“Unlike other transgenders, I was privileged enough to have my parents help me achieve my dream of transitioning. My parents supported me, both mentally and financially, and for that, I will be always grateful to them,” says Dr VS Priya, Kerala’s first transgender doctor.
The ayurvedic doctor, who was assigned male at birth, understood her feminine identity during her childhood. So the idea of living in a “wrong body” irritated her. At the same time, she was scared to reveal her true identity to her parents. She says, “I didn’t know how they were going to take the news. All I could do at the time was to write my problems down in my diary which they eventually found.”
Recalling the struggles of convincing others of her feminine identity, Dr Priya says, “The first thing my parents did was take me to a hospital, assuming a psychiatrist could help me. Thankfully, the doctor also said that I didn’t have any mental issues. But, it was then when I was 15 that I understood I wouldn’t be able to reveal my identity to society for fear of being mocked or bullied.”
Masking my identity
It was hard for Dr Priya to portray her true mannerisms at school. Though she shares that she still managed to keep her true identity hidden. After completing schooling, she tells me that she thought of moving to a different place only to live as a woman. But as she was so attached to her parents, she couldn’t imagine leaving her family.
“As my parents are both nurses, they wanted both my brother and me to become doctors. While my brother completed his MBBS and is presently working in a hospital in Bengaluru, I wanted to be a teacher. Nonetheless, I decided to try my hands at medicine for the sake of my parents,” says the tricenarian.
After writing an entrance exam, she joined Vaidyaratnam Ayurveda College, Ollur, Thrissur in 2013. “I completed my Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) as a man,” she says, adding, “Just to avoid questions on marriage, I then pursued Medicinae Doctor (MD) in Mangaluru. After completing the course, I got the opportunity to work as a guest lecturer in Government Ayurveda Medical College, Tripunithura and Government Ayurveda College, Kannur.”
All the while, Dr Priya says, it was hard to be someone she was not. “During this period, I tried really hard to be more manly. From my walking style to dressing like a man, I was very particular about not revealing my feminine identity,” she adds.
Though, it was only in the year 2018 when she joined the Sitaram Ayurveda Hospital, Thrissur, as a doctor that things changed. Along with doing well in her professional career, Dr Priya shares that her parents were proud of her. “I was happy with my life but my identity still haunted me. It was then that I understood I needed to inform my parents about my identity and opt for surgery,” she says.
‘Mom stood by me at the hospital’
“I started to research gender reassignment surgery, its costs and aftermath. With confidence, I then told my parents the truth. They were more saddened than shocked and I can understand their feelings, but I wouldn’t be doing justice to myself if I didn’t reveal the truth. Ultimately, it was my research that helped me convince my parents,” she says.
Dr Priya mentions that this time, instead of blaming her, her parents supported her decision. “My mom stood by me at the hospital during my numerous surgeries,” she says.
Today, after going through six surgeries, Dr Priya says, “I have two more surgeries — voice therapy and cosmetic surgery, to go through. The cost of the surgeries differs according to needs. A normal transplant surgery costs upto Rs 3 lakh but I wanted it to be perfect. So, I opted for a costlier surgery of Rs 8 lakh. I took the money for the operations from my savings but 95 per cent of it was given by my parents.”
‘Call me Dr VS Priya’
Speaking about returning to work as her true self, the doctor says that she informed the hospital authorities about her operations. “I was a bit tensed thinking of how the hospital management would react to my transition. But things were easy for me. Right from the staff to the MD at the hospital — all were supportive. When I informed them that I will be returning as Dr VS Priya, they were more than happy,” recalls Priya.
Though, it was not only the authorities that she was concerned about. She says, “I was also tensed about my regular patients and how they would react to my new identity. So, I informed them and prepared them for the change. Most of them were curious to know about the surgery and I cleared all their doubts as it is my social responsibility towards them as a transwoman doctor.”
She adds here that even though our society is changing and people are accepting trans people, we still have a long way to go.
Talking about changing her name, the doctor, who was known as Dr Jinu Sasidharan earlier, says, “Jinu is a unisex name but I wanted something different. Initially, I thought of calling myself ‘Janaki’, but my cousin suggested the name ‘Priya’ — which means loved by all. I felt like my name should be easy to pronounce and sweet, which is why, from here on out, I chose to be called Priya.”
(Edited by Yoshita Rao)