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I Chose To Be A Woman
Jeena Mitra-Banik


/photo.cms?msid=40070760 A confused identity. A quest to find herself. A woman trapped inside a man’s body. It has taken incredible courage for Hirak Subhra alias Sohini Bagchi to be what she has always desired to be... a woman. She tells us her story.

The Early Years
Even as a child, I preferred playing with dolls and kitchen toys rather than being outdoors. My father was a vigilance officer and my mother taught psychology at Victoria College in Kolkata.

At the time, they brushed aside fears of my effeminate behaviour as harmless. It was only in the seventh standard that I became further aware of my confused sexuality, when I preferred to have girls as friends, instead of boys, and my female mannerisms made me the butt of quite a few jokes.

You know, I feel happy for those who say that their days at school were their best years, because for me it was sheer torment, fear and mental agony. I dreaded going to school and many times my parents intervened and complained to the principal, so that boys wouldn’t tease me or rag me, but the complaints only made it worse. They would come after me more fiercely after each complaint.

The First Signs
I was in class six when I first wore my mother’s sari. I also frequented the neighbour’s house to smear lipstick and kohl and to colour my nails. Our neighbours overlooked the whole thing as they treated it as a childish prank.

My mother, who was my best friend, did not gauge the extent of my confused sexuality, where I felt like a woman, but had to live life as a man. She would react strongly when relatives introduced me as the only girl in our clan, or egged me to dance like a woman at get-togethers. She felt they were trying to make fun of my effeminate ways. She would even ask me to behave like a boy.

Coming Out Of The Closet
During my college years at the Maulana Azad College and the Government Arts College in Kolkata, I made a tremendous effort to be a man. I stayed away from the canteen and other hang-outs at colleges to save myself from all the jeering I had experienced in school.

However, my girlfriends at the art college were very protective of me and made sure that I was never harassed. It was here that I became physically and emotionally involved with a male student. But the affair was short-lived and when I broke up, it left me depressed and suicidal.
It was out of frustration, then, that I told my parents the truth about my sexuality, my transsexual life and my continuous effort to keep up pretences. I urged them to take me for a sex-change treatment that I had read about in a magazine. We met quite a few doctors and psychologists to identify my problem so they could determine if I was a passive gay or a transsexual.

I went to several psychologists, many of whom refused to recommend me for a sex-change operation as one of their earlier patients, unable to cope with the change, committed suicide.

The Battle Begins
Once my parents passed away, I was left to fight my own battle. I found a soulmate in the manager at the textile-printing firm, where I was employed as a textile designer. In sharp contrast to my youth, I faced no harassment here. People were friendly and the staff, co-operative. In fact, they stood by me during the transformation process.

Surprisingly, help also came from the illiterate household help, Malati Giri, who instead of fleeing the scene, stood by me throughout, encouraging me to go through whatever was necessary to realise my true sexuality and self-identity.

Finally, I met Dr Sheila Rohatgi, a plastic surgeon, who, on the basis of my past medical and psychological records, and in consulatation with another psychologist, finally agreed that I was not a man, but a transsexual and recommended the sex-change operation as a possible cure.

The Transformation
The process began with hormonal injections in Kolkata and laser treatment for facial hair removal in Delhi. Let me tell you that the supposedly ‘painless’ laser treatment was unbearably painful.

But I went through it keeping the end in mind. It meant I had to travel 13 times between the two cities and ignore the stares of fellow passengers. I knew they were curious about me, but I continued to be reserved and unfriendly.

At the first sex-change operation, breasts were implanted. I had my reservations about this at first, but Dr Rohatgi pointed out that without breasts I would never be able to feel like a woman. Then, after a gap of 15 days, the second operation was performed, where a vagina was created.

The previous night, as I lay alone in the nursing home bed, it did cross my mind to run away from it all. Not because I was afraid of the operation, but I was suddenly confused, about whether I actually wanted to see myself as a woman. But then, I realised it was, in fact, all I wanted from life and went for it.

The first time I urinated after the operation, I was really happy. It seemed to me that a foreign body was removed and I had finally found my true identity — that of a woman.

Life Goes On...
Well, the man who had fought my battle with me disappeared, afraid to marry the transformed ‘man’. The factory where I worked became unbearable without him, so I quit and took on jobs at two different factories as a freelancer.

I now earn a cool Rs 30,000 per month and repay the loan I incurred for the operation. The sum of Rs 4,50,000 came from my savings and an office loan.

Today, life is a lot different; looking at men is like a legal right, the done thing. Earlier, whenever I looked at men, my interest in them was misread and women with whom I became too friendly thought I was making a pass at them. Really, if only they knew!”

As told to Jeena Mitra-Banik

Photograph: Indranil Mukherji

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