Born a he, now a she
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It seems so long ago that I graduated from IIT-Bombay. 2 years have passed since that day when a young man, eyes shining with excitement, received his degree in front of the proud eyes of his parents. But today, in place of that young man stands a proud woman, one who accepted what was within her and, with the help of her family and friends, grew to embrace it. 7 months ago I underwent sex-reassignment surgery. And today, I would like to share my story.
Gender Identity Disorder is a recognized medical condition in which a person experiences significant discomfort with the sex assigned to them at birth and/or the gender roles associated with that sex. Most commonly they psychologically and mentally associate themselves with the members of the opposite sex.
Though physically male, I’ve always known that I was a woman inside. I have always felt like one. I don’t clearly remember when I started feeling so, but I do remember pretending to be a fairy with wings even at the age of three. I felt like a girl and also preferred to play with girls over boys. Sadly, grown-ups consider it “okay” only as long as you’re a little kid.
Though I was attracted to men, I knew that I wasn’t simply gay. I am a girl and I have just known it – the same way “normal” boys know that they are boys and “normal” girls know that they are girls.
People like me learn to hide their femininity really, really well. I grew up apprearing to be a “normal” boy, but I hated social interactions with kids my age. The kids treated me like a boy which wasn’t something I was happy with. The constant inner conflict made everything difficult. I instead focused all my energy on my studies. My board exams went well and I cleared the IIT-JEE, thus ending up at IIT Bombay, much to my parents’ pride. Of course, their relatives and neighbors envied them – just like any other IITians parents.
Transgender is the state of one’s gender identity (self-identification as woman, man, neither or both) or gender expression not matching one’s assigned sex (identification by others as male, female or intersex based on physical/genetic sex). Transgender is independent of sexual orientation. Once a person undergoes a sex-reassignment surgery so that their gender identity matches their reassigned sex, they’re no longer referred to as transgender.
The IIT years
I joined IIT Bombay in 2007 as a dual degree student. Although I knew I needed (yes, needed) to be a girl, I had decided that “too much” was at stake. The reputation of my parents, their dream of seeing their son graduate from an IIT and continuing the family legacy (my father had done the same in 1985) seemed so valuable that I had decided that I would never let this secret get out. This was partly why I never touched alcohol throughout my five years on campus. But the inner conflict, the constant war going on inside my head, the pressure of being a girl from the inside but a boy from the outside made my life very difficult.Since I had vowed never to touch alcohol, I resorted to eating – and eating heavily. I would get lost in the parantha and chilly chicken from the hostel canteen because it made me forget my plight for a short while.
While I wasn’t a student in the CSE department, I was inherently a talented programmer, making me the ‘go-to’ person for any assignment that involved coding. But apart from that, since I was dealing with a lot from inside, little things upset me greatly. This affected my social interactions and some of my batch-mates believed that I was reclusive and that something might be wrong. Years later, when I told them, they were shocked but very supportive.
The war inside my head became unbearable during December 2011. I had just cracked a job in an IT Firm and I loved coding. I should have been on top of the world. But I wasn’t. I was still a girl inside that no one knew. Five years at IITB had greatly changed my priorities. When I had entered the campus, I was just a girl trapped inside a male body trying hard to live up to expectations. But after years of living and interacting with the people here, I knew that I should rather strive to be happy. I knew that I had to make the transition and let people know.
Quite contrary to what most people might think, transitioning isn’t an overnight process. It is an excruciatingly long procedure that requires a lot of patience. To be eligible for Sex Reassignment Surgery, you must first undergo hormone therapy and, if possible, live as a member of the desired sex for a while.
Before that, to be eligible for hormones, the person needs at least two renowned psychiatrists to certify that he/she isn’t a nutcase. Schizophrenia, depression and transvestism – all have to be ruled out first. The psychiatrists in Mumbai are rigorous. I started seeing one, consulted him for months, underwent tests and finally ruled out all the above cases for good. I was genuinely in need of undergoing the change from a man to a woman and I now had the doctors’ say-so.
Meanwhile, I also gave a lot of thought to the exact manner in which I would come out to my parents. They deserved to know what I was up to. They were the biggest support I could hope for, but I couldn’t simply pick up the phone and tell them my secret. It would simply have been too hard for them to deal with. Instead, I asked them to read about Gender Identity Disorder in the guise of a project and my mother made the connect in less than a few weeks. My parents were really supportive of me. They came over to live with me in June 2012 and I started hormone therapy.
Then I started working on my voice. When you really want something, your body does cooperate. My hormone therapy was going well and my voice was also changing because of my hard work. I started getting addressed as ‘Ma’am’ whenever I spoke to a stranger on phone (like ordering pizza or asking movie timings). Those “Ma’ams sounded almost musical to my ears.
Work and Surroundings
At work, I did not disclose my gender identity initially to avoid biases, but when I was sure that I had created a good impression on my colleagues with my work, I came out to them one by one – and they were all highly supportive. It was at this point that I emailed all my friends from IITB. I piled up courage and started living and attending work completely as woman after some time. Yes, people stared and talked amongst themselves, but I learned to go into a bubble and not pay attention to any of them unless demanded by work.
In my building, there was a huge controversy over my transition and I was asked to leave my apartment. My parents helped me out here a lot. They convinced the building’s secretary, the landlord and the society members to let me stay at least till my surgery. After my surgery, none of them had any problem with my staying anyway since I am now a “normal” woman. I now have a renewed contract with my landlord with my new name, addressing me as Ms. instead of Mr.
My surgery took place in July 2013. I was very happy, and not even a bit nervous. When I came out of surgery after 9 hours, I did so as a woman. My surgery was successful although I sustained nerve damage on my foot. I required a lot of time to recover and my parents were incredibly supportive throughout this process.
Any legal change in name or gender is possible only after surgery because almost all Government bodies require proof of surgery. I got separate legal affidavits made for gender and name change. It is mandatory to publish a notice of name change in a state gazette and also in a newspaper. Once all of this was done, I got my driving license with my new name in a week. I also just got a new PAN card with my updated details.
I am already in the process of applying for name and gender change in my 10th and 12th board mark-sheets and certificates.
My Path crosses IITB again
Whenever you go for a new job, or for higher education, if all your mark-sheets and degrees depict your old name and gender, you have to explain to people about your sex change and show them the legal documents of name and gender change. This could potentially expose you to a lot of personal prejudices and discrimination. I realized that this was going to be a problem.
I got in touch with Saathi and in September 2012, I wrote a letter to the institute explaining my condition and my ongoing sex change process. The professor that I spoke to was really nice and showed me a lot of support. I am very, very thankful to him. I received a written reply that my degree certificates would be reissued in my new name.
If you don’t identify with the sex assigned to you at birth…
You deserve to be happy. But, this doesn’t mean you should come out straight away. There might be students who are immature and would not understand you. But they will understand years later when they are mature enough to do so. Have a look at your friends and the people around you and carefully choose those you want to share your secret with. Your parents are possibly your best friends and their support could be a great boon.
You were born different, but by no means are you inferior. Never, ever even think that you are inferior to any of those who are in the mainstream. After all, being mainstream is too…mainstream.
Being different is good. Be proud of it.
 Saathi is IIT Bombay’s LGBTQ Resource Group.
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