This Blog is for YOU...
If you have never been Gender Dysphoric - so as to understand what it means to have a Gender Identity Disorder. Of course, it primarily depends on whether you want to or not. If you don't, please do make a quiet exit and try not to be a nuisance.
If you're confused - so as to realize that everybody goes through a stage of confusion - the period could be short, or sometimes, very long. What is important is to acknowledge that being unsure until you're sure is as normal and as alright as night before day.
If you're a human being - so as to find out for yourself whether you want to try to make the world a better place to live in, for every fellow human being, irrespective of their health, wealth, colour, race, gender, religion and any and every other line of division you can think of.
And finally, this blog is for ME - so as to be able to make some difference somewhere by sharing my experiences, and along the way, slowly grow out of those anxieties and insecurities that have inhabited my life for over 2 decades. It is time to escort them to the door now!
Come, Join me on this journey!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
A few of you – I have lost touch with… Yet, when I sat down to write this mail, you had to be in the Receivers' List because you have touched some part of my life – big or small; somewhere, it would give me peace to know that I let you know…
A few of you – already know what this mail is all about; yet, you had to be in the Receivers' List because this is almost an 'official notice' about The Truth – that I'm sending out to all those who have made a difference to my life in some way (of course, the additional conditions being their having an email id and my being able to trace it!)
A few of you – I believe, when you've read the contents of this mail, will exclaim – "Oh, that's why!" Yes, I'm hopeful that a few, if not many of you, will be able to understand me better after this…
Many of you – might be shocked by what you're about to read – especially if the person called 'Gunraj' has been long dissolved into shadows of the times forgotten (in which case, I might owe you an apology for reminding you of me, needlessly!) However, writing this to you would complete a circle somewhere inside me, and very selfishly, I'm doing it for MYSELF…
There was always something 'unusual' with me – and I knew that. I found it hard to be comfortable with almost every other human being around me – for a long time. Everybody needs a comfort zone; mine kept eluding me… For very long, despite knowing that I was experiencing a 'strange condition', I didn't have the words to explain it.
Not until I found out about 'Gender Identity Disorder' at 18 years of age. A so-called psychological condition wherein a person feels themselves to be trapped in a wrong body. An apparently male person identifies with the female gender [in layman language, 'a female soul trapped in a male body'], and vice versa. Whatever little research has been done on this condition has not been able to explain clearly why this should happen when everything else about the anatomy of this person is perfectly 'usual'. Yet, it is a valid human condition experienced right from childhood, and a small percentage of the world population does experience it.
Even though the condition is psychologically termed as a 'Disorder', yet, for all practical purposes, the disorder is biological – because a transsexual person (one who experiences this condition) thinks, feels and often behaves just like a person of the gender identity he/she identifies with, only their body doesn't conform to it.
By now, I'm sure you have put 2 and 2 together to know that I myself am a transperson. It was a relief for me to know when I did, that there was a term to explain my confusion, and even though science itself was not too clear about it, yet 'transsexuality' was an acknowledged condition and many identified with it.
It WAS a relief to know that the condition is valid, yes, but there was no relief from the condition itself…
Until last year… when I decided to take the most important step of my life. It is this step that I want to share with you today. It is the joy that it brings me that I must let all of you be a part of…
I decided to undergo a Sex Reassignment Process, wherein my physical sex would be hormonally and surgically changed to Female. The process is already on. I have been on female hormones for about 7 months now, and by mid-2008, if all goes well, I shall have been surgically assigned my true gender.
This might be causing turmoil in the concerned minds of a few of you, yet if it is any help, let me tell you that I have thought about it for at least 20 years of my life. It is perhaps a new phenomenon for you, yet I have lived with it for my entire life, and I am more certain than I can ever be about anything, that this is the best decision of my life. I tell you this for I want to save your time and energy that you might decide to use in writing to me – "Think about it", "Try and change the way you think", "Happiness is always elusive" etc. Not that I don't understand the urge to do so and not that I'm assuming that you would do so, but a long history of personal experience has taught me that these are the most common first reactions. I just want to spare you the effort, because well, I have been through it :-).
