Chaithra was assigned ‘male’ at birth despite having typically female sexual and reproductive organs, because the doctor told her parents that she was a boy.

Born a girl but forced to live like a man for 20 years A Kerala womans journeyImage for representation. Copyright @ The News Minute
news Human Interest Tuesday, June 05, 2018 - 15:38

When Chaithra* was born in a small village hospital in Kerala in 1988, the doctor told her parents that she was a boy – despite the fact that she had female sexual and reproductive organs. She had a lot of body hair as a newborn, and according to Chaithra, the doctor told her parents that she had XY-chromosomes, and therefore she wasn’t a girl. That one arbitrary decision has affected her whole life, says Chaithra, who grew up to realise that she was a woman.

The 30-year-old has finally received her new Class 10 certificate from the Kerala Education Department, with the correct gender marker. Speaking to The News Minute, requesting anonymity, she recalls her confusing childhood and her challenges to find her own identity.

“I had female organs when I was born,” Chaithra says, “and yet, for some reason, the doctor declared that I had XY-chromosomes. Though my body hair disappeared a few days after my birth, he was not sure that I was female. He even refused to give my birth certificate – my parents told me this many years later.”

When she finally got her birth certificate, it was with a ‘male’ gender marker; her parents, too, believed she was a boy and enrolled her in school a few years later as a boy. “I sat with the boys in schools. In the boys’ toilet, I wet my trousers when I tried to pee like others, and my friends teased me if I sat down to pee,” Chaithra recalls. It affected her so much that she did not go to school regularly. “But I had no clue that I was a girl,” she says.

“I went to school only to write exams. My parents would speak to the teachers, asking them to excuse me from the classes. I was a boy in school and at home. I did not suspect otherwise then,” Chaitra says.

Things got worse by the time she reached Class 4. “My parents started giving me hormone treatment so that I would grow up to be a man. I remember the painful injections in my spine… I also took some tablets regularly for many years,” Chaithra says.

“The hormones affected my health a lot. I struggled to sleep, and the body heat I experienced was unbearable,” she says.

As a result of the hormones, she developed male secondary sexual characteristics in her adolescence. Her breasts did not develop, and a moustache and a beard started appearing. “I even grew much taller,” Chaitra says.

At the age of 13, the hormone treatment stopped. But it was three years later, when she was 16-years-old, that Chaitra realised something was not right.

‘My friends had girlfriends, and were easily infatuated with girls. I had no such feelings,” Chaithra recalls. “I was attracted to girls’ clothes and jewellery. That’s when I read an article about Kalki Subramaniam (a transgender activist in Tamil Nadu), and came to know about the transgender community. I thought, maybe I was a transgender woman…” Chaithra says.

“The identity crisis was terrible. My parents were imposing manly things on me,” she sighs. It took her years to understand that she was a cis woman, Chaithra says. She asked her parents about her childhood and the medication she was given, and that is when she realised she was born a girl.

"After I turned 18, though my breasts started developing slowly, my beard remained thick. I am more than six feet tall. When I asked a doctor later, he said I would have been perfectly normal if I had not taken those medicines,” Chaithra rues.

At the age of 20, Chaithra decided that she will not be a man anymore. “The mental pressure I was suffering had reached its threshold. It took years to convince my parents, and I started dressing like a woman,” she says. When she did, her relatives, friends and neighbours were shocked, and not ready to accept the change.

“I live in a small village where people don’t understand these things,” Chaithra says. “Many people abused me very badly, some even tried to physically harass me. At the bus stop, women would ask me for the time, and then whisper to their friends that I am indeed a woman. This has happened many times.”

Even when she pursued a diploma course, she was seen as a boy by her teachers. “It took a long time to convince them,” she says.

Finally, Chaitra managed to get a medical certificate from a government hospital, declaring that she was a woman. With the help of this certificate, she managed to get her gender marker changed in her school certificate as well – and has now enrolled in a college and is pursuing an undergraduate degree.

However, the hormones she was injected with as a child have complicated her life in many ways. “My uterus is not fully developed, and I have other health issues as well,” Chaithra says.

"It was parents’ ignorance. I might have had some hormonal issues, but they shouldn't have blindly believed the doctor," Chaithra sighs, but refuses to blame anyone. “It was my fate. I will get a good education now, and I will secure a job," she says.

Except for a few people, none of her present classmates, teachers or friends know that she lived as a man for 20 years. “For everyone who meets me today, I am just a taller than average woman. Nobody knows my past. However, 30 years of my life have gone searching for my identity. At least now, I want to live my own identity,” she says.

*Name changed.

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