17 September 2007

Indian transvestite dancers endure rape and sadism

By Jonathan Allen

MAHARAJGANJ, India (Reuters) - To earn a living, Kiran dresses up in women's clothes, dances at wedding parties in the Indian countryside and tries not to struggle when he is raped at knifepoint by drunken male wedding guests.

The pay, he says, is pretty good.

He is one of thousands of launda dancers working the wedding scene in the villages of Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh states, leading the groom's raucous marching-band procession to the bride's house.

They put up with routine violence because, they say, it is the only way they are free to live as "kothis", a South Asian term for effeminate and transsexual gay men.

Most dancers soon get used to being bitten, burnt with cigarettes and cut with knives and broken bottles. In one common "party trick", a wedding guest will hide a razor blade in his fingers and then bloodily caress the dancer's cheek.

And while most laundas make extra money selling sex, too often they end up brutalized. Most know of dancers who were shot dead or strangled for resisting sex with gangs of men from the wedding in nearby buildings or fields.

"They like to have sex with pain. They like to give us pain. They take pleasure in this violence," said 20-year-old Kiran, who declined to give his full name, as he plucked stubble from his cheeks with tweezers, readying for work.

Bappa, an older launda, said one of his worst days at work was when a drunk man took a knife in a boast of virility and slit Bappa's anus open wide before raping him.

But another launda, Bobby said their current neighborhood -- Uttar Pradesh's Maharajganj district -- was relatively safe, and argued the freedom granted by the job outweighed the violence.

"All our desires are filled," he said, dressed in a canary-yellow salwar kameez over a padded bra, his long hair dyed auburn. "Most importantly, our desire to live like women, to cook for our boyfriends, to adorn ourselves, have our own households."

After Bobby went to shampoo his hair under the handpump outside, Kiran made the point more bluntly.

"I have come here for two specific reasons," he said, grinning. "One: to dress up as a woman and live like them. Two: sex, sex, and sex."


For poor, lower-caste families wanting a grand wedding for their children, boys in drag were once a cheap substitute for dancing girls. Laundas have since become a regional tradition.

After the marriage ceremony they dance through the night, often until dawn.

A relatively honest bandmaster typically pays a dancer 3,000 to 6,000 rupees ($75 to $150) a month, a little above the average income in India.

Like most laundas dancing in the countryside, Bappa is from the metropolis of Kolkata. His career path was typical.

From a young age he didn't fit in with other boys, and bullies forced him out of school. They liked cricket. He preferred pictures of cricket players and dolls.

Laughing, he mimes how he would drape his head with a towel to pretend he had long hair.

When he was eight years old, his 25-year-old neighbor walked into his house, stripped him as he squirmed, and raped him.

It was the first of many such attacks by the neighbor who later got him into brothel work, where he learnt about launda dancers. He figured it was the best chance for an outcast to make a living.

When at home in Kolkata, his family silently tolerates him so long as he wears men's clothing, skips the makeup and keeps out of their way.

He hides his women's gear with a vegetable seller at the nearby train station, where he gets changed in the ladies toilet. His parents are still trying to find him a bride.

"We once dreamt of having a respectable job," said Kiran, "We wanted to become doctors, craftsmen or company executives. We dreamt of getting married, having kids of our own, going to the beach for holidays. But not anymore."


Few people care about launda dancers.

Charities and government projects tend to focus on girls and young women, mostly because they are trafficked and abused in far greater numbers, but also because they are seen as defenseless.

Even the men the laundas call their boyfriends -- mostly married men perceived to be heterosexual -- tend to shun them during daylight hours.

Added to that is the threat of disease. India has the world's largest HIV caseload with an estimated 5.7 million sufferers and the dancers are a high-risk group. Bobby has a photo album featuring pictures of two launda friends who died from AIDS.

Kolkata-based People Like Us is one of the few organizations working with laundas to provide better healthcare and reduce the threat of violence.

But it says funding is hard to come by, partly because the line between victim and exploiter can quickly blur.

As they get older, laundas often bring younger kothis into the business. To some people, this is nothing less than pimping. But the laundas argue only they can teach these outcast teenagers how to survive a lifetime of abuse as transsexuals living in India.

Source: Reuters.com
Tue Jun 12, 2007 7:21pm EDT

11 September 2007

Born a boy in Samoa, living as a woman in Alaska

“What are you?”

