This Blog is for YOU...

If you are/were Gender Dysphoric - so as to know some from me and share some with me, and reaffirm that none of us is alone... To acknowledge that we have a treasure of insurmountable Courage, Strength and Hope in us. I have a feeling that we were given slightly higher quantities of those special gifts :-) [If you have a question to ask me, you could write it as a Comment to one of the posts, and either I would reply to it as a Comment itself, or probably, respond in one of the future posts on this blog]

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!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Questions from a pre-op MTF transperson and my Answers

  1. Is it a good idea to start anti-androgens on my own, if my psychiatrist is not ready to give me the necessary certificate?

    NO! Please don’t! Try another psychiatrist, and then, another. Try at least three different ones or more, if you can, but don’t administer any un-prescribed drugs to yourself, however harmless they might be known to be. I know fully well how hopelessly desperate you must feel, but unless at least one psychiatrist has certified you Gender Dysphoric (and trust me, there are supportive psychiatrists out there), you might be playing with yourself if you start with anti-androgens or any other drugs for that matter. Take it easy, relax… Really, RELAX! Don’t try to hurry anything. [To make an honest confession, I did hurry a few things and am still paying the price for it] Let things happen at their own pace. After all, we want to live a happy AND healthy life. And most of the times, the former is impossible without the latter.

  2. Any good psychiatrist in Mumbai?

    I have been to two – Dr. Y. A. Matcheswalla (Maseena Hospital, Byculla) and Dr. Sachin Patkar (Dadar). I can truly and sincerely vouch for Dr. Matcheswalla and his team. I must especially mention his (then) psychologist, Neeti, who conducted thorough and satisfactory tests on me and whose reports were not only well-detailed (and a good read, I must say) but were also fairly easy to understand and gave me an insight on myself. The other, Dr. Sachin Patkar and his team (which includes his wife whose name I forget, and gladly so), is your typical money-minting machine kind of a doctor. He tried to scare me away from the step I was contemplating, his team must have given me a total of 2 hours of time for which I was made to pay him Rs. 10,000/-, and worst, his reports were the shabbiest and absolutely indecipherable for me! Please let him be the last doctor you would want to consider, if you MUST consider him, that is!

  3. (Unrelated to the purpose of this blog, but anyway…) I don’t want to do engineering. I’d rather be making films. What should I do?

    Please make films! And don’t do engineering. I spent 4 years doing it and 2 more years to realize that I was 6 years late for my dream career, besides having spoilt 1 deserving person’s chances to have got a seat in my engineering college. Of course, I don’t regret those 4 years because they gave me beautiful memories to carry for a lifetime, but since you are yet to MAKE your memories, you should rather make them while making films, and not software or machines or bridges :-). All the Best!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

The Song of Life

Almost fifteen years ago, on the back cover of a little school notebook, I read a line which has stayed with me ever since. It gave me strength in the darkest of times. I hope it would do the same for everyone who reads it:

Had it not been for the rocks in its path, the stream would not sing.

... because I wasn't born Female

The unabridged version of my story which was published in 'The Week' in March, 2008

And if you just re-examined my picture to gauge how manly I do or don’t look, I won’t blame you. That’s expectedly the most natural, the most common reaction in a social setup, which inherently, even unknowingly advocates a rigid line of distinction between the two genders. Any occurrence of a blur on this line is generally either laughable or ignorable – two conditions, that no human existence would want to be in – under ‘normal’ circumstances.

My circumstances were not ‘normal’ – by the standards of this very setup. But why, you may ask, do I need to tell YOU about them? I’m certainly not a Great Somebody, not an achiever by any of our ‘standards’. So, what’s there in my story except a certain curiosity angle? Why, then, should I be written about?

Maybe, because there are thousands like me amongst you, who’re trying to be invisible, because that’s the only way to acceptability? Maybe, because there are thousands others, still suspended in a polygon of rights and wrongs, uncertain of whether it’s right to feel and want what every single person around them finds wrong? Maybe, because I want the social circle of those thousands to know about my family, friends and colleagues? Or maybe, just maybe, because I’m proud that I was able to survive twenty five years in an act with no ‘CUT’s – a role I didn’t choose for myself, yet lived day after day without any hope of the curtain falling.