You will see a name and an email id in the CC column above – please take that as my new identity and contact [those who use a nickname for me may please continue to do so :-)]. I must acknowledge here that I share the pain that a few of you might feel on my dropping the name I've lived for 25 years. I have always loved my name, however, a new name must accompany a new identity, because the old one, how much ever it is dear to me, will always be a reminder of that part of my past which was most painful…
Like I said, this mail is more about completing an inner circle for my own self. Not that I would know and hence, not that it would make a difference, yet I just want to say that if and when you tell others about me, the correct thing to say would be "You know, Gunraj was a girl", and not "You know, Gunraj is becoming a girl"… Yes, true I'm changing my physical sex, but truer, I was always always a girl…
You may see (and know) me, if you'd like to, on NDTV India on August 24, Friday at 8 pm [Repeat: August 25, Saturday at 2 pm] in a Talk Show called 'Salaam Zindagi'.
Before I close, I just want to say "Thank You" to all the special people who've stood with me throughout and supported me in every way possible to them – from my wonderful parents and family to my friends, colleagues, teachers, and even amazing strangers whom God helps me meet sometimes – all those who see me (or at least genuinely try to see me) as who I really am. I do know it's not easy for you yet, and that's why my heart goes out to you, for trying to make it easy for me.
A few of you – may choose to reject the whole idea behind this mail, and hence, me. However, in any case, now you know me better than you ever have. And that satisfaction is more than what I want :-)
All of you – may lead the happiest of lives!
with Love and Regards
for the 'last time'
P.S. I also request you to keep your eyes and hearts open for any children (or even adults) around you, who you feel might be going through a similar situation. It is not very common, I agree, but that's exactly why, it's so difficult for them to deal with it…
Monday, October 20, 2008
I was the first to wake up on October 19, 2007. Mamma and Bua had just about started to get up when I came out of the bath. And now, since there were several hours before the driver would come to transport us to the Hospital, I just spent time watching HBO. I was not supposed to have even water today. Not that I was thirsty anyway. In fact, secretly, I was happy with the forced dieting of these two days. At least, I’d lose some unnecessary fat that way. I didn’t think then that post October 19, I would be losing tremendous amounts of weight anyway.
We reached Piyavate Hospital by around 12 noon. After the paper-work, we were taken to the special room reserved for me by Dr. Chettawut. I couldn’t have asked or wished for better facilities and arrangements than what were available there. The nurses were extremely warm and helpful, and the room was the most comfortable with a wonderful view from the window. I was told the Hospital was amongst the best in Bangkok and the International Patients Wing, where we were, was state-of-the-art.
I changed into the hospital gown, and loved its soft liquidy touch on my body. I practiced on the button for switching on the microphone to call for the nurse. I repeatedly moved the back of the bed up and down with the touch of another button. I was enjoying myself and a smile was pasted on my face throughout! Mamma was smiling too, but I knew she was not enjoying herself. To her credit though, she didn’t let her worries eclipse my excitement.
The doctor was supposed to arrive by 2 pm, but he made me wait till 4. And then, when I was just about too bored of waiting, the door opened up and a few men and women from his team entered, made me lie down on the stretcher and took me away. I couldn’t talk to Mamma or Bua much. I just smiled at them while leaving and they smiled back. I think Mamma’s outstretched hand did wish for a moment to be able to stop all this and pull me back, but then, she got over herself and simply waved to me with that hand.
The Operation Theatre was terribly cold and I was shivering all the more because I had no energy thanks to the diet and I was dressed in a thin hospital gown. As I lay there waiting for the doctor, I was singing to myself…
The anesthesiologist came first. Dr. Veera, his name was. I told him that Veera means ‘brother’ in Punjabi and that I call my elder brother that. He smiled and said – “Oh, so I’m your brother!” And then, we were just having some insignificant unnecessary small talk until Dr. Chettawut finally arrived.
I never got to see him though. I just heard that he was coming and then Dr. Veera asked me to turn sideways. As he injected something in my back, I realized that I wanted to shake hands with Dr. Chettawut once. I saw a shadow walk past me and I knew it was him and I said to him – “Doctor please, can you shake hands with me?”…
Mamma was caressing my forehead. I couldn’t see her properly. I could feel somebody was standing right behind her, and figured it must be Bua. “Are you okay?”, Mamma was asking. I think I mumbled, “Surgery?” And she said, “It’s over. It’s all over. Everything’s fine.”