The question came at Tafi Toleafoa from a young woman across the computer lab.

People always want to know, but they rarely ask out loud. Students wear the question on their faces the first day of class. Professors trip over pronouns. It’s been that way since Tafi came from Samoa two years ago to attend the University of Alaska Anchorage.

“Are you a boy or a girl?”

Now, one more time, Tafi had to explain, to untangle the contradiction of her long thick hair and plump, glossy lips with the masculine tenor of her voice and her tall, substantial body. She had to tell the girl that, no, she isn’t a boy, or a girl, exactly. She’s something else.

“I’m fa’afafine,” Tafi said. “That means I have a boy’s body, but I was raised in Samoa as a girl.”

Tafi could have explained that in the islands, nobody ever asked. She could have told the girl that a Samoan mother with a fa’afafine among her children is considered lucky. Fa’afafine help with babies and cooking, they tend the elderly and the sick. They are presumed to have the best traits of both men and women.

But the girl didn’t want to know more. She picked up her things and left, giving Tafi one last look over her shoulder.

The way most Americans understand it, gender breaks down simply: There are men and there are women. But across Asia and the Pacific Islands, many cultures recognize a third gender with characteristics both male and female. In Samoa, when a son or a daughter prefers the work and clothes of the opposite sex, they are called fa’afafine “like a woman” or, far less commonly, fa’atama, “like a man.”

Tafi has a male body, but she lives her life as a female and asks that people refer to her as “she.” That’s how she will be described in this story.

In the islands Tafi was more accepted, but her life was still complicated. Many fa’afafine live as women, the maleness of their bodies ignored by those around them.

Outside of the cities, especially in Christian families, they must follow strict social rules binding them to household duties.

Many families, including Tafi’s, expect they will remain celibate. In a culture that prizes both its tradition and Christianity, fa’afafine are tolerated, but behavior that hints at homosexuality is not.

Still, many fa’afafine, who see themselves as women, do have discreet relationships with men.

In her ideal world, Tafi, who was raised as an oldest girl-child named Alicia, wouldn’t have to change her body to be accepted here. She wouldn’t have to rearrange her outside to make people accept what she is inside: a straight woman who is attracted to straight men.

But the world isn’t ideal. Since she came to Anchorage, Tafi’s family, who loves her as she is, has pressured her to dress like a man. They have decided she needs to fit in to avoid ugliness she isn’t used to.

Now, at 23, she’s torn between the expectations of her family who accept her as an asexual helper, and American culture that’s less accepting but offers her what she wants most: a chance to become physically female, to find a husband and have a family of her own.

Tafi wasn’t surprised that the girl in the computer lab didn’t know what she was seeing. Sometimes Tafi doesn’t know how to see herself—or her future.

Ropeta Toleafoa knew her son was fa’afafine when he was 4. Unlike his brothers, he stayed close to her and didn’t like getting dirty, she said, speaking in Samoan with her son Taivaleoaana “Seven” Toleafoa translating.

“He didn’t like going outside and doing what men do,” she said.

Tafi’s life wasn’t like the stories she watched on re-runs of American talk shows as she grew up in Samoa. She never felt she was a woman trapped in a man’s body. She never felt shame.

Samoa is a tribal, communal society, different from America where individual desires rule. Samoan parents hold a powerful role and commonly influence their children’s decisions far into adulthood. Children don’t choose to be fa’afafine; their mothers decide for them.

At 5, Tafi, a sweet, outspoken child, began hoisting babies on her hip, filling bottles for her mother and helping with the dishes. Ropeta, a mother of eight, was pregnant or nursing for many years and welcomed Tafi’s help.

Tafi wasn’t encouraged to dress like a girl, but she gravitated toward her sisters’ clothing, playing dress-up in private. “I loved skirts, short skirts to be specific,” she said. “I always had to be pretty.”

At school, Tafi bonded with girls and other fa’afafine among her classmates and teachers. By third grade, most everyone called her Alicia. Her younger siblings, all girls, saw her as an oldest sister.

Tafi’s father, Saunoa “Noah” Toleafoa is a religious man, an elder in the Seventh Day Adventist church that missionaries brought to the islands along with Western ideas about gender. Noah had fa’afafine in his family, but he held on longest to the idea that Tafi would be like her older brothers. A boy dressing as a girl is not what God intended, he said.