‘Little’ Problems

Clothes were nice if they were my mother’s or my cousin sister’s, rather than mine; long hair were alright if my mother tied them into plaits instead of my father tying my head with a turban; games were fun as long as they were like ‘Teacher Teacher’ and not cricket, and even more so when the companions were girls and not boys.

I was often told that I was girlish; and my feeling, in reaction, was that of utter confusion. The condescending tone of those voices would upset me, invoke a feeling of guilt deep down inside; but somewhere even deeper, there was a flash of happiness at the acknowledgement of my true self. That happiness would then make me even guiltier, because I didn’t understand then, that it was alright to be happy.

One of my happy memories from childhood, by the way, is that of a small role in a school drama, wherein I got to play a girl character. All through the preparation, I was the most excited amongst all actors – forever ready to rehearse any number of times through the day. And then, while getting dressed in a pretty skirt on the morning of the final enactment, I asked my father whether I’d get the award for the Best Supporting Actress if my performance were good. No, he said, Best Supporting Actor! For long, I argued with him, trying with all my might to make him see that he was wrong… All in vain. I’d never win the argument. Reason and logic were both on his side. I only had a mess in my head.

A transsexual child is forever trapped in these multi-dimensional circles, knowing not how to be like the rest of the world, how to merge with the ‘norm’, how to evade the mocking laughter, the derogatory names, the taunting peers. There’s a sinking feeling tugging along, all the time – “I don’t fit in”… and worse, “I’ll never fit in”.

The Vague Clarity

Puberty is a tough time for everybody – the time when one tries to and gets to know oneself more, when sexuality becomes an important part of one’s being, and the mirror area becomes one of the most frequented in the house.

My mirror, however, stopped being my friend soon after thirteen. The school uniform added a compulsory turban to my head, and nature added relentless hair to my face. “It’s all wrong, wrong, WRONG” – I knew that, but remained laden with the guilt of Being that wrong myself, hoping tirelessly for a miracle each morning… “May be God would decide to listen to my prayers tonight, may be He would turn me into a girl tomorrow morning…”

Today, I know God had reasons to not work that miracle. But the teenaged Gunraj didn’t. (S)he knew but one thing – that the single question in her head, “Why me?”, would never be answered.

In that age of unanswered questions, I distinctly remember the day when I got goose flesh while watching a rather provocative music video of a male pop singer. And in the numerous sleepless nights that followed, it dawned on me for the first time with a sense of absoluteness, that I was different, and would always be. For years to come, I was to think how unfair it was of God to make me Gay.

The Balance

In all fairness, God didn’t leave me at the crossroads by many other worldly standards. Today, personally, I don’t value Academics too much, but through my growing up years, I was a “bright child”, a “good orator” and a “very disciplined student”. For me, though, my worth was in my singing, my writing and my Dramatics.

[Recently, when I came out to my ex-schoolmates and teachers, it felt strange to hear some things they said – “Gunraj, I used to think it so unfair that you had every enviable quality in you”, “It was like you were so perfect, you had nothing to worry about”, “I wouldn’t have imagined you as anything but a truly happy child”]

I give my family the entire credit for this balance, for who I was and am, especially for still having been able to retain a sane mind. My stress found an equal opposition in the love I constantly got from my parents, my extended family and later, my friends.

Initially, my parents admitted helplessness in comprehending how ‘a boy could feel like a girl’, yet they never gave up trying to understand, and never gave up on me. There were times when they’d ask me to try and “change the way you think”, but they’d also listen patiently to my yells and wails – “It’s not about the way I THINK, it’s about the way I AM”. “I don’t CHOOSE to be like this Papa, I was BORN this way”. “Why don’t YOU go and try live in the opposite gender? Then, you’ll know!”

I screamed, they listened. They found out that I used to speak at length over the phone to strangers – as a girl, they didn’t even come close to slapping me. I ran away from home before my Boards, they brought me back – and loved me even more. My brother, my sister, my relatives stood right with me through that darkest of times – my parents holding me tight when I was just an inch away from falling, from collapsing.

