“Proud to be who I am”

February 15, 2011 Off By Prerna Changkakati

Dhanalakshmi is what she likes to call herself. Dhanalakshmi means goddess of wealth. Her birth name was Somasundaram Balakrishnan. She was born as a man but she always felt like a girl trapped in a man’s body. She speaks fluent English which is very unlikely to find among the majority of the transgender community in India.

The transition from being born as a man to becoming a woman came with a price for Dhanalakshmi.

Her father and younger brother refuse to acknowledge that they have an elder son, who now identifies himself as a woman. A sense of remorse overcomes her as she speaks in a mellow voice, “My father hasn’t spoken to me ever since I left home and learnt that I live like a woman. Even my bother refuses to talk to me.”

Dhanalakshmi belongs to an educated background from a small town of Ooty in Tamil Nadu. Her father works in the Military as a garisson engineer.

Growing up, Dhanalaksmi always felt different from other boys. She would love dressing up like a girl and would help her mother in the kitchen. Her parents would constantly keep reminding her that it was not normal to act, talk like a girl. At family gatherings and functions, her cousins would make fun of her.

“I am not a complete guy. I am a girl, that’s what I always felt,” she said sipping the hot cup of coffee as she nicely perched on the bench at the coffee shop. She knew she wanted to live like a girl though she knew the constraints of it; she wouldn’t be accepted by her family and society.

At the age of 15, she was sexually harassed by one of her neighbours. She could not gather the courage to tell her parents about the incident. She ended up confiding in a few transgender friends she had befriended. “They were the only people whom I could talk about my feelings and fears,” said Dhanalakshmi.

After finishing high school, she left for Coimbatore, another town to pursue her Bachelors in Mechatronics. She became involved with a lot of men as she started discovering her sexuality. She got in touch with Tamil Nadu Aids Initiative, where she met other transgenders like herself.

“Soon, I moved to Chennai to start working as a Technical Support Executive in an IT firm and in a span of eight months I was promoted as a trainer,”said Dhanalaksmi in a proud tone. “People at my workplace used to notice that I was different but it didn’t matter much because I was still living like a man.” She had a lot of gay and homosexual friends.

It was there in Chennai where she met Suresh, an auto driver whom she fell in love with. Suresh was like a breath of fresh air in her life. Suresh became her friend, her emotional support and eventually she decided that she wanted to be woman in the physical sense of the term. She made up her mind to undergo castration and become a full bodied woman. She went ahead with the surgery which she describes more ‘painful than delivering a baby’. She spent all her savings on the surgery.

A few days after the surgery, she called her mother who was shell shocked to hear that her eldest son had become a woman. Ever since, Dhanalakshmi hasn’t gone home. It was recently that her mother got in touch with her whom she speaks to often. “After all she is a mother. I miss my family but this is a choice I made. I feel liberated now. I feel this is who I was born to be.” she says as she pauses to pick Suresh’s call while I look at her beautiful contoured face, her neatly manicured nails and the polka dotted yellow saree draped around her masculine frame.

Dhanalkshmi takes hormone injections once every two weeks. The after effects of the hormone injections have left marks on her body which looks like burnt scars and she suffers from joint pains. But the financial and the emotional support she gets from Suresh and his family gives her immense inner strength and courage to be the beautiful woman she always wanted to be.

She is usually a busy woman. She along with a group of other transgender’s like herself collect money from people at traffic signals. That’s her only source of income. When asked why an educated woman like herself hasn’t taken up a job yet. She quickly retorts, “It is difficult to find work. Nobody wants to employ me. I haven’t changed my name legally. But, I am taking one step at a time.”
There is certain amount of positivity and a sense of worth that one sees in Dhanalakshmi inspite of the struggle she has gone through. Yet, she is full of hopes and dreams like any other person. She plans to open a training centre and put other educated transgender and transsexuals like her into a training program to develop soft skills. That’s her way of giving back to her community.
“I am saving money from the collections to buy a car which I want to outsource to a call centre,” she said in a poised tone.
She blushes as she talks about marriage and children. “Myself and Suresh plan on marrying within the next two years. We plan on adopting a child.”

“I like living life my own way,” she says with a sense of pride in being a woman.

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