How transphobia and ignorance of doctors drove a Kerala trans man to suicide

The doctors asked Paachu – an adult – to get parental consent for his gender affirmation surgery. But his parents refused to understand.
How transphobia and ignorance of doctors drove a Kerala trans man to suicide
How transphobia and ignorance of doctors drove a Kerala trans man to suicide
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Paachu was assigned ‘female’ gender at birth, but as he grew up, he identified as a man and not as a woman. The 22-year-old trans man was struggling to make his family understand, and was also looking for gender affirmation surgery – to look the way he felt. Except, the doctors Paachu approached refused to take the adult man seriously: They demanded ‘parental consent’ to perform the surgery, but his parents did not agree.

On Monday, Paachu killed himself in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram. He jumped to death from the hostel where he was living.

"He was driven to suicide by Transphobia!” wrote Vihaan Peethambar, a trans activist who is part of Kochi-based Queerala, a support group for the LBGTQI+ community.

“Lack of understanding shown by his parents who refused to let him transition and be liberated from the body he was trapped and suffocated in. An ignorant doctor who mandated parental consent for his surgical transition (any person above 18 years does not mandatorily require parental consent for surgical transition)," Vihaan wrote in a Facebook post on Wednesday.

“What people fail to understand is that most trans people undergo extreme ‘gender dysphoria’ which can be fatal,” Vihaan said. “Pachu was asking for help which time and again was being denied to him.”

But not many people understood. Even the Cantonment police, who have registered a case of unnatural death, considered Paachu a "woman who was depressed since her parents did let her undergo the surgery." What drove the student was "depression," the police say.

Vihaan asserts that Paachu was driven to suicide by transphobia – he was denied the medical help that he needed.

Parental consent

Speaking to TNM, Vihaan said that Paachu had been constantly fighting with his parents for the past few months, after a Thiruvananthapuram-based doctor insisted that he get parental consent to undergo the surgery.

"For a person who is above the age of 18, parental consent is not required at all for undergoing the surgery. According to the rules, the person accompanying can be a guardian, a relative or a friend. Nowhere does it mandate that parents should be there. In fact, we have gone to the hospital to be with trans people who got the surgery done, since they have zero support from their families. In Paachu's case, we did not know about him," Vihaan said.

In Kerala, there are only a handful of trans friendly psychiatrists, who know how to talk to trans people properly and have knowledge about gender identities, he pointed out.

"There's a big scarcity of sensible psychiatrists who have proper knowledge about this. In fact there are doctors who continue to say that they can “treat” us. This, in a state that has a transgender policy. What is the government doing? On one hand, they say that they want to implement the policy, but on the other hand, they refuse to take action against such ignorant doctors," Vihaan said.

Dr L Ramakrishnan from the public health NGO SAATHII that works on accessible healthcare for transgender people and other marginalised communities, said, “I believe that as long as the person is above the age of 18, they should not be asked for parental consent. Not many parents support their children's decision for gender transformation. All that is needed is a witness and a caregiver. Neither the witness nor the caregiver has to be a family member. As long as these are in place, no doctor should mandate for parental consent."

Psychologists and doctors should be sensitised on gender identities and towards issues that the transgender community goes through, said Thrissur-based transgender person Faisal Faizu.

Speaking to TNM, Faisal shared his experience of consulting a psychiatrist, saying that the psychiatrist was "shocked" when he said that he was a trans man.

“Earlier, when I had approached a psychiatrist in Thrissur at a time when I was having some emotional issues, he was shocked when I told him that I am a trans person. His advice to me when I told him that I had a break-up recently was, ‘It is natural when people have unnatural relationships.’ For him, a transgender person having a relationship was unnatural."  

Dr Ramakrishnan says that many doctors also fear that the parents will show up and create a ruckus, dragging them into some kind of legal trouble, and this is the justification for demanding parental consent.

Under the project Vistaara, Queerala along with SAATHI is identifying gaps pertaining to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in medical education curriculum.

(With inputs from Saritha S Balan)

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