And before I fell unconscious again, I whispered, “I can’t believe it’s over”…
Recap 2: Hello Bangkok!
Recap 3: The Two Guys who had Everything in their Hands
October 18, 2007 was a pretty eventless day. We were either watching TV in our room [The only watchable channel – HBO], or exploring the various sections of the hotel. It’s a pretty place, Hotel Baan Siri Rama. There’s a lot of greenery, serenity and peace, especially in the cottages section.
It was a quiet day. None of us spoke much. I didn’t feel any need to, and the others, I guess, were nervous about the Tomorrow. I wasn’t. I never became nervous, not even until the climax. That doesn’t go to say I was confident. I wasn’t. But that doesn’t go to say I feared something would or could go wrong. Right or wrong were not even on my mind. Nothing was on my mind. I wasn’t afraid of the Tomorrow. I wasn’t looking forward to the Tomorrow. I wasn’t expecting anything out of the Tomorrow. It was a state of no state at all, and there’s no way to explain it.
Neither is there any way to explain why I found myself crying in the evening. I was saying to Mamma, “I’m just thinking of the past 25 years and feeling sad”, but it was a lie. Because I wasn’t thinking of anything. Because thinking felt unnecessary. Everything felt unnecessary. Pointless. I don’t think I was thinking about the pointlessness of the past 25 years.
No, I can’t explain that day. I don’t think I can ever even understand that day. And I don’t feel any need to.
Recap 2: Hello Bangkok!
Being a perfectionist, especially when it comes to travelling, my Bua had done her research about Bangkok. And she knew that whatever else we might do, we must visit the Reclining Buddha Temple. Since my movement was going to be restricted for my entire stay in Bangkok after October 19, we would have to visit the temple within the following two days. It was also essential according to both the women accompanying me, to seek divine blessings before the 19th, for the 19th.
October 17, 2007 morning, the driver was there again to take me to Dr. Chettawut’s clinic where I met the Man himself for the first time ever, and if a sweeter doctor than him has been created by the Almighty, I haven’t met them! I still remember how soft his touch was, as we shook hands, and how patiently he listened to my queries and concerns and explained to me how he would go about the surgery. To be very honest, I wasn’t listening or trying to comprehend much. I knew that THIS was IT! There was no turning back from here or going anywhere else now. I just had to surrender myself to this man and let him do exactly as he plans.
He told me that for two days now, I had to be on minimal diet and only liquid at that. Besides that, I was given a kind of solution which I had to drink twice to completely clear my bowels by the time it was the D-Day! After my physical examination and the paper work, Dr. Chettawut promised to meet me on the 19th evening, by which time, I would have been admitted to the hospital.
It was clear now that if any site-seeing had to be done, it would have to be done today, because I wouldn’t have much energy to travel around on the 18th. No solid food for 2 days, remember?
And so, we set out to look for the Reclining Buddha Temple (Wat Pho). And since saving money was our first priority (the trip was anyway costing us over 5 lakhs), we opted for the city bus instead of a taxi. And in retrospect now, that was a very good idea.
It didn’t seem that way in the beginning though. We boarded two wrong city buses initially, thanks to the miscommunication with the locals. Hardly anybody understood English. And actually, we still don’t know whether even the third bus we took was the right one or not. We don’t, because something else happened on this bus which changed our entire plan!
At one of the bus stops, a Sikh gentleman boarded the bus [As we were to discover later, a lot of Sikh businessmen make frequent trips to Bangkok because of the cheap electronics available there]. And we didn’t waste any time in extracting everything about Bangkok that he could tell us. What intrigued us the most was an area called Pahurat, which is supposedly a mini-India in Bangkok. Completely inhabited by Indians, it has everything Indian that comes to your mind – from Kiraana shops and dhabas to halwais and a Gurudwara!
And so, we turned our countryman into our guide. We got off with him and let him lead us to Pahurat through innumerable meandering streets cramped and crowded with markets of electronics and garments. Clearly, we were approaching the mini-India!