The Boys’ Hostel

And so, I managed the Boards, the Competitive exams and the admission to a reputed Engineering college. But that meant that I’d be staying in a hostel. That was a very scary thought; all the same, I knew I had to be up to the challenge. I couldn’t stay wrapped in the comfort of home, forever. “If I HAVE a life, I must make something of it”. Besides that, I’ve always had an innate faith in the goodness of the world, and that faith held my hand as I went on to spend four years of my life… in a Boys’ Hostel.

I was prepared to be an oddity there, ready for the remarks – “Always goes to the bathroom to change!”, “Speaks so effeminately!”, “Walk is so girly!” and much worse. I also knew that I’d be a source of entertainment for everybody out there. I wasn’t prepared, however, for the severe ragging which is common in engineering colleges.

Despite the unspeakable horrors of the first year, however, thankfully, I remember those four years simply as the most beautiful time of my life. In the cacophony of mocking voices and laughter, there were a few precious faces that became my friends – people who knew me, understood me, loved me for just the person I was. I’d never felt as light as that, before. I think it was in those years that I started realizing that it was alright to be happy.

I hadn’t ever been bad at studies, but my college life gave me the chance to truly explore my extra-curricular abilities and… freedom. I’d sing, I’d debate, I’d direct college plays, I’d watch late night movies, I’d go out on trips with friends, and I’d have so much fun that sometimes, I’d get scared of my own joy – What if all this turned out to be a dream?

The ‘Real World’

When the dream got over, I found myself gazing at a computer screen, sitting in the massive establishment of a software giant. A studio apartment, the company bus, the office desk and the office dormitory summed up my entire world. I was one of the 10% best employees among the 20,000+ work force. That should not be surprising… I had never objected to an average work day of eighteen hours – week after week, month after month – because at the very least, it kept me away from myself, and from the jeers which had turned from loud name-calling to whispers in the corporate world.

I don’t really know why, but I never attempted to make new friends there. Maybe, because the business environment had suddenly pulled the shutters down on my carefree days. It was hard to trust now. My fear of rejection kept me from accepting anybody new in my life. I desperately wanted to run away again, but day after day, I realized that the only thing to run away from was my own self.

There were times, however, when I couldn’t do that – days when the pangs of loneliness were so acute that I’d look for companions on gay websites. I’d also get myself to meet a one-off guy at times, but yet again, the same old gloom confronted me – “I don’t fit in”. They looked for a MAN in me, while my whole life had been about not being one. Gradually, I understood that Gender Dysphoria is not the same as being gay. While the causes of stress in both conditions might be similar to an extent, the conditions themselves are quite different.

A homosexual man, for instance, (and I’m not saying this categorically) might have no problem in wearing a formal shirt and tie to office every day, while that particular dressing rule of my company was one of the three main reasons I decided to quit! My place of posting being extremely peaceful and dull (for me), was the second. In those two endless years, the silences had started getting to me…

The Relief

The third reason was the most important – it was an attempt to ‘fit in’, at least somewhere.

At the risk of sounding clichéd, Bombay IS, after all, a city of dreams. I wasn’t aware when I arrived there that the deepest of my dreams would see life in Bombay, but the energy and pace of the city had me charged up in no time. The vigour of the college days was back, so were the college days themselves!

I was doing a one-year Diploma course in filmmaking – writing, shooting, directing AND making friends! Not only was I happy that I had made the right career choice, the excitement of filmmaking was also a sedative to the pain I could never completely learn to live with.

A year passed away in an instant, and it was time to choose subjects for our Final Documentary films (which had to be made in groups of six). I had no idea of how I would go about it, yet I proposed “Transsexuality” to the class – a subject, not welcomed by most. However, two friends who were aware of my condition raised their hands in support of the subject. It was one of the most ordinary days, but today as I look back, the moment when my friends raised their hands was perhaps the most important moment of my life.

