A pregnancy photoshoot by an Indian transgender couple – who paused their hormone therapy to have a baby – is being widely shared on social media.
Ziya Paval, 21, and her partner Zahad, 23, who live in the southern state of Kerala, were in the process of gender transition when they decided to have a baby.
Ms Paval, who says she always wanted to be a parent, was assigned male at birth and now identifies as female.
Mr Zahad, who uses only one name, was assigned female at birth and now identifies as male. He is currently pregnant, and the couple expect to welcome their baby soon.
Congratulations have poured in for the couple on their social media pages.
“Trans people deserve family,” transgender actress S Negha commented on Ms Paval’s Instagram post, where she had shared the photos.
Ms Paval and Mr Zahad say their experience may be rare in India because “no one else has called themselves a biological parent in the transgender community as far as we know”.
India is estimated to have around two million transgender people, though activists say the number is higher. In 2014, India’s Supreme Court ruled that they have the same rights as people of other genders.
However, they still struggle to access education and healthcare, and often face prejudice and stigma.
When Ms Paval and Mr Zahad met three years ago, they were both estranged from their families.
“I am from a conservative Muslim family which never allowed me to learn classical dance,” Ms Paval says. “[My parents] were orthodox to the point that they used to cut my hair so that I did not dance.”
Ms Paval says she left home to participate in a youth festival and never went back.
She learnt dance at a transgender community centre. She now teaches it to students in Kozhikode district.
Mr Zahad, who is trained as an accountant, is from a Christian family from the fishing community in Thiruvananthapuram city. He currently works at a supermarket.
He had left his family after coming out as transgender to them. But after he became pregnant, his family have accepted the couple and been supportive.
“They are helping Zahad during the pregnancy,” Ms Paval says.
It was Mr Zahad’s mother who initially asked the couple not to make the pregnancy public. They announced it on their Instagram page last week after she gave permission.
Ms Paval says her family has still not come around.
The couple decided to have a baby one-and-a-half years ago, when they were both at different stages of their gender transition, Ms Paval told the BBC.
Mr Zahad’s ovaries and uterus had not been removed yet, so the couple stopped the hormone therapy on their doctors’ advice.
The couple’s doctors are not authorised to speak to the media.
“Once the pregnancy is over, they can resume the sex hormone therapy,” says Dr Mahesh DM, an endocrinologist in Bangalore city who has worked with several transgender people.
After the baby is born, the couple says they’ll have to find more work to make ends meet.
“It is very difficult to survive,” Ms Paval says, adding that she will have to take on more dance students.
“Zahad will go back to work about two months after the baby is born. Then I will take care of the baby.”
The couple says that the transgender community has been “very welcoming” of their pregnancy.
“Of course, there are people both within the transgender community as well as outside who believe in stereotypes. They think a trans man cannot be carrying a baby,” Ms Paval says.
“[But] it doesn’t matter.”