He tried forcing her to change her clothes and cut her hair like a boy’s, but nothing worked. Tafi couldn’t be forced.

“This one thing I know,” he said. “Tafi is different.”

By the time Tafi reached her teens, the idea of an actual sex change consumed her. Tafi found many examples of adult fa’afafine around her, some of whom had surgery. To each other they spoke a fa’afafine language, a mixture of English and Samoan. Tafi soon caught on.

“It wasn’t hard to ask them, `Hey, how did you get boobs?’” she said.

Out of respect for her father, Tafi dressed “androgynous,” wearing women’s pants, a T-shirt, and her long hair pulled into a bun. Her one indulgence was glitter.

“Lots of glitter,” she said. “I loved shiny stuff.”

Ropeta and her daughters insulated Tafi from her father’s disapproval, which gradually waned. For junior prom, Ropeta saved two paychecks to buy Tafi the material to make a pink dress.

By 2002, all the Toleafoas had immigrated to Anchorage, following family connections and the promise of better jobs. Tafi stayed behind, her immigration status complicated because she was born in western Samoa, which is an independent country, different from the U.S. territory of American Samoa. She’d graduated from high school and was working on her associate’s degree.

“That’s when I started dressing like a woman full-out,” she said.

In a snap-shot from that period posted on her MySpace.com site, Tafi glows, her chest full under a black blouse.

“It felt right,” she said. “Perfect.”

In 2005, on her way to Anchorage to start at the University of Alaska Anchorage, Tafi took her first step on U.S. soil in Hawaii, wearing platform sandals and short-shorts. She always imagined Americans, with their gay celebrities and liberal attitudes, would accept her. She remembered RuPaul and the movie “To Wong Fu, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar,” a drag queen comedy she’d watched in high school.

“I thought, `OK if there’s people like that, then probably I don’t have to explain myself,’” she said. “I didn’t know that it was going to be like there’s nobody that dresses like that in a real everyday life.”

When she showed her passport, which said she was a man, customs officials singled her out for two special searches. Standing in the balmy Honolulu airport, she felt the disapproval of strangers for the first time.

The collapse of her expectations continued in Anchorage. The first day of her liberal studies class, when she answered a professor’s question, she heard whispers. Her voice betrayed her.

“When they look at your face and you have earrings on and you have make-up on and you have long hair, then automatically you’re supposed to have this kind of voice,” she said. “If you are not going to have that voice, then you are kind of like an alien or something.”

After her first two weeks of school, her father sat Tafi down. He had four fa’afafine on his mother’s side, he said. One of them came to America 10 years ago, to California. People didn’t understand her there, he said. At a party, Americans beat her and threw her from a window. She was killed.

“He said he’s concerned about my life and my safety,” Tafi said. “That’s why he advised me that I should change my style to kind of like, umm, androgynous, sort of like professional.”

There would be no more short-shorts or glitter. Instead, it was T-shirts and slacks. And if her professor asked about pronouns, she’d go by “he.” But, even in her toned down-outfits, Tafi seemed feminine. Her professors struggled with what to call her in class.

“Even the most inclusive people do not know what this is,” said her professor Ann Jache. “They don’t know how to talk about a person that is both male and female.”

Tafi took her classmates’ judgment as a challenge. A gregarious “he,” she excelled in class, tackling complicated literature, winning a seat on the student senate, making a loyal group of friends in the school Polynesian association.

Tafi didn’t want to hide, Jache said, she wanted to explain. Jache and Tafi crafted a project on fa’afafine over the generations. Tafi gave a presentation to her class, and then to the campus, and then to a Unitarian church. Each time, she grew more confident.

Tafi began to see it as her job to inform the campus about fa’afafine.

“I knew that they are not educated about it. They wouldn’t be mean like that if they knew ... Fa’afafine are all coming to Alaska,” she said. “If they are running into the same problems, I have to do something about it.”

Tafi’s west Anchorage home is crowded with her parents, brothers, sisters, nieces and in-laws, 13 in all. Tropical flowers decorate the walls and a grass mat covers the carpet. Among her sisters, she’s Alicia, a dutiful oldest daughter with a flower behind her ear, chasing her toddling niece, carrying dishes from the kitchen.

