domingo, 4 de marzo de 2018

​I know who I am: The struggle of a 22-year-old to choose her gender identity | The Indian Express

​I know who I am: The struggle of a 22-year-old to choose her gender identity | The Indian Express

​I know who I am: The struggle of a 22-year-old to choose her gender identity

​The struggle of a 22-year-old to choose her own gender identity has led to far-reaching changes for many like her. This is that story.

Written by Kaunain Sheriff M | Published: March 4, 2018 12:00 am
dream, identity, identity crisis, identity story, dream story, inspiring stories, motivational stories, indian express, indian express news
​“This is not a story about being born in the wrong body. This is the story of being born in the wrong world”. (Illustration: C R Sasikumar)

“I felt like I was living the dream that day,” recalls Kritika (name changed). The 22-year-old, who is based in Delhi and works as an executive with the British Airways, begins to scroll down her Facebook profile page. “There it goes. That is the October  8 post,” she points out at her 2017 timeline. It reads: “…is feeling loved. Finally, I got what I wanted for 21 years.”
She does not stop scrolling. This time, she reads out the October 18 post. “I am a woman today,” she says, her voice a little more than a whisper. She pauses and then speaks louder. “I am a woman today physically as defined by society. Therefore, I fit into that definition to some extent. But I was always a woman in my soul.”
She continues, reading out another post. “This is not a story about being born in the wrong body. This is the story of being born in the wrong world. This is the story of being told who we are — without our consent. This a story of a gender that refuses to be defined by a body,” Kritika reads out.
“It was a small baby step towards achieving my goal. It was my first laser therapy session. But that day was very memorable as I registered myself as female when I went to the (hair removal) clinic,” she says.
Little did she realise that it would lead her to fight court battles and the government; and run to four different central government ministries; and turn her into an agent of change for those whose sense of gender is at odds with their sex.
For Dr Richie Gupta, a leading surgeon in the country in the field of sex change surgery, Kritika is among several transgender patients he has conducted surgery on in the last two decades. In October last year, he and his team of doctors completed the three-year long procedure of sex reassignment surgery (SRS) at Fortis Hospital in Shalimar Bagh. But, for Gupta, Kritika’s case would stand out. Not for its medical transformation. But for the transformation she would bring outside.
“Everyone asks me, ‘When did it happen?’ There is no date or timeline. I liked to dress like a girl when I was a kid. I remember my parents did not like that. People started bullying me. As I grew up, people in Lucknow started making me feel that I was different. That started affecting me psychologically. It was depressing. I used to sit alone during lunch breaks and class intervals. I was a very lonely kid,” she recalls.
The arrival of puberty took the conflict deeper within herself. “I started getting a beard and moustache. I started hating myself. I remember using hair removal creams meant for girls. But it became painful to use them on your face. Then I started shaving and trying to look like a boy. I hated seeing myself and even attempted suicide. I did not know where to go. My parents did not understand my problem,” she says.
Things would then get worse, she says, affecting her studies. “I was a very studious kid. But when I was in Class XI, I struggled. I wanted to make friends. So, I forced myself and tried to be more masculine. Inside my head, I was feeling suffocated,” she says.
Kritika moved from Lucknow to Ghaziabad in 2013, when she enrolled for an undergraduate engineering course at a private university. That would be a turning point in her life.
“My parents had become more protective. I am the only child. I wanted to learn dance. But they did not allow me to go outside. Once I cleared my state-level entrance examination, I opted for a college close to Delhi. I did not want to stay at home. But I stayed at a private hostel to avoid ragging,” she says.
The engineering college would prove a hostile place, forcing her to quit halfway. “I was harassed in college. They started calling me Karan Johar. Dostana had just released. I complained to the principal but she did not respond. One night, the situation worsened. When my roommate was not present, a group of boys tried to sexually abuse me. I had an exam the next day. I left the hostel immediately and shifted to a PG. I did not tell my parents about it,” Kritika says.
That was it. That brush with violence helped her make up her mind. She would quit engineering and undergo a transformation in September 2014. “What happened in the hostel was humiliating.  I had no friends and started getting more isolated. I decided to quit engineering. I decided to undergo transformation,” says Kritika.
But the SRS surgery was expensive. Kritika knew she had to ask her parents for help but chose to start her journey independently. “I started to skip meals to save money. I had 8-10 proper meals in a month. When I managed to save around Rs 30,000, I decided to undergo laser therapy for hair removal. That was the beginning,” Kritika says.
On October 14, Kritika underwent the laser therapy. A month later, she met Dr Gupta, who then referred her to Dr Rajiv Mehta, a consultant psychiatrist at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital in Delhi. This was done to medically certify that Kritika was suffering from gender identity disorder (GID) or was gender dysphoric.
