Focus/Spotlight

Finding one’s true self after trauma

By Sarah Hannan

Born into a family that lived in the Jaffna peninsula, Thanuja moved to India with her parents soon after she was born in the latter months of 1991, owing to the civil war at that time. She lived in India with her parents as refugees for eight years and her family later moved to Germany.

Recollecting her time in India as a child, Thanuja fondly remembered how although they were refugees in that country, there was no discrimination either at school or the neighbourhood in which she grew up. But at the age of 15, she decided to come out as transgender, which was when she underwent constant teasing in a German school.

Unable to take the bullying any longer and being completely dissatisfied with her physical appearance, Thanuja attempted suicide.

“I couldn’t bear the humiliation and I could not pretend to be a man for society’s sake. After I was rescued, I told my parents about my decision. They were shocked, but that was the truth. At that time, I would have rather died than lead a fake life.”

Thanuja’s saviour was her class teacher, in whom she confided how she felt and why she attempted suicide. “My class teacher was very understanding and she made it easy for me at the high school.”

However, convincing her family to accept the fact that she wanted to physically transform became a challenge for Thanuja. “They were in disbelief that their son would transition to a woman in physical form. At first, they were totally against it, but I waited to get their permission. I explained gender identity disorder to my family and later, my mom approved the decision.”

Becoming stronger

It still took a while for Thanuja’s parents to completely accept her as their daughter. They needed time to adjust to the changes that were taking place, she explained.

Explaining the challenges she faced over the years, Thanuja stated that she had to make her parents understand what she was going through and get their acceptance; at school, she had to explain it to her high school friends.

“I had to explain as to who I was and why I was going to change my gender, and then I had to explain it to the rest of the people around me as well. Going through the surgery was very risky and costly – even the hormone replacement pills were causing side effects such as deep vein thrombosis and mood swings, and it was not an easy transition.

“Every day, I faced new problems and difficulties, but through all that, I learnt to survive and be strong,” Thanuja said, reminiscing how she braved all the challenges during the transition.

Being a bright spark at school and having finished school ranked first in the state she studied, Thanuja aspired to become a doctor.

“Due to my transition, it was difficult for me to focus on my studies. I later entered Business Management College after my surgery. I was totally depressed as I was still adjusting to the rapid changes that were taking place. I was searching for my place in society.”

Today, she is a transgender role model and from time to time conducts lectures as a sexuality educator. She is back in India and is actively supporting transgender women there.

“In India, there is a huge community of transgenders, which is a plus. However, in Germany, there is no such community. In Germany, I’m not forced to identify myself as transgender because I’m legally a woman, and there is no doubt about it. I personally don’t like to be categorised as a third gender; I wanted to be a woman and not a special gender.”

Thanuja strongly believes that transgender persons who are in the sex worker trade should move away from that line of work. She also opined that society should come forward in fighting for LGBTQIA rights.