Tafi’s brothers and sisters have a better idea than her parents about how Americans view her. They know that some people with a sibling like her would feel ashamed. Her brothers, who see her alternately as a sister and a cross-dressing brother, defend her fiercely.

“Samoan culture believe that God gave you a freedom of choice, you are who you are and it doesn’t matter,” said her brother, Asosaotama, a security guard who goes by “Ace.”

“Shame is nothing when it comes down to blood,” said Seven, a soldier at Fort Richardson, Alaska. “Blood is blood.”

But for her father and her brothers, one thing is very important. Tafi must follow the rules. A fa’afafine brother is one thing, but a gay brother is quite another.

Living as women in Samoa, fa’afafine do have relationships with men, but they are rarely, if ever, public. Tafi has heard of older fa’afafine, those whose parents have died, who live like closeted gay men in America, pretending their partner is a platonic friend. More commonly fa’afafine live with a large family, and have strings of short, secret relationships with straight men who may later marry, sometimes leaving them brokenhearted.

When the subject of a boyfriend came up at the table after church, Tafi’s mother and sisters cheered with approval. Her brother shook his head.

“Tafi can act like a girl, dress up like a girl, but if he had a boyfriend, that’s too far,” said Seven.

Tafi excused herself to the kitchen.

“My sister-in-law, my mom, my sisters, they want me to be happy, they know who I’m attracted to, what I’m attracted to, which is men, and they accept that,” she said later. “My dad and my brothers, no. It’s probably because they just have that expectation of me marrying a woman because I was born male. But then I’m not a male now, it’s obvious I’m not male.”

If anything makes Tafi unhappy, it’s this. Growing up she thought she’d be like other fa’afafine, staying with her aging parents until they passed away, caring for her sister Narese, who has Down syndrome.

But since she’s been in America, and read in her classes about people born male becoming female, she dreams of a future more like her sisters, with a partner of her own.

She thinks of taking hormones and eventually getting surgery to make her body match the way she feels. Her mother and sisters would understand. Her father and brothers would eventually accept it. But even then, if she chose to have a relationship with a man, she would be breaking the rules. She would have to keep it from them.

“Everything else is okay,” she said. “But, boyfriend? No.”

On a Saturday morning at Anchorage Community Seventh Day Adventist church in Airport Heights, and the youth choir lines up on the altar. Tafi’s sisters Sina and Cherish clap and sing “This little light of mine” in their aloha-print dresses, their long hair in heavy buns, glittery gloss on their lips.

Outside of family, church is the most important thing for Tafi. But it’s also a place where she feels conflicted. At first the family attended with a mostly Samoan congregation who understood her, but when they moved to a mixed-race church, things changed. Once again, Tafi’s father asked her to dress like a man.

“Now I have to be a certain way because some of the members’ culture do not have a kind of person like that,” she said.

Her brothers and father are leaders in the church. People have approached them about her.

“I hope that if they want to understand they would feel free to come and ask me because, I mean, how friendly could I get?” Tafi said.

Pastor Edson Joseph, who is from Antigua, has led the evangelical Christian church for 20 years. The congregation’s become increasingly diverse, with American blacks, Africans, people from the Caribbean and Pacific Islanders. A church should welcome everyone, but Tafi and other fa’afafine have raised troublesome questions, he said.

“I have had to defend him,” he said, meaning Tafi. “I have been accused of encouraging or upholding his unbiblical behavior.”

But, he said, all people are sinners and Jesus welcomed everyone, even prostitutes and criminals. So long as Tafi isn’t influencing children, there is a place for him and others like him. It would be a very different matter if Tafi were in a relationship with a man, he said. Then, he would have to intervene.

Tafi, dressed in slacks and a man’s dress shirt, carrying a knock-off designer purse, fills a back pew every Saturday, belting out harmonies to her sister’s songs. She’s made her peace with Jesus.

“I don’t think God sent his son for perfect people, he sent his son for sinners, whatever kind of sinner that is,” she said. “Jesus came to wash away the sins. I don’t think he came just to wash away the straight people’s sins.”

Away from church and school, there is one place where Tafi feels most like herself: among the women of her family.

One sunny day in June, the first birthday of Tafi’s niece, the Toleafoa family threw a barbecue for a hundred guests at the park behind the YMCA on Lake Otis.