Firstly, we need to understand the difference between gender and sex. Sex represents physical differentiation and is indicated by external appearance. Gender is the psychological recognition of self. The feelings of an incongruence between sex and gender is medically termed as dysphoria. If someone comes for reconstructive surgery, it is my responsibility to refer them to a psychiatrist, who will certify that the person is mentally fit to undergo such a transformation,” says Dr Gupta.
In November 2014, Dr Mehta began counselling Kritika. “The first step was to diagnose gender dysphoria. Then we check if she is suffering from any other kind of mental illness. If the person is depressed, we have to first treat that…But, most importantly, through counselling, we see if she can live the social role or not. If a male is getting transformed into a female, we have to see if the person is comfortable doing simple female-related activity. It could be as simple as sending them shopping to purchase female clothes,” he says.
In one session, he asked Kritika to come dressed as a woman. “I was very nervous. Yet excited. I wore a sari and travelled in the metro. This was the first time I travelled like this,” says Kritika.
She recalls putting up a Facebook post, informing her friends that she would wear a black sari similar to the one that actress Priyanka Chopra wore at an event. After a two-month long assessment, the psychiatrist handed her a GID certificate on January 17, 2015. “I was very excited that I could now approach an endocrinologist, who would begin my hormone replacement therapy (HRT). It was time to see little changes both inside and outside my body,” says Kritika.
The first change Kritika noticed was the loss of physical strength at the start of the HRT. “Oestrogen hormones started to reduce my physical strength. I started feeling weak and tired if I exerted myself,” she says.
Kritika had to muster up the courage to face other difficulties that would confront her. “Once the therapy began, it was a new struggle. I had to shift to a girls’ accommodation. I had to shift four places within three months. One landlord told me to vacate without giving  notice. He had a misconception that a transwoman is always into sex business,” she says.
From house-hunting to searching for jobs, Kritika faced discrimination all through. “In three days, I faced five interviews. I got rejected in all of them. An HR person also asked me to sit separately. Finally, I got a job in a BPO in Noida.”
When a woman security guard at the Saket Select City Walk in Delhi addressed her as ‘madam’, and asked her to enter from the gate meant for “ladies”, Kritika was thrilled. “This was a compliment. It was also a small gesture of acceptance. I started loving myself more with every passing day,” says Kritika.
In a few months, Kritika had changed jobs and found herself at a more supportive workplace, too. “I started working for an American company to support the transition. The team leader, the manager and others were supportive. I started wearing kajal and lip gloss. And nobody commented.”
During her fourth month of HRT, she would meet another doctor to discuss her sex reassignment surgery. “Looking through my medical records, the doctor noticed that I was just 19 and was supporting my surgery independently. He asked me if I had any partner to support me. I said no,” Kritika recalls.
dream, identity, identity crisis, identity story, dream story, inspiring stories, motivational stories, indian express, indian express news​A new day: Even as Kritika copes with the transition, she talks of the fight for getting a new identity card without presenting medical documents.
She says that the doctor then showed her photos of a transsexual woman, who had married and adopted children. “The doctor told me, ‘There are a few guys in this world who will understand you. Respect you. And will be ready to support you during the transition period and after that’,” he says.
First, though, there was the surgery to get through. Even though the doctors had given her a go-ahead, Kritika needed enough funds.
“I applied and was asked to an interview at a well-known IT company. When I revealed to them that I am undergoing transition, I received a call from the consultant that the interview was cancelled. My male friend, who had been called for the interview on the same day, did go for the interview. That day I was forced to believe that some companies continue to be transphobic,” says Kritika.
Things got worst on the job front. In the next company which employed her, Kritika recalls how guards would not allow her to use the female entry as she was still a male on official records. “During that job, I was struggling with physical changes. I used to feel so humiliated when a male guard would touch my body every day. I tried to convince the employers to treat me like a woman. I assured them that I’ll get my identity cards done soon. I had to switch my job. Another struggle with the new job was the dress code. I was asked not to wear round neck t-shirts and slippers. I told them about my sexuality. The company was not sensitive towards my transition,” says Kritika.
After seven months of HRT, Kritika would finally end up at a workplace which would accept her. “I then joined IBM Gurgaon. People were so sensitive and supportive. I continued to work here for almost two years. But there was a small problem. Everyone addressed me as madam. However, during all my official communications I continued to be male. This was a little embarrassing,” says Kritika.