When we entered the Sikh temple, I had to hold my breath for a moment… It was just so magnificent! The huge expanse of the hall, the grand chandeliers, the artistic lighting and ventilation, and above all, the golden abode of Guru Granth Sahib ji were truly breathtaking. We sat there for a long time – silent, in direct communication with the Waheguru. I busied myself in clicking pictures after a while, but Mamma and Bua were not done with their prayers for quite some time.
Pretty pleased and deeply grateful to the Lord for having maneuvered our plans to come to him this way, we set out in search for food. And what better place for that than a Punjabi dhaba! I couldn’t eat anything of course, so I just had Lassi [although I have serious doubts that my doctor would have accepted THAT Lassi as liquid!]
All our attempts at shopping failed! Money, as I said, had to be saved. We did savour the totally Indian experience of bargaining in the markets, though. And after a long and tiring day spent at ‘home’ in a foreign land, finally, we reached our hotel by twilight.
Now, the ‘clear-bowel’ solution awaited me! You might want to ask me, why I am even mentioning something like that over here? Well, to underline the fact that no day can be Perfect in every way! That solution has been designed in such a way that once you have had it, you won’t feel like eating anything for days altogether anyway, forget about drinking! It was probably the worst-tasting thing I had ever had in my life, and even now, as I type this, I feel completely horrible inside my mouth! Thankfully, I only had to have half the bottle that day. The rest was for the next day.
The next day! – The last before the day everything would change, or at least, a lot would. Strangely, however, I felt no anxiety, no excitement, no joy, no sorrow, no fear, not even anticipation. If there is a state of no feeling whatsoever, I guess I’ve been there, although if you ask me how it FEELS, I don’t think I’ll be able to explain.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
This was the first time I was travelling to a foreign land. Ironically, the journey was bringing me home!
It was early morning on October 16, 2007 when we landed in Bangkok, and afternoon by the time we were able to come out of the airport! Mamma had to get a Visa on Arrival [Thailand is one of the few countries in the world which let you have that. It’s just for 15 days, though] because she had got her Passport on the very day of our Departure, so there was no time to get a Visa from the Thai Embassy in India. But Visa-on-Arrival turned out to be one of the most tedious processes, because her return ticket had been booked along with mine and Bua’s – for 3 weeks later. It took us the whole of morning and all our energy to get her ticket changed and the Visa issued.
Thereafter, came the Immigration section! Yes, yet again! When I gave my Passport to the lady at the counter there, she returned it saying – “Oh, you gave me someone else’s Passport!” I replied – “No, that’s mine” and she looked completely at a loss for words. After looking at the Passport for a while, she said – “But isn’t that a GUY?” I smiled and said – “That’s me!” For a split second, I saw an expression of absolute shock on her face, after which she started laughing like a mad woman. She went on and on and on and I feared she would never stop. In between this exercise of laughter and the activity of breathing, somewhere she mumbled, “I… thought… you were a… GIRL!”
The doctor’s driver was there to receive us. He drove us to Hotel Baan Siri Rama – the hotel where most patients of Dr. Chettawut stay. Dr. Chettawut was the guy who would amend nature’s mistake for me. We had opted for the little cottages in the hotel which came complete with a reasonably well-furnished kitchenette. All three of us are vegetarian and Thai food being predominantly meat-based, we knew we would have to do our own cooking for the forthcoming three weeks. We had also carried a lot of packed food from India, besides pulses and rice.
Having settled ourselves down, we bathed, ate and thanks to the fatigue, involuntarily fell asleep. I woke up pretty soon though. I was aching to dress up and for the first time ever, step out in the open without any worry or fear. Since there was still a level of discomfort between Mamma and me over my clothes, I’d rather get out while she was still asleep.
So, I crept out of the bed, changed into a spaghetti and a long skirt, applied oodles of kajal and without making a single noise, slipped out of the cottage.
There was a wonderful breeze outside, and it made me realize yet again that skirt is my favourite outfit! I attach a sense of freedom to the skirt, a sense of beauty and exhilaration that every woman has a birthright on. It’s the best outfit to dance in! And the best to feel free of all inhibitions and controls exercised on you for simply being a woman.