Under the picnic shelter, where meat marinated in super-sized coolers and giant grills smoked, Tafi filled foil-covered lunch boxes with turkey tails, taro, flank steak, sausage, potato salad and rice.

“Faster, Alicia, faster,” called her sisters.

In her sarong, a flower behind her ear, Tafi carried plates of food to the elders from church, she dished out salad and chow mein, she sliced the elaborate banana cake. A child fell; she picked him up and shushed his tears.

R&B rolled out of a big set of speakers and the rhythm took hold of her sisters. They stopped work to dance, raising their palms to the sky. The mood captured their mother, Ropeta, who bounced her shoulders and swayed. Tafi put down her big spoon and let the song catch her hips in a slow groove.

Cherish and Sina hooted. Aunties cracked up. Ropeta looked at her happy child dancing in the barbecue smoke and felt moved to cheer her on in English: “Go girl! Go girl! Go girl!”

See Tafi's Myspace Page

Credits: by Julia O'Malley
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)
23 August 2007

05 August 2007

Indian Transvestite film available on Amazon

Great news!
It is easy now to pay and download the film. Sridhar Rangayan's much celebrated film Gulabi Aaina aka Pink Mirror on Indian Transvestites, which has screened at innumerable festivals and won awards, is now availble for download to own.

To download from Amazon

To buy DVD through Amazon

Here's a note about the film:
The Pink Mirror (Gulabi Aaina) - What happens when two Indian transvestites camp it up and outwith each other to seduce a handsome hunk - lots of bitching of course! To add to the 'masala' there's a cute young gay guy also eyeing the same hunk. Lots of fun with dance, drama and desire in true Bollywood style.

Visit the filmmaker' website: http://www.solarispictures.com/ga.htm

16 June 2007

'Censors end' drag artist's show

By Syed Shoaib Hasan
BBC News, Karachi

"Darling, you are sooo naughty," purrs an elegant sari-clad woman glowing out of primetime television.

Going by the name of Begum (Lady) Nawazish Ali, she hosts an eponymous talk show that has taken Pakistan by storm.

Flirting and skirting her way through politics, society gossip and plain old sexual chemistry, Begum has become the most popular icon to inundate Pakistani fantasy in a while.

How is this possible in Pakistan where what is acceptable behaviour from female actors is still largely determined conservative Islamic values?

The answer lies in the identity of the Begum - who is a woman in every sense except the biological one.

"I am God's child," says a smiling Begum Nawazish Ali, or Ali Saleem to give him his birth name, talking to the BBC in his "normal guise".

Clad in jeans and T-shirt, 27-year-old Ali talked passionately about his life and work.

"As long as I can remember, I have wanted to be a woman," he declares.

I never refuse anyone anything
Nawazish Ali

Twirling his shoulder length curly brown hair, Ali looks wistfully in the distance as he recounts how it was growing up in Pakistan for someone so unconventional.

"My father was in the army and we used to move around quite a bit," he says.

With his parents, he accepts there were problems, leading to his examination by a psychologist when he was 14-years-old.

The psychologist, however, allayed all fears, and "from that time on my parents were totally behind me".

That Ali was different from other boys was quite evident from his interests.

"I loved playing with dolls and dressing up with my female cousins to whom I have always been very close," he recounts.

In those days of innocence, he would often dream of becoming a woman.

"I wanted to be Sri Devi, Nazia Hasan, Benazir Bhutto... all the beautiful and powerful women in my world," explains Ali.

'Worst period'

Gifted with a great voice and a natural sense of the theatrical, he delighted in displaying his talents.

That was in the early 1990s in Islamabad. Soon after, in 1995, Ali shifted with his family to Karachi.

This was "the worst period in my life", he confesses, with his parents going through a divorce.

It was during these depressing days that Ali met "Yasmin, who made everything possible".

Yasmin Ismail was one of Pakistani television's finest actresses, who died of cancer last year.

"She was the best thing that ever happened to me," says the screen star.

Ali explains how Ismail introduced him to theatre, groomed his natural histrionics and generally played the part of his mentor.

"She was my mother, father and best friend," says Ali wistfully, adding "I give her 100% credit for any success I have achieved."

Ismail was involved in a popular theatre group called Gripps, and that was where Ali started out.