When she applied for a loan for her surgery, a private bank rejected her application due to a “mismatch of documents”. “They thought I was providing someone else’s documents. I told them about my medical treatment but they did not respond,” says Kritika.
But it was a bus journey home that was the trigger for Kritika to fight a new battle: getting a new name, gender and identity. “I stopped travelling by air because I would be stopped for not having a female identity card. Once, I decided that I would travel by bus. I travelled thinking they would not ask for an identity card. I even dressed up like a boy to hide my hair. But my facial appearance was so feminine that the conductor identified me and misbehaved with me. It was an overnight journey and it turned out to be a nightmare. After this incident I decided to get my ID cards changed. I wanted to live a dignified life,” she says.
Kritika says she gathered information from different sources about procuring a new identity card—and while doing that, she sought the help of Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. “I had an Aadhaar card issued in my old name. They said they cannot change the name on the card. But they could change the gender if I got a recommendation from an MP. I reached out to Tharoor via email. He assured me of every possible help. Finally, my name and gender were changed on my Aadhaar card and at my workplace. It was a moment of triumph for me.”
The battle was only half-won. “To change my name in other official documents like the marksheet, the government had to issue a gazette notification. I wanted to complete my engineering degree. But for that I needed to change my name in the gazette. But the officials said that it was mandatory for me to provide an SRS certificate,” Kritika says. In May 2016, she moved the Delhi High Court against the controller of publications, challenging their rules. She told the HC that the government had violated her fundamental rights by refusing to allow her to change her name and gender and lead a dignified life.
As she waited for the court to hear arguments, she continued to pursue her case with the director of printing and publication. “I started meeting officials. I wrote emails to the ministry of urban development, pointing out that the current performa (requirements) for change in sex has been made without legal validity, and in violation of the landmark NALSA judgment. The NALSA judgment clearly states that insistence on medical documents is immoral and illegal. More importantly, the judgment clearly states that gender and biological attributes constitute two distinct components of sex. The SRS is not the only reconstruction of male/female, HRT also gives secondary sexual features during the transition,” says Kritika.
For almost four months, she would continue to pursue the matter weekly. “A meeting took place at the level of joint secretary in the ministry of urban development. The matter was also referred to the department of legal affairs at the law ministry. Finally, they changed the format of the performa. But when they took an undertaking, they mentioned that I belonged to the transgender community,” says Kritika.
Kritika would refuse to accept the change. “I told them this was not acceptable and that I identify myself as a woman. We fought like children over the phone. I then wrote a long mail.” The long email would work in favour of Kritika and the joint secretary would herself intervene in the matter. “After detailed discussion, she sent another changed performa,” says Kritika.
On May 15, 2016, Kritika wrote another email to the ministry. “I cannot express in words how happy and content I am today. You will all be remembered in every wish of mine as this is the biggest thing that has happened to me. Trust me, for transsexual people, it is no less than a historic thing that has happened today: that they can get a new identity without medical documents,” the email read.
Six months later, Kritika would also complete her medical treatment. She wants to complete her unfinished dream: to secure an engineering degree. But she now faces another hurdle: to change her name in the marksheets. “I want to update my marksheets now to complete my graduation. The Uttar Pradesh government education board said they have no policy for sex change. I wrote them a five-page letter. The official asked me why I changed my gender. I told them about my journey. They selectively leaked my story that I underwent change because I was harassed. But that was not the sole reason for my transition ,” she says.
The UP government has now asked her to get a certificate from the Chief Medical Officer. “I don’t want to be humiliated further,” she says. Kritika has now moved the Allahabad High Court seeking the court to pass order in her favour. In the last hearing on February 2, Justice Attau Rahman Masoodi has given two weeks to file the counter affidavit in the matter, “…failing which, the court shall proceed for final hearing,” the court said.
“In this country, a piece of paper decides your destiny,” Kritika says. This time though, that piece of paper would also decide something close to her heart. “I have found my life partner. I am waiting for the government to respond. Once things fall into place, I will complete my engineering and settle down with him. So this piece of paper that I am waiting for is very important to me,” Kritika says, as she continues to fight another battle.
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