‘I was not sick; I just wanted to be a woman’ | Eye News

Small acts of everyday freedom go a long way in establishing who we are as a people, and who we may want to become as a society and a nation. Ahead of Independence Day, we bring you stories of little acts of defiance, endless notes of possibilities

Associate Professor, Dept of Community Medicine, Hamdard Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, and transgender activist, New Delhi

There was a time when I was seeking attention, now I am getting all of it. As I await the last leg of my gender-reassignment surgery, the respect and acceptance I have got has validated me as a woman. Most women are born with conditioning embedded in their DNA, but I have embraced womanhood, unpeeling and understanding every aspect of it, rather than just role-playing. But this journey has been a tumultuous one.

I was born Zakir Hussain and grew up in a conservative Muslim family at Islampura in southern Mumbai. I was different from an early age when I had no concrete understanding of gender identity. With two brothers at home and being in an all-boys’ school meant that girlish behaviour – I loved to apply mehendi on women’s hands, drape and pleat their saris – was discouraged at home. I was also preyed upon by bullies. As a teen, I was sure of my attraction towards men but to a school-going boy, the only terms available were “hijra” and “gay.” I was neither. In my early youth, gay men misconstrued me at times because they never understood that I approached them as a “woman,” not as a “man.”

While pursuing my MBBS and MD at KEM Hospital, Mumbai, I devoured medical journals to understand how best to define my condition. It was “disorder of sexual development” for intersex people, “sexual perversion” for gays and lesbians and “gender identity disorder” for trans people. This was the clinical definition in 2003 and I had no option but to find the closest fit to establish a rationale for gender-affirming care and medical transition. I was not sick; I just wanted to be a woman. Though the term “transwoman” was coined in 1965, in India social taboos and phobia meant that I had to begin from a place of disadvantage and build my case over the years. Finally, I came out to my family, friends, colleagues and teachers.

Of course, they shut me out saying psychiatrists had just messed up my mind and that marriage would solve everything. Everybody wanted a solution that would make them happy, they never thought about what would make me happy.

Gender transition surgeries involve a graded series of complex corrective procedures, are long-drawn, expensive (between Rs 5 and 20 lakh) and require you to live close to the medical facility. So, I decided to develop my own resources, and I moved to Delhi where nobody knew me and took up a job with an NGO, working on family planning and community health. In 2013, I moved to Jamia Millia Islamia. As I interacted with my students, I felt a fresh energy that pulled me out of my lows.

I was “settled” but couldn’t snap my emotional ties to my mother, who blackmailed me saying she would die if I did the surgery. And one day, she came over to stay with me permanently, saying, “Wear my clothes and jewellery in the house, just be normal outside.” She had such a fear of social abandonment that I delayed my decision to keep her happy. But I slipped deeper into depression and became suicidal.

The day I planned my suicide was my turning point because I asked myself one last question: Who would be happy if I died? Not my mother for sure, and the world wouldn’t care anyway. So, I thought let me at least transition and feel happy about myself, even if it meant dying on the operation table. At least in one scenario I would be happy.

Unknown to my mother, I went to a psychiatrist, got a mental fitness certificate, and started feminisation hormone therapy with an endocrinologist. This causes the development of breasts, redistribution of body fat, lowers the waist-to-hip ratio and so on. My looks and body began to change further as I began laser hair reductions on the skin. By now, I could pass off as a woman but continued to wear shirts, trousers and kurta-pyjamas. My mother refused to go out with me. My students and OPD patients murmured in corners, but I was honest about who I was. That broke the ice.

A full transformation can take years as apart from genital reconstructive surgeries, you have at least 10 kinds of facial feminisation surgeries, bone and jaw reconstruction and even hair follicle procedures. I was always for minimal surgery because without a sex change operation, I would not be considered a woman in my passport. So, I opted for two sets of surgeries, each six to seven hours long, beginning with breast augmentation on July 4, 2019.

Meanwhile, my social transition happened. One of the techniques trans people use is to call each other by some preferred names. I chose Aqsa and Zara, but I liked the former. I changed my legal documents, too. As I got comfortable and felt the male gaze changing, my mother changed tack. She now wanted me to be a full, not a half-woman. But a genital reconstructive surgery can be risky; I have chosen the much safer skin graft, which will be completed in December.

People feel we go for sex-change surgery because we crave sensual intimacy but for me it is about the right to feel pleasured when I want to. I am happier now, with my make-up, clothes, companionship and conversations. All I needed was love and respect. I cannot forget the day, two weeks after surgery, when I walked in wearing salwar kameez and makeup, owning my womanhood, and the Dean saying I was a beautiful person. I am looking towards marrying my soulmate, an administrative officer in the government. I am no longer a question mark.

As told to Rinku Ghosh

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