"My first performance was in a play called 'Art ya Atta' (Art or Bread) in May 1998," Ali says. He did an impersonation of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in the play.

"When I spoke, there was pin drop silence and then the house came down," he exclaims.

The applause was thunderous and the show did record business.

Divorced socialite

The next six years were those of learning and growth. During these times, Ali expanded his repertoire with considerable success.

In March 2004, the idea for transvestite chat show hostess Begum Nawazish Ali first came up during a discussion with friends Nadeem Baig and Omar Adil, a national TV host, in Lahore.

"Omar said that he saw me as much more than the typical characters I was doing and we came up with the idea of this middle aged divorced socialite who knows everybody," gushes out Ali.

Initially, Ali promoted it with GEO, one of the largest TV channels. That deal failed to materialize and rival channel Aaj took up the challenge, quickly putting out a pilot.

"Nadeem was Director entertainment and he told me to bring it over," Ali explains. Aaj moved quickly, and a pilot was soon out.

"It was like nothing anybody had seen," says Azfar Ali, a local television producer. "The most amazing thing was the fact that he was able to deliver it all in a way that the masses could relate to it."

Trivialising politics?

No sooner had the first programme finished than the show was the talk of the town.

From politicians to movie stars to sportsmen, all have had their turn on the show.

So popular has the show become that a sitting federal minister specially requested to be invited.

That may have been unnecessary, as Ali smiles and declares saucily, "I never refuse anyone anything".

The show is not without critics, who accuse it of trivialising politics in a country that has had more than its fill of dictators.

Ali denies this, saying "our politicians have been destroyed under a well thought campaign", adding "I want them to be popular again".

Furthermore, he says that the military - such a powerful influence in Pakistan - have been deliberately kept out of the show.

"I believe that democracy is the only option for us, and this is my contribution to the cause," Ali says determinedly.

He also wants to show what kind of country Pakistan really is, in contrast to the 'Terrorism Central' nation that it is often portrayed as.

"And I will do it," Begum exclaims and, smiling seductively, adds "after all who can resist me?"
Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2006/11/06 10:15:32 GMT


05 June 2007

A Proud Young Woman

I was...
I was born Vijay, to Marwari parents in Nagpur, Maharashtra. Some of the earliest memories I have are of being different from the other boys around me. At that stage, I couldn’t exactly pinpoint what it was that made me feel so trapped and helpless. As a child, one is not equipped to handle thoughts as mature and complex as gender or sexuality. But as I grew older and more aware of the world around me, I also became more aware of the world inside of me. And it confused me more.

The first awakening...

The movie, “Object of my Affection” opened my eyes to a new possibility. One I had not considered till that point. Homosexuality seemed the only plausible answer to my situation. And I decided that I was a gay man, and began dating men. However, the respite I received from this new lifestyle was not as fulfilling as I had envisioned. For the emptiness, the confusion and the confinement still gnawed at me, deep inside. It was in the 11 th grade when I met Karan*, and fell in love. Being with him opened me up, and that woman inside of me, whom I had kept suppressed this whole time, slowly began to emerge. He was the first person I opened myself up to. I told him everything. My fears, my state of mind and my deepest needs.
He understood, and he loved me for everything that I was. But it was not meant to last, for we live in a very unforgiving, judgmental world which has no compassion for anything that is different. The pressures of society were too much for Karan and we parted ways in 2001.

The road ahead...
I joined St. Stephens College, as a gay man . But I was a woman and wanted to be loved as one. And the more I lived this life, the more it chewed at my mind that I wanted to be with someone who would love me, not as a man, but as a woman . It was then that Hollywood would come to my rescue for the second time in my life. The movie, “Boys don’t Cry” finally discussed transsexuality and the fact that it is not as freakish as I had thought. Spurred on, I looked to the internet to enlighten me further about this new and wonderful opportunity that had appeared before me. What I discovered from that point on made me happier and stronger as each day passed. The shame and hurt soon turned to hope and courage.

The Struggle...
As luck would have it, everything at that point started to happen at the same time. Karan came back into my life, only to leave again. My family finally discovered my condition and made me seek medical help with the intention of making me see that all that I felt was just in my head and if I was only convinced otherwise, I would be able to carry on living as a man.
It was during this time that God sent me an angel, in the form of Dr. Amit Sen, my therapist. He made me see that what I was going through was genuine and that there was a way by which I could set myself free. It was he who began my slow transition from scared, confused man to happy, confident woman.

