIGER. On Thoi (top): Vest, H&M STUDIO. Corset, KANIKA GOYAL. On Daina Pukhrambam (bottom): Above, KANIKA GOYAL

Photographed by: Kalpesh Lathigra
Styled by: Samar Rajput
Fashion assistants: Rupangi Grover, Vanya Verma
Makeup: Kiran Denzongpa, assisted by: Karchung Gurung
Hair: Justine Mellocastro

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