I looked coyly at my knight in shining armor, the one who rescued me from the vicious cycle of my self-degrading doubts. Kiran, the iron to my magnet, confidently maneuvers the boat that rocks my wobbly self-esteem. We are made for each other.
Of the many big and small gifts my partner had showered on me over the two years of our courtship, the silver jhumkaas were my favorite. I wore them on our special day as we stepped into the welcoming arms of matrimony. Kiran glanced at me as we stepped on the aisle. I had the same feeling when we met for the first time.
How many people are lucky in love? I am. I have the most caring person in my life, and today, we have sealed this bond forever and given it a name. We are married!
Physical appearances do not matter in love; what matters is compatibility – this is not a cliched statement; it is my reality. So what if I am almost a foot shorter than Vinu? So what if I am dusky and broad built, and Vinu is fair, tall, and elegant? We complement each other like vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.
I knew Vinu was special when we first met. Yes, butterflies fluttered in my stomach, and I heard music playing in the background. It was love at first sight; the feeling was magical.
Not our differences, but our struggles brought us together. I was mentally strong, but Vinu was hurt and succumbing to pressure. I offered to help, and I befriended a kind, noble soul in the process.
What does one need to be happy? Freedom to choose, a few kind words of appreciation, an ear to hear grievances, a calm and composed mind to show you the things that matter. Vinu was all this for me. I was myself in Vinu’s presence; moreover, I felt free. For once in my wretched life of 35 years, I learned the meaning of happiness.
Our relationship intensified with time. I provided the much-needed strength and became the pillar in Vinu’s life. In return, Vinu brought peace to my tumultuous mind.
I can never forget that day two years ago…
Find Yourself Counseling Centre
When I saw that board, I could hear my heart beating in my head-Thud! Thud! Thud! A feeble voice in my head said – just do it, but my courage failed me. I turned away, and that’s when I saw Vinu for the first time – tall, beautiful, with a graceful gait and a magnetic personality. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He walked past me and stood at the stairs leading to the therapy center. The pause at the stairs meant only one thing – he was hesitant too. He turned, his big brown expressive eyes met mine, and I could see a sea of turbulent emotions in them. He smiled, and my heart skipped a beat.
He seemed to have decided; he took the stairs to the center. My heartbeats grew louder than ever; however, they sounded different, and I felt mushy inside. I was still unsure; I took my time to decide. Finally, I gave in to the voice in my head, which said – it’s now or never! And so I, Kiran Chowdhury, took my first step to liberation.
The visit to the counseling center two years ago was the best decision of my life.
“Vinu Joseph?” The counselor, Dr. Sen, looked around, scanning the faces of the participants. It was like answering attendance on the first day of college.
“Vinu Joseph?” The lethargic lecturer called out the attendance.
The lecturer looked in the direction of rows occupied by girls. I raised my hand from the middle row occupied by young men, all testosterone-charged teenagers. I effortlessly became the epicenter of the first set of giggles for the new batch.
“Yes, Vinu, would you like to introduce yourself?” Dr. Sen’s voice jolted me awake. He seemed hell-bent on eliciting my bio-data.
“I am a software engineer. I am 34 years old,” I fumbled, as I always did when asked to speak about myself.
“Good,” Dr. Sen waited patiently, leaving me with no option but to delve further into my thoughts.
“We are the product of all our past experiences; share the most disturbing incident in your life.”
He could have started by asking my favorite color. I squirmed in my chair.
June 2002, Class X-C
Our history teacher, Ms. Malti, seldom detained students after class. For some reason, I seemed to be an exception. I never openly questioned her why I had to stay back alone with her for over an hour. Why did her fingertips play with my earlobes as she explained the French revolution in overwhelming detail? Why did she address me as a chocolate boy, staring endlessly at my pink lips when asking me a question in front of the whole class? Why did the annoying boys in my class snigger each time my ears went red? Why was I at the epicenter of sniggers?
“I lost my dog when I was fourteen,” I lied; I was uncomfortable sharing the ugly moments of my life.
“Vinu, I believe you are not yet ready to share. Let’s hear the others in the group. We can come back to this in some time.” Dr. Sen clearly had experience with evaders like me.
As I ascended the stairs to the center, I recollected the events which brought me here.
“Girls of your age help in household work. What will you do when you get married?”
“Kiran, why do you pick up fights and keep getting into trouble?”
“Why are you always dressed in jeans and T-shirts? Don’t you have anything nice to wear?”
“She dreams big; she wants to become an Aeronautical Engineer.”
“She is weird.”
My eyes welled up involuntarily; I quickly brushed away my tears. I wasn’t used to this. I always put up a brave front, immaterial of how I felt.
I knocked at the door of the center and stepped in. I was greeted warmly at the reception, and that made me comfortable. After the receptionist confirmed my appointment, I filled out a basic information form. Later, I was ushered into a room where a few men and women were seated on chairs in a circle; we had interrupted an ongoing session. The receptionist handed the form to the man presiding over. I quickly took the only empty seat available. I found myself seated next to the man I encountered a few minutes ago. He looked at me with those beautiful but melancholic eyes, and my core melted like molten lava. I forgot my troubles and was overpowered with the urge to hug and comfort him. A kind voice broke my thoughts.