It was now, during my MA in Sanskrit that I decided to start my life anew. I shifted from North Delhi to Defense Colony. The shift was much more, however, since I shifted into my new home as myself, a woman called Mahua Agarwal.
I had been on hormone therapy for a while by now, which helped not only my physical appearance, but also the way I was perceived by other people.
After living as a woman for about a year, I was finally ready for the operation that would change my life forever. I underwent my Sexual Reassignment Surgery in August, 2006 and have been living as a woman ever since.

At peace, finally...
Now I am finally in a place where I am comfortable with myself. For the first time in my life, not only can I stand to look at the person I see in the mirror every day, but I am beginning to love her. I have no regrets, no expectations from my life or the people around me now.
But if I could, one thing I would like is to tell my story to as many people as I can, in the hope that through my experiences, they may learn tolerance and forgiveness for that which they don’t understand.

* Name has been changed.
Appeared in Indiatimes-Phatchicks

Mr ya Miss?

Sex change operations are on the rise in India and are being resorted to by people from all walks of life, report Shuma Raha, Gouri Shukla and Anirban Das Mahapatra

The media circus around the Mafatlal property dispute last month was mainly because the case had an irresistible sideshow to it: Ajay Mafatlal, who was staking claim to his family property as the elder brother among his siblings, was not a natural born man. Originally a woman (he’s been Aparna Mafatlal for most of his life), he had undergone a sex change operation to become a man.

But if you thought sex change operations were the prerogative of the rich and the famous, those with the money and the leisure to indulge their whims and fantasies, think again. Cases of sex change operation, or sex reassignment surgery, as it is called, are on the rise in India. And the people going in for it come from all walks of life. Points out Dr Manohar Lal Sharma, a Delhi-based plastic surgeon, “I have had patients ranging from schoolteachers to MBAs, from barristers to bureaucrats.”

Dr Sharma says that up until the mid-Nineties, he would probably do one sex change surgery in two years. “But these days, I do about three to five surgeries every year. I receive about one request for a sex change operation every week, though not all of them eventually go in for the procedure,” he says.

But those who do, are passionately, deeply, committed to their choice. Take Tara, a 28-year-old teacher from Delhi, for instance. She wanted to become a man so she could marry her girlfriend. She underwent extensive counselling sessions and remained undeterred in her decision to go ahead with the procedure. The operation took place three years ago, after which they got married. They have been living as man and wife ever since.

So why do some people feel compelled to transform themselves into their opposite genders? Rocky, a 32-year-old transsexual, who went in for a sex change operation four years ago, says he never felt like a woman. “I always felt like a man trapped in a female body,” he says. Explains Dr Kalpesh Gajiwala, a plastic surgeon in Mumbai who carried out Aparna Mafatlal’s operation, “The need for sex change is triggered by gender dysphoria, or a gender identity crisis, where an individual wants to realign his or her body to his or her gender perception.” He adds: “Basically, these are people who feel that they are caught in the wrong body. And sex change offers them a way out of their predicament.”

A sex change procedure ? from male to female or vice versa ? involves changing the genitalia as well as other physical attributes like breasts or body hair. It is a fairly expensive process and costs upwards of Rs 1.5 lakh for male to female, and about Rs 4 lakh for female to male operations. “It involves hormone therapy and multiple operations, done in stages,” says Dr Mukund Thatte, another plastic surgeon based in Mumbai. But before that, the patient has to be counselled about the physical and social fallout of sex change and a psychiatrist has to give his approval that he or she is indeed ready to undergo the procedure.

“Ultimately, it’s the individual’s psychology that drives the decision,” says Dr Gajiwala. Ashok, a 58-year-old businessman in Delhi, has sought a sex change operation. “I have lived in a man’s body all my life, but I want to die as a woman,” he told Dr Sharma. Ashok, whose treatment is currently on, has cut his ties with his entire family to start a new life in a new place and under a new name.

The question of identity is, of course, crucial in such cases. A new body requires a new persona and in any case most people want to treat their past as a closed chapter and start on a clean slate. Says Dr Gajiwala, “Most of the time, the individual relocates after the sex change operation has been carried out. This saves them the trauma of being questioned again and again.”