Soon enough, three more friends joined in, and the group was complete! We now needed a title for the film, and what immediately came to my mind was – ‘To Be… or Not To Be’. It sounded perfect, and yet, that night, something inside me said – ‘This is not it’. This title represented my state of mind; it didn’t take me forward. And the next morning, I knew what the title had to be…

To Be… ME

I had never had any plans of coming out of my closet for the film, but as we met more and more transgendered people through our research, I realized that nobody wanted to. They all preferred invisibility.

The research was fruitless day after day, none of our contacts being ready to face the camera; but I was sure of one thing – we were not going to interview someone with their face hidden in shadows. This film HAD to be about light, about courage, about pride.

And then, somewhere along the way, I realized that I was being dishonest to myself. If I expected others to face the world, I couldn’t choose shadows for my own self. I realized that at the end of the day, I was not as scared of the world, as I was of myself. It was not about ‘them’, it was about ‘me’ all along. And it was time now to confront that fear; it was time to accept myself, to love myself, to celebrate myself.

Almost magically, the day I decided to face the camera, we started discovering others who were not only willing, but even excited to share their stories! In my heart, I knew it was God’s way to tell me that He supported my decision.

‘To Be… ME’ turned out to be the best film of the year, and my Coming Out brought sheer positive energy to my life, from both without and within.

I had been reading about Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS) for many years now, but it was my first-hand research through the making of this film that reassured me that it was not only alright to be happy. It was my right to be happy.

Becoming… ME

“So, when are you going for it?” – That’s the first thing my father said, on seeing the film. And ever since that question, there’s been no looking back.

A year-and-a-half ago, I started my Gender Reassignment procedure, which will probably go on for another year or so. Frankly, this period of transformation is not one of the most convenient – socially, physically or emotionally. One has to pull out every thread of strength and will power from within; but looking at the positive side, it’s not that difficult when one knows that this WILL get over, that there IS bright sunlight beyond the dark.

During that stormy time, I luckily discovered a lighthouse – in the form of a Yahoo e-group for transsexuals (called Sampoorna - I made wonderful friends there – men and women who had been caught in a game of hide-and-seek with their own selves – a few who had won the game and found out themselves, and others, who like me, were going to win soon.

I was also fortunate to find a job of a writer, assistant director particularly because the staff at my office is truly godsend. Not only did they do their best to understand my issues, they also went out of their way to ensure my comfort through this period of transition. My faith in the goodness of the world has only deepened in the last 20 months.

This period has been a time of Absolute Wonder! It’s magical to see my inner self slowly but surely taking its form in the mirror, amazing to notice the little changes big enough to make my day, thrilling to get compliments that I have always pined for, and musical to hear the taxi walla ask, “Madam, kahaan jaana hai?”

Bangkok and Beyond

On October 19, 2007, my male genitals were replaced by female genitalia, the surgery being called ‘Vaginoplasty’. The miracle-maker in my case was Dr. Chettawut of Bangkok (, who I came to know of through a friend from Sampoorna.

Thailand is a place renowned for Male-to-Female (MTF) SRS. In my three-week long stay under the excellent care of my doctor, I saw patients coming to him from different nationalities, races and ages. My nurse told me that the doctor undertakes 15-20 SRS patients every month. Considering that Dr. Chettawut is just one of the many SRS surgeons in Thailand (and the world), I was surprised by the number of people struggling with transsexuality across the globe.

Over there, it melted my heart to see a middle-aged woman accompanying her ‘husband’ for ‘his’ surgery. The ‘husband’ was a transsexual woman. I had read on the internet about such cases where a spouse turns into a companion/friend for a transsexual person, but to actually see such human beings was like witnessing the purest form of love – a love beyond all boundaries and ‘man-made’ definitions of relationships…

I really wanted to connect with all those other patients, but I wasn’t sure whether they’d welcome it. One is on an emotional roller coaster at such a time and may not want to know a stranger. But one fine day, somebody just walked up to me and we spoke as if we’d known each other for eternity. With her permission, I share with you…

C’s story

C S is a 65-year-old American (transsexual) woman, although she could easily pass for a very fit 50. Based in California, she’s an English teacher – a role she couldn’t help slipping into, even through our conversation!