“Hello Ms. Kiran, I am Dr. Sen. This is an informal session, and by the end of the day, you can expect to face your inner demons if you choose to speak. There are only two requirements – be truthful and don’t judge. For every question I ask, look for the answer within you, and when you find it, speak.
So, here we go. Identify the most disturbing incident in your life.”
His lustful eyes traveled all over my body and rested on my chest. His hands grazed mine on the pretext of work.
“My boss harassed me.” I blurted out.
“My boss harassed me,” I heard a dusky young lady with almond eyes speak up. She was the same woman I had seen on the staircase a few minutes back. She was confident, almost brazen, so much unlike me.
I slipped back into my memories.
My voice was cracking. No, not from the repeated assault on my voice box by the numerous shouting matches I got in with my parents. It was breaking with the testosterone that claimed charge of my body, just like the facial hair that shot up from those reluctant follicles. I did not sound like myself. I did not look like myself either. I hated that I had no say in the hormone-charged metamorphosis I was undergoing. Why did I hate myself?
Dr. Sen seemed to have finished asking uncomfortable questions to a few others. He was peering at me again.
“So Vinu, are you ready to share? Remember to be truthful and look inside you. It may not be easy, but you will know.”
Vinu, speak up like the lady next to you did. Dusky and gutsy, that girl!
I tapped my foot nervously as I tried framing my thoughts.
My whole life has been a farce. My fondest memories are my four years old self preening around in a lilac skirt as a child, wearing oversized bangles over my bony wrists, and smiling coyly at my mother, with two fingers under my chin. My mother broke into laughter as I circled gleefully. I failed to understand why my mother began disliking my moves as I grew. Why did she despise everything she earlier found adorable?
“I have blamed myself for…” A large tear slid down my cheek. I strained my eyes to contain my tears, but they continued flowing undeterred. The flow of my words, however, was thwarted. My lips refused to part.
“Vinu, I can understand. It’s alright. Take your time,” Dr. Sen said in a concerned voice.
He proceeded with addressing the issues of the other participants in the same tender manner.
I was acutely aware of a gaze frozen on me. Kiran was looking at me, oblivious to others around us. I kept my eyes lowered, lest our eyes meet.
Her gaze bore through the facades laid by society, through my armor of secrecy, piercing the veil of my pink eyelids. Her brown eyes, framed in unapologetic dark circles, stared at my bare soul.
“Ms. Kiran, close your eyes. Look deeper. You are not there yet,” said Dr. Sen.
My friends said I would feel lightheaded, but I felt gagged instead. My first kiss was a disaster. I pushed the boy and ran. My first experience of that lightheadedness was when my teacher smiled at me. I had erotic thoughts about her, and I chastised myself almost every day after that. I couldn’t control my thoughts. What was wrong with me?
“I am attracted to women. I look like a woman, but I am a man inside of me.”
“Aha! That is the real problem. And the solution is simple – accept yourself as you are. With acceptance comes peace of mind,” said Dr. Sen.
The truth was out, and I looked at Vinu with fear. I didn’t want him to hate me. I was elated when I saw no despise or prejudice in his eyes. The truth is always liberating.
She came clean. How I wish it were that easy for me.
The session ended in a few minutes. Kiran walked up to me.
“Ice cream?” I looked up. Our eyes met. I nodded.
Our first date led to a string of dates, a new ice cream parlor each time. Each time we learned something new about each other, we soon realized we were similar in our struggles, yet very different.
Why was I melting?
A couple of months later, we went on a movie date, and it happened; our first kiss—just a soft, unassuming, spontaneous one. And for the first time in my life, everything felt right.
Vinu and Kiran
We now attended the sessions together.
Dr. Sen said, “You are the masters of your own destiny. Remember, all of you are survivors. But that does not mean your inner conflict has been resolved. The fact that you are attending this session means you have accepted the existence of the conflict. Congratulations for taking the most difficult decision of your life.”
The sessions helped us understand ourselves better. We learned that we were dealing with gender dysphoria, and our struggle arose because of a mismatch between our biological sex and gender identity. We had grappled with anxiety and depression, but we were lucky to find strength and support in each other.
Nine months into the session
“Dr. Sen, Vinu and I wish to opt for a sex change, so we will be comfortable in our bodies,” I said, holding Vinu’s hand.
Dr. Sen smiled and gave his recommendation for hormonal therapy.
The journey ahead was going to be challenging, but nothing could stop us when we had each other.
After our individual gender reassignment surgeries, we became more comfortable in our skin. However, we are still the same together – like vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce, melting in each other’s company. Together, we stumbled upon the biggest secret in love – appearances may change, but people don’t.
Team –The Confluencers (Khusbhoo Shah and Lakshmi Menon)
Picture Credit – Unsplash, User/ Uploaded by- Wesley Balten