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International Women’s Day: Empathy, not reproductive organs, makes a woman, say these ladies born as men

Their desire to be a woman, unconditionally, was called frivolous, deviant and abnormal. On International Women’s Day, we feature women born as men, who braved ostracism, ridicule and a battered past to live the way they always wanted.

more lifestyle Updated: Mar 08, 2018 14:20 IST
Shara Ashraf
Shara Ashraf
Hindustan Times
Wonder Woman,Transgender,Gauri Arora
(Photo: Amal KS/HT; )

You are not born a woman…you become one, say these bravehearts. A cruel fate at birth trapped them in male bodies but they chose to be who they are, giving a damn to consequences. Their bodies were incompatible with their souls. Their need and desire to be a woman, unconditionally, was called frivolous, deviant and abnormal. Ruptured breast implants, excruciating sex change operations by pseudo surgeons, derogatory jokes, and the most heartless ostracism left them battered and drained. And yet they didn’t waver. They chose to be honest to their own selves, and to their loved ones and declared to the world the only identity they were proud of…their identity as a woman. We bring to you the stories of six such women who were born a man, and how they made their own destiny.

Gauri Arora (Photo: Amal KS/HT; Styling: Prerna Gauba )

A girl, forever
We met model Gauri Arora exactly after one year. Last year, she participated in HT City Print Fashion Week, our biggest fashion showcase. It took a while to recognise the pretty girl as she walked into our lobby, wearing a summer dress, her hair a lovely shade of caramel. Her skin glowed and she looked stunning without any makeup. “It’s inner peace. This is how I wanted to look always,” she said, flashing a beautiful smile. Two years ago, Gauri was a male model, with a huge fan following of girls falling for his rugged, muscular look. To her family’s dismay, Gauri declared she was a woman in a male body. Gauri’s parents beat her mercilessly to ‘instil some sense’ in her mind. But Gauri was determined to live the way she wanted. The girl put aside tragic memories of the injustices meted out to her. She now has a TV show coming up. She loves it when girls compliment her beauty and ask her for beauty tips. “I want to forget my past, erase it from my existence. I am a girl, forever. This is what I wanted. It hasn’t been easy, but it was destined. I am ready to take on the world,” she smiles.

Shonali Gujral (Photo: Amal KS/HT; Styling: Prerna Gauba )

My family believes I am cursed
Nine years ago, Shonali Gujral’s family allegedly conspired to kill her to save their ‘honour’. Born a man (Nitesh Raghav), he made the mistake of confiding in his family that he had a woman’s soul. Nitesh ran away from home, worked as an office boy, a waiter, and an event organiser to pay ₹4 lakh for his sex change surgery and breast implant to turn into Shonali. She married the love of her life, a straight man, believing that her traumatic past was behind her. But he left her, unable to handle the ridicule he faced because of his transgender wife. Shonali’s world fell apart and she took refuge in substance abuse. It took years to recover from the heartbreak. Today, Shonali keeps herself busy with modelling and organising events. Her family thinks that she has been cursed, and will recover and become the loving, caring boy she once was. “People don’t know what a transgender goes through. Your body feels alien, foreign. It’s a very cruel thing to happen,” she says. Despite heartbreak, Shonali believes in love. “I fell in love with the wrong person and wasted my feelings and tears on him. But I won’t stop believing in love. I want to love someone unconditionally, have his child and grow old with him,” she says.

Ivaanka Das (Photo: Rohit Kumar )

People thought I was mad
When we called Ivaanka Das in the noon for this story, she was dealing with the after effects of a party. In a hoarse voice, she said, “Please bear with my voice. It’s bad after last night’s party.” Ivaanka has come a long way from a time when her identity was a puzzle. “The realisation that I was a woman wasn’t easy. I thought I was bisexual or gay. I didn’t understand all this. I was married to a woman. I separated from her. After living a hypocritical life, I decided to be who I am — a woman,” says Ivaanka, known as Arandeep earlier, who is in the process of transitioning. People thought she was mad but she didn’t budge. “A woman has a strong mind. If I can’t do this, I don’t deserve to be a woman,” she says.

Tanu Singh (Photo: Amal KS/HT; Styling: Prerna Gauba )

I was once told that I was fake...I was a hijra. I replied, you are not born a woman. You become one. Love and empathy make you a woman, not reproductive organs

Born into a farming family, Tarun Singh was a sad little boy who lived in Ludhiana, Punjab. He wanted to play with his sisters, dress like them, dance like them. Every time he joined them, he was ridiculed and abused. He would quietly sob in bed, holding his pillows close to chest, falling asleep dreaming of doll houses and fairy lands. At 20, he knew that no fairy was ever going to rescue him. His parents were looking for a girl to marry him off. Tarun fled to Delhi, and spent days on the footpath without food. Luckily, he found a job in a telecom company, and saved enough for a makeup course. Tarun succeeded as a makeup artist, but his turmoil grew. He wanted to be a girl, forever. After four painful sex change surgeries, hair and breast implants and laser therapies that cost her ₹5 lakh, Tarun became Tanu. Her family never accepted her. She visits them once a year, only in the dark of the night, so that the neighbours don’t know how she brought them shame. Her message to all parents: “Don’t leave your children alone when they need you the most. I almost starved to death when I left home. I spent days in excruciating pain after sex change. Those who gave me birth abandoned me when I needed them by my side.” But not everyone considers her a woman. “I was once told that I was fake...I was a hijra. I replied, you are not born a woman. You become one. Love and empathy make you a woman, not reproductive organs,” she says.

Alex (Photo: Amal KS/HT; Styling: Prerna Gauba )

My dream about rebirth came true
“When I was small, mom loved to dress me up like a doll. I always wished I could be reborn as a girl,” says Alex, who was born as a boy, Mohit. As if the battle within was not enough, family and relatives also added to Mohit’s struggles. As a young boy, Mohit faced the worst kind of harassment—in school, from public. But what broke his heart was his father hitting him for acting like a girl. When he could not put up with it anymore, he doused himself with kerosene and almost lit a match. Mohit left his home to find a new life, had his first sex change surgery five years back, and became Alex after. “I have made myself strong. Now my family wants me back, but I like my freedom,” says Alex. Her life in Delhi as a dancer is the rebirth she always dreamt of.

Neetu Nitesh (Photo: Amal KS/HT)

Honesty won me my parent’s love
Neetu Nitesh, who was born a boy, now identifies as a woman, and is under transition. “When I was small, my parents found it cute when I behaved like a girl. But as puberty hit, those very things became a taboo. I was hurt by this change in their attitude. From a co-ed, I was transferred to an all-boys school. That was the worst phase of my life. My classmates called me lugaai [vernacular for wife] and sexually assaulted me. Teachers pretended as if it was no big deal,” she recalls. After graduation, Neetu joined a BPO, where she had a relationship with her manager who exploited her on the pretext of growth opportunities. But luckily, Neetu’s parents had started understanding her by then. “I survived the sad phase with the support of my parents. Being honest to them helped me win their trust,” says Neetu.

Text: Shara Ashraf, Etti Bali, Prerna Gauba

Photos: Amal KS/HT

Styling: Prerna Gauba

Assistance: Sugandha Malhotra

Makeup: Kanchan Mehra

Outfits: Reynu Taandon, Nikhita Tandon, Karishma Deepa Sondhi, Shantanu & Nikhil

First Published: Mar 07, 2018 18:32 IST