Her childhood and youth had been clouded over by recurring phases of depression. In the era of 1940s and 50s, it was a horrifying thought to tell her family that she “felt like a girl”. This ‘girl’, however, made up for her inferiority complex by excelling above her peers in anything which required superior strength, endurance or sheer courage.

But when life became too heavy a burden to endure, she decided it was time to get rid of it. Thinking she’d die fighting for a cause her heart was in, she enrolled herself for the Vietnam War in 1968. But as God would have it, after two years in the battlefield, she came back unscathed except for a Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

It didn’t help that her very conformist family expected the man who was C to get married. She, however, couldn’t bring herself to lie to her would-be wife. C disclosed herself to her fiancée; and somehow, that made an emotional bond between the two. They were able to reach an understanding. C would be man for the rest of the world, but then the woman could get out of the closet whenever they chose. Often when the “husband and wife” went holidaying, they lived and frolicked as two best friends, two girl friends.

At home, C spent decades being a family MAN, even being a father, perhaps in the hope that her thoughts would go away with time; however, three years ago, at 62, she had to concede that her ‘thoughts’ were her life. And whatever time was left for her, she must live it as herself.

She moved from North Carolina to a more trans-friendly California, where she started letting herself blossom. She’d visit her family occasionally, but it was tough to pass as a man now, yet she had to, because her wife was wary of the neighbourhood, while her daughter didn’t know how and what to explain to C’s grandchildren, and hence refused to let C near her family.

Finally, she and I sat cross-legged across from each other, chatting like two teenage girls. I was in awe of C’s courage for having flown thousands of miles, all alone, to BECOME; and I couldn’t help thinking: No human being would ever CHOOSE to be ostracized by friends, family, and society, and then endure the months of recuperative pain that Gender Dysphoric people bring upon themselves, unless they absolutely HAVE to!

Later, I received an email from Ms. S, telling me that when her wife found out about the surgery, she forbade C from coming home for Christmas. Her daughter, however, wrote her a beautiful email, wishing her a happy and healthy life, and promising that when her children grew older, she’d definitely explain to them what C had been through, but meanwhile, she was unable to welcome C at her house. And then the new Ms. S added, “It’s so ironic that this is the saddest and yet the happiest time of my entire life!”

The Vivid Clarity

A certificate given to me by my surgeon identifies me now, as an “infertile female”. Both are strong words. For most, the first might be stronger; for me, it’s the second one. Being a mother, after all, is not just about the ability to give birth.

Being transsexual, also, is not just about LOOKING masculine or feminine. If we were not living in a world which so loves to categorize, demarcate and idealize, transsexuality would not have been a problem at all. Even now, it’s not the condition itself that’s a psychological problem, but the amount of social pressure and emotional stress it causes often leads many towards suicide.

The bottomline is that Gender Dysphoria needs a biological, a medical correction. An SRS is only as unnatural as a cancer surgery or any other surgery, for that matter.

The sooner a transsexual person can start their Gender Reassignment procedure, the easier is the transition, and better, the visible results. At times, I do find myself wishing I had started my transition soon after puberty. Not only would I have had to undergo fewer years of emotional and psychological distress, I would also be spared the physical pain and time of transitioning from a male body to a female one.

But at the same time, one must be mature enough to understand oneself and one’s priorities, and sometimes (not always), age is necessary for that maturity. For instance, if ‘infertile’ is the stronger word for you, or if you’re doing this for ANYBODY except YOURSELF, you must think again! I’ve heard of homosexuals who undergo SRS to be able to live a socially acceptable life with their partners, and then regret the decision, all their lives. When one has to make a decision, the keyword has to be – ME!

Being… ME!

I still have a lot of catching up to do! I badly need to get some humour, some spontaneity in my life; then, there’s an urgent need to catch up on shopping – clothes, shoes, ear-rings, makeup, and the list goes on.

But there’s this one thing I caught up with, recently and not many people do that – Life! It’s precious, it’s beautiful, and if you truly love it, it gives you wings! Tell me… how many people in the world know how it feels to grow wings!

I’ll leave you to the counting, with the closing line of our film –

“The question is not whether To Be… or Not To Be! The question is – Who decides my Being? A faceless entity called Society? Or ME, MYSELF!”