But despite the rise in the incidence of sex change operations, social acceptance of transgendered people is still a long way off in India. “Few families, unless they are exceptionally broad-minded, support a person who undergoes a sex change,” says Dr Gajiwala. The support usually comes from the partner and from the peer group of like-minded people.

Social opprobrium apart, a sex changed person has also got to deal with the limitations of the procedure itself. “The patient has to accept the idea that he or she will suffer a complete loss of fertility,” says Dr Sharma. Adds Dr Thatte, “Penile reconstruction is the most difficult part of the surgery, which is one reason female to male procedures may not always be satisfactory.”

Again, while most transgendered persons report being happy with their new life, there have been odd cases of sex change operations with tragic consequences. A woman, a bank employee, who came to Calcutta from Patna determined to become a man and marry her girlfriend, broke down after her breasts were removed. “She never came back for the remainder of the operations and eventually committed suicide,” says Dr Tapas Chakraborty, an anaesthetist who was part of the team of doctors who conducted the operation.

The road to sex change and thereafter is fraught with many a pitfall. But those who want to correct the mismatch between their mind and body could take heart: it’s a road that’s being traversed more frequently now.

(Some names have been changed on request)

appeared in the Telegraph Calcutta

Sex-change couple jailed for three years in Pakistan

Indo-Asian News Service
Islamabad/Karachi, May 28, 2007

Last Updated: 14:18 IST(28/5/2007)

A Pakistani court on Monday handed down a three-year jail sentence for deception to a wife and her husband who was born a female and underwent a sex change 16 years ago, DPA reported.

Shahzina Tariq, 26, and husband Shumail Raj, 31, were arrested by police nine days ago after they appealed to the Lahore High Court for protection from relatives seeking to have their marriage annulled on the grounds that it was against Islam for women to wed.

Shumail's gender change came to light during a medical exam by a court doctor.

The judge jailed the couple for misleading the court and directed that Raj should be given psychological treatment. Authorities were also ordered to register a case against the doctors who originally performed the sex reassignment.

The couple says they originally married to protect Shahzina from being sold into marriage to pay off her uncle's gambling debts.

According to Pakistani media, Shahzina said relatives had tortured and threatened to kill her if she did not consent to the forced marriage to a brother-in-law of her uncle.

Meanwhile, the sex change and their subsequent marriage has attracted extreme sentiments in Pakistan.

Although there is no law in Pakistan to prevent their marriage, whether they should be allowed to stay married, considered married, their right to live under one room and to seek divorce for lack of consummation, are the questions being debated.

"Can Raj perform sex?" was another question asked as Daily Times sought views of cross sections.

The role of religion, a dominant question in Pakistan in any situation, is a matter of debate in what is being claimed as the first case in the country. Leaders of the two principal Muslim sects differ while disapproving of the marriage.

Shia cleric Allama Syed Abbas Sherazi says: It depends on the courts to give punishment to such people according to the circumstances to save the society from distraction. In Shia sect the same-sex marriage is considered "haram". The clerics in their Friday prayer sermons should educate the nation about the curse of same sex marriages and obscenity.

But his Sunni counterpart, Maulana Hanif Jalandhari, says: "The court can give the couple a capital punishment, a lifetime imprisonment or a fine."

"The media is spreading vulgarity in Pakistan. The parents should force their children to say their prayers. The clerics should educate Muslims about the conspiracy of the anti-Islamic forces," says Jalandhari.

Zahid Hussain Bokhari, a retired judge, says: There is no law in Pakistan to stop two women from living together. It is against the basic human rights to interfere in their personal matters. The 'nikahnama' (marriage contract) procured by Shumail Raj and Shahzina has no importance. They should not be dealt as married.

SM Masud, a former law minister, says the case should be handled in the light of Islam, as there is no provision in Pakistani law.

"If the husband cannot perform sex, the law gives this right to the wife to get a divorce. Shumail looks like a man, but if "she" cannot perform sex, "her" wife Shahzina has the right to get divorced."

"The couple has not committed any offence, as penetration is essential for imposition of the Section 377 of the Pakistan Panel Code (PCC). Fatwas issued in the past should also be consulted in this case."

If the marriage is a case of women's right or harassment, the Women's Protection Act, passed last year, is silent, says criminal law expert Aftab Bajwa.