Note: This article was published on Deccan Herald in my column " Half the Sky" today, 8th November 2020.
At one point or the other, a transgender individual aspires to have a body belonging to the gender they identify with. For many Sex Reassignment Surgery (SRS), a medical intervention available for both Male-to-Female (transgender woman) and Female-to-Male (transgender man) transgender persons is an answer to their prayers. The specialised operation conducted by Urologists and Gynaecologists is free of cost in states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu while in Karnataka it comes with a subsidised cost in select hospitals. Access to this gender affirming surgery is not an isolate aspect from transgender movement for their identity, rights and entitlements. Mural artist and blogger Shanthi Muniswamy, 38, a transwoman from Bengaluru shared her personal experience and insight on what the expectations from SRS are and how much of these are fulfilled.
When did Sex Reassignment Surgery become an aspiration for you and why? How many from the trans community opt for SRS?
Wanting SRS did not come to me all of a sudden rather it was a journey of self-discovery, reflection, confrontation and resolution over a span of 21 years which culminated to disclosure about my gender identity to my family amongst stiff resistance and denial. Right from the time I was a child, I used to hide my penis behind my thighs, stand in front of a mirror and think to myself that I am a girl. With passing time, the difficulty to connect with the body I was born with only grew and SRS became a means to change all of that.
SRS is a very important part of a transgender person’s life because it settles the internal conflict and gives us a body that we are comfortable with. The decision to undergo this surgery is entirely personal and varies from individual to individual but to my knowledge, most transgender persons would like to go for SRS.
What is the cost of SRS in Bengaluru and what are the processes involved?
SRS should be done in authorised government and select private hospitals which have the expertise and infrastructure and not through quacks or crude methods of sex reassignment where hygiene and life may be put to risk.
While SRS for male to female transgender persons costed about Rs 60,000 in 2017 when I underwent the surgery, SRS for female to male transgender persons is costlier and recovery period for the patient longer.
The entire process which takes close to three months begins with referral to a psychiatrist for psychological evaluation through counselling to ascertain whether the person is prepared to live the life they have chosen after surgery. This is necessary before beginning formal preparations for the surgery like meeting the doctor, getting the date of the operation fixed, undergoing surgery, healing in the hospital under medical observation, getting discharged to return just for the dressings and getting monitored for any infections or complication.
Please share your personal experience and suggestions for the government and aspirants.
When I underwent SRS in a private hospital in Bengaluru, my apprehension was put to rest by friendly doctors and staff. There was a separate ward for transgender persons, something that other hospitals should follow.
The surgery took about 2-3 hours. I was discharged on the sixth day but had to go for dressing every fourth day. I developed a bad case of infection on the tenth day but with timely attention from doctors, it was treated. Eventually I managed to get my dressing done in a hospital closer to my house to minimise the agony from travelling in autorickshaws on bad roads over potholes.
SRS should be made free for transgender community in Karnataka because affordability is the biggest barrier, we experience with only few of us employed in mainstream professions and majority reliant on either begging or sex work for survival. An ambulance dropping facility will be useful.
My advice to those who are contemplating SRS is to ensure they have someone to take care of them because it takes 1-2 months to regain mobility and strength. Also, summer months are the best time as opposed to monsoons when infections are more likely.
How do you feel about yourself and life in general after SRS?
When I saw my body for the first time after surgery, the profound happiness I felt made me weep. I love who I am now. What God forgot to create; doctors created it. To be able to experience complete womanhood I will wait for that to happen in my next life.
(The author is a journalist and social entrepreneur in the field of women empowerment, women’s health, menstrual hygiene management and digital literacy.)
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