I walked the entire length of the long road twice. It felt amazing that not a single man or woman or child or dog re-looked at me with confusion! It felt liberating! I kept walking to assimilate this feeling for quite some time, and finally stopped when I spotted a cybercafé. The next hour was spent writing to friends and extended family and updating them all about everything being perfect at my end.
When I was entering the hotel, I saw Mamma and Bua coming out, looking rather worried. As soon as they spotted me, instant relief was spread across their faces. After their queries and my explanations, we started walking back towards our cottage to make preparations for dinner and chalk out the next day’s plan. And then, one of the two women walking beside me, said to me, “You look beautiful!”
It was my mother…
Friday, October 17, 2008
It seems like yesterday. Really. I can clearly see a very different ME sitting in a bus to Delhi before dawn, heading towards pain and relief at the same time. But today, when I sit to think and remember how much has happened since then, it seems almost unbelievable. I’ve changed in so many ways. I’m pretty sure that no other year in my life would ever bring about this amount of change in me. It’s almost like my life began on Oct 13 last year…
I had left for Delhi alone, on the 13th. Mamma and Bua were going to join me later, on the 15th. Over the entire stretch of the 13th and 14th, I underwent a total of almost 17 hours of electrolysis [a process in which each hair is removed by inserting a sort of a very thin needle into the pore of the skin and passing current through it] for my facial hair. The process tests not only your ability to bear pain, but is also an ideal test of your patience. One generally needs a large number of electrolysis sessions (easily running over a couple of a hundred hours) for the hairs to be removed permanently. This was my third session.
By 14th late night, my face, though terribly swollen and deeply crimson, was free of all hairs (for at least 2 weeks now). I was staying at MJ’s place that night but before heading there, I met N at the market near Priya Cinema, and I’m really thankful to God for having made it possible for us to meet that night. Even though my face was too numb to feel any more pain, the agony of the 17 hours behind me certainly got some balm on meeting one of my bestest friends. We also clarified the little misunderstandings that had been creeping up in our friendship for some time now, and I couldn’t have been happier to rid my heart of another burden.
I spent 15th morning at the parlour, trying to get the swelling off my face with the aid of some facials and massages. If they helped at all, I couldn’t notice :-), but yes, as is the case with almost every human being belonging to the fairer sex, the facial did do that little something to push up the happiness quotient within me!
And finally, in the evening, I got myself transported to the Indira Gandhi International Airport, where Mamma and Bua, who were travelling with me, had arrived already. And so had my other bestest friend Vee, with a rose and a little pretty Ganesha effigy, which incidentally, I had gifted him a long time ago. Trust me! It’s not unexpected, if it’s Vee! But it was heartfelt and a gesture that expressed the bond we shared. I can’t remember my conversation with him now, but yes, I do remember that he made me laugh a little more than usual, that evening. He was in his best form, maybe because he was truly happy for me, or maybe because he knew I’d be nervous…
I had tried to cover my nervousness in about 3 layers of clothes. These multiple layers had a singular purpose. Since I was travelling on Gunraj’s passport, the effects of the past 9 months of estrogen on my body obviously had to be covered up; and oh yeah, I also tied my hair in a pony tail! Alas! All that did not help…
Well, if I couldn’t convince myself that I was the same person who was peeping out of my Passport, how could anyone else?
Having waved to Vee to my heart’s content, as I proceeded to the Jet Airways counter, the lady checking my Passport there had her mind’s doubts clearly written all over her face. She did give us our boarding passes (albeit a bit hesitantly), but also made sure to mention that we could be interrogated ahead.
Thereafter, every Airport official’s eyes seemed to be screening me. Whether they thought I was a potential terrorist or something else, I do not know, but yes, in those moments of my knees going weak, it did help to repeat to myself that if I HAVE to explain to these people why I look different from that picture on my Passport, I WILL! Also, Bua was a constant support system. She went on reassuring me that we would manage. She told me clearly that we would first try to convince the officials by talking to them, but if they just didn’t seem to understand, then we would thrust the doctor’s recommendation letter in their faces. Nobody could stop us then!
