By Gee Imaan Semmalar for Zuban Books:
The secretary, Meena, called me in. Dr Neeta smiled as we walked in. She slipped between “she” and “he” as she talked about me during the consultation. In my desperation to get the surgery done, I smiled weakly through a conversation that would have, in any other circumstances made me bare my fangs. She explained how the surgery would be done. “Each patient is a signature for me. You will have minimal scarring and be able to live as a man after this. Don’t worry,” she assured me.
For accessing hormone treatment, they require your mental health to be “assessed” and for two psychiatrists to certify you as having gender identity dysphoria (a lot of psychiatrists still write “gender identity disorder”). Depending on your psychiatrist, this could take any amount of time, in some cases, even years. We are left at the mercy of doctors who know very little about us.
In most cases, they try to convince us that we should continue to live in the same bodies, they warn us about the consequences of “sex change”. Among trans friends, I have heard of instances of electro shock therapies, house arrests, being chained to their bed posts, trans men being forcefully administered female hormones and marriage being prescribed as a “cure”. With no way to opt out of this oppressive medical system, I let them certify me as having a disorder. In fact, I pleaded with them to certify me, in order to become who I am today.
One of my major anxieties when I got onto hormones was how my mother would react to my physical changes.
I started looking more like the man she disliked from her past. Would she begin to see him in me more? I realised over time that she didn’t hate him as much as I thought she did. It was an impossible relationship due to many reasons, some within their control and some, outside of it.
As I masculinise over the years, I have come to realise that I have also become the child who cannot be “explained” to many. When you medically transition, the joke is over. The child can no longer be indulged as a tomboy, the “daughter” will never get married and give you chubby grandchildren, you stumble when you say your kid’s name, when you use pronouns, slowly you avoid conversations about that child with friends and family, you panic when someone rings the bell when your child is at home, you cannot ask extended circles to open a few doors of opportunity for your kid.
Your erasure is written into family histories as blank spaces where your photograph once was. As someone who is convinced about the need to destroy caste networks, this erasure came as a relief to me. I have begun to understand the erasure as something that is propelled by caste respectability and shame. It must also be said that it is natural for people close to us to feel a sense of loss, to not know how to transition themselves.
Once, when I went home, I found my school uniform neatly folded up in my mother’s cupboard. I realised then, that even as she struggled to embrace the son I had become to her, she still mourned the loss of the daughter she once thought she had given birth to. I acknowledge the incredible support I have received over time from my loved ones in this journey.
My surgery date was given. November 23. The surgery was to happen in a tiny operation theatre behind Dr Neeta’s clinic. I arrived in the morning around 9 am and was made to change into a medical gown. I waited for two hours, trembling with fear and excitement before the anaesthetist came. The doctor came and did markings on my chest for the surgery. I was on the operation table. The last thing I remember was the colour of the nail polish on the anaesthetist’s fingers. A dirty shade of green. And the glass beads on the surgeon’s cap. Anaesthetised dreams I cannot recall now, followed for about 6 hours.
When I woke up it was late evening. I saw my mother through a haze. I badly wanted to pee but when I tried, I couldn’t. I was taken back in an auto to a place we had rented for 15 days. There were two plastic cans with fluids and blood on both sides of my chest. Drainage pipes. They would be removed after five days. The surgery was practically pain free and I was on the other side! I was happy. Well, almost.
Gee Imaan Semmalar is a theatre actor, writer, filmmaker and co-founder of Panmai Theatre, Chennai.
Note: Due to lack of the doctor’s surgical knowledge, the procedure did not go as smoothly as planned. Further, her indifference to Gee’s calls and messages made this an incredibly difficult experience. The full story by Gee Semmalar can be read in A. Revathi’s “A Life in Trans Activism.” Excerpted with permission from Zubaan Books.