The Hindustan Times Trailblazer Award 2021 presented by Ambience: Dr VS Priya
Life wasn’t rosy for Dr VS Priya. Born as Jinu Sasidharan in Thrissur, Kerala, this Ayurvedic doctor sensed her true gender identity early on, but continued to endure the mockery, until it became a matter of life and death. And that’s when she decided to, with the support of her parents, undergo a gender reassignment surgery early last year, making her Kerala’s first transgender Ayurvedic doctor. “It has been challenging,” she admits, adding, “We’re not made to feel like humans.”
Ask Priya about her courageous transition, she shares, “It has been taxing one being a trans-woman, and it is for any person who is queer. We are constantly shunned from revealing our own identity. We are just breathing machines. Even while growing up, I felt different from others but I didn’t understand what it meant.”
Recalling her childhood memories of being ‘different’, for Priya, it also meant constant bullying, mocking and feeling frustrated. As she didn’t have many acquaintances to share her feelings during her teenage years, Priya started penning down her thoughts in a journal which her parents unexpectedly discovered soon, who then without giving a second thought took her to a psychiatrist. “They [parents] were taken aback and disappointed to read the diary where I had written about my attractions and infatuations and feelings that I was going through. But the psychiatrist ruled out any possibilities of mental illness after examining me,” says Priya whose parents were relieved, but soon began curbing her freedom. “They thought it was a fault in my upbringing,” she shares.
After harrowing time finishing school, it was the year to enter college where Priya was firm to masquerade her identity, learn ‘boy’ mannerisms to lead a normal life. “I thought I needed a change and break. I couldn’t lead the same life, the same way. I learnt mannerisms, I started controlling myself. I started to mask myself as a boy. I started studying Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) from Vaidyaratnam Ayurveda College, Ollur, Thrissur, and even during entrance coaching, I used to be in my room preparing myself to be another person when I enter college. I controlled and behaved like a boy and thought about gestures and became very conscious of my movements as a ‘boy’ and I became successful, I made friends and I had the freedom to enjoy.”
After completing her graduation in 2008, Priya went ahead for further studies and pursued KVG Ayurveda Medical College, Dakshina Kannada in Karnataka where she continued to cover-up her personality but the pent up feelings from over the years started taking a toll on her. Priya says, “I diverted my mind and kept focusing on my education and profession. I joined several hospitals, worked at different places constantly to keep my mind occupied so that I don’t have any time for myself but I felt tired of hiding my identity. It again started feeling not like a human anymore. I was just breathing, working and sleeping. There was nothing beyond it.” Soon, she joined Sitaram Ayurveda Hospital, which was close by her place where felt settled and at peace. “Now at least I had the time for myself and work on myself,” she shares.
With a motive and strong determination, Priya slowly started bringing gender sensitization topic during conversations with the peers at work to bring a mindset change. But first, she needed herself to come terms with it. “I had to overcome my male ego that I built up to survive college life. It was a big risk that I had undertaken. I wasn’t just risking my profession but also my family and the social status. But the only two options I had were— to live or to die and I felt that if I had to live, I wanted to live peacefully.”
All this prepared and pushed her to kick start her research about the transition process. “I started researching about transition because I was ready to take an action to survive. And by the time I was ready to tell my parents, I was 100% ready and strong-minded to tell my mother. Although, they knew about the issues regarding the identity during the childhood, so this was like a second time to make the reveal but I was prepared now and I was in the position to answer all questions. I realised that my parents needed more care and it wasn’t a time to debate or quarrel with them, rather have a calm conversation.”
And the reactions? “My mother was shocked but accepted happily as I wasn’t an immature kid any longer. I had my plans. My parents loved me more than anything. My parents love me irrespective of the gender identity. They love me as their kid. That’s what parents should do. Moreover, it wasn’t an impulsive decision I was taking. I had devoted plenty of time in my research,” she adds. Professionally too, she ensured informing her patients in advance. “I explained my regular patients the processes I was going through and asked them not to panic if they see a ‘lady doctor’ on their next visit”, she further shares.
Apart from multiple surgeries and therapies and numerous consultations with experts, Priya also decided to change her name Jinu Sasidharan given at birth. She says, “I liked Janaki which is synonymous with Sita but my cousin suggested that now it’s time for happy and loving new beginnings. So, I opted for Priya, and I always wanted a very feminine name and wanted to be loved.”
How did the lockdown help her with the transition? “Transition is a synchronised process; it is not all about the surgeries. I wanted a gradual change. I told my doctors Dr Arjun Ashokan and Suja P Sukumar that I want to grow as a woman. The lockdown gave me time to build confidence towards my goal, as I had enough time for rest and recovery. I feel like a human being now. I feel I am living ,” says Priya, who is glad that society is gradually becoming more aware.”
Adding further she states, “Earlier we were only mocked upon, even in movies; these characters were shown to be mocked, like some comedy characters. If there’s a child born with special needs, families accept wholeheartedly and bear the expenses for therapy. But for us, it is different and that time, it becomes about social status. But fortunately, things are changing now though people need to be educated more. It should start from school level to spread awareness,” she concludes.
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