With our game plan clear in our minds, we reached the Emigration section, where quite obviously, the news of my arrival had arrived before me! 5-6 officers got up from their respective cells and surrounded the three of us, each scanning the Passport and my face in turn, time and again. Utter confusion. They checked Mamma’s and Bua’s Passports. All well. Then, they checked mine again, perhaps hoping for ‘all’ to have magically become well here also. To their dismay, it hadn’t…
So, they started asking me questions and details about Gunraj, which I obviously knew. That seemed to confuse some more, while it certainly relieved a few too, one of whom was the only lady officer interrogating me. She took a close look at the Passport again and then whispered (quite audibly) to the others huddled around her – “Hai toh wahi, par Gay hai!” [It IS Gunraj, only Gunraj is Gay!”]
This seemed to satisfy all the inquisitors, and they trickled back to their own seats. Before the lady finally let us go, she asked me if I write my Sex as Female. This came as a bit of a surprise because we hadn’t even mentioned a Gender change. She clarified saying that on my Thai Visa, the column for Sex said ‘F’ and that is what had led to more confusion amongst the officers.
I was smiling. I completed all the formalities and walked on. I did not say to her, “Perhaps it was a mistake”. Because it was not a mistake. The Thai Embassy knew my purpose of travelling to Bangkok and they had been sensitive enough to acknowledge my rightful identity – the identity of my soul, regardless of my body. I was smiling.
Mamma, Bua and I got into the plane, took our seats and made a call to Papa. He had not been able to get his Passport till the last day, hence he was not coming with me. But I was aware that he would be with me in thought, throughout…
... throughout, on this journey of mine – towards Hope, towards Happiness, towards Freedom, towards Life…
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Of late, I’ve been hearing from and about juniors from my degree college. Since I haven’t kept my transition a secret, and in fact, have been very open about it, obviously, they have heard about me and express their feelings on the phenomenon that I seem to represent. Here are two blogs with such expressions:
The one thing I appreciate in both these cases is the acceptance of mistakes, along with the sensitivity to realize that there WAS a mistake. At the same time, I hope that they and others, who have in some way experienced a similar feeling on getting to know about my true identity, would extrapolate it to their interactions with human beings in general.
It is very easy to laugh at someone, to find reasons to ridicule them, reject them, look down upon them, disassociate with them. But before you do that, do you ever try and question yourself whether you have any reason whatsoever to treat them as a lowly person? Whatever their life, whatever their way of living it, as long as they have not done anything to interrupt YOUR life and YOUR way of living it, should you really put them in the victim box and hurl all kinds of statements at them?
And this, I’m talking not just in my context, but it also goes for every kind of distinction that we humans have made amongst ourselves. Rich looking down upon the poor, slim people laughing at those overweight, Hindus killing Muslims, vice versa, straight men and women making fun of homosexuals, men considering women inferior, seniors ragging the freshers and so on and on and on… All these are manifestations of our prejudice and our unhealthy need to feel superior to someone else around us. “Oh, she sings well, but she’s so ugly!” “He may be excellent in studies, but he just can’t talk to a girl! Loser!” And these are very regular examples.
I wonder if anybody around me, except my friends, ever paused even for a moment to wonder why I wouldn’t be manly, or why I stuck to feminine mannerisms even though I was the butt of all jokes in college. Of course I knew everybody laughed the moment I turned my back at them. Of course I knew that they all thought I was creepy. Yet, why wouldn’t I change myself? Did I WANT to be made fun of, every instant of my life?
One of the blog authors above says he may never understand why I underwent a sex reassignment. But the question is – Must one understand everything to be able to accept it? The beauty of this world is in its diversity, in the many breathtakingly beautiful colours of possibilities that Life offers. There is no way you can understand everything, but even if you don’t, is there no way you can accept it and respect it as another person’s right to their way of life?
Every human being has a reason to be the way they are… ‘Normal’ is a very subjective term. It varies with each country, culture, society, and even, individual. And the world can be a better place only when we open our arms to everybody around us, irrespective of whether or not they fall along the lines of OUR definitions of ‘normality’.