- Title: Born in the Third Gender
- Subtitle: A Truth about Roopini
- Series: Hijra, the Third Gender
- Author: Yu Sakurazawa
- Gender Swap Type: MTF
This is an autobiography style fiction of a boy who was born from a prostitute mother in a brothel. He was born with intersexed genitals but was raised as a boy. India is one of the worst countries for an intersexed boy to be raised in. He lives under constant humiliation and hardship, but finally finds happiness as the wife of a foreigner and a mother of an adopted baby.
Selvi, a maid servant, becomes pregnant when she was 18. She refuses to disclose who the father is, so is thrown out of the family. Abducted by bad guys Selvi is forced to work as a prostitute in a brothel. Raja (renamed as Roopini later) is the narrator of this autobiography and is Selvi’s baby born and bred in the brothel.
Roopini was born with an atypical male organ with some features of the female. He was more male than female in genitals, so was raised as a boy. The life was never easy for an ‘intersexed’ child.
“Hijra, The Third Gender” is a series of autobiography fiction. The narrator of each story tells you about her/his life – how and why she/he was thrown into the third gender and about her/his experience.
Hijra means a transgender individual adopted by a guru in the well organized transgender community believing in the same goddess and living in feminine attire. Hijra is referred to as “the third gender.” Rules and ceremonies for adoption, initiation, castration, etc. are well defined in the hijra community. Once you get nirvan (castration ceremony often done without anesthesia) you cannot go back to your former self.
[Front cover art]
Acknowledgement:The front cover image was derived from a picture of Bharatnatyam performance released on Flickr by Meenakshi Payal under a Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Roopini/Raja– Roopini, a hijra or transgender, is the protagonist of the story. She is tall (around 5’7’’), has a smooth dusky complexion and lovely emerald green eyes. ‘A Truth About Roopini’ traces her life’s sojourn of enormous hardships and heart-breaks, and her ultimate triumph over them.
Selvi– She’s the mother of Roopini who is of average height (about 5’2’’), has black eyes and a dark complexion. Selvi has had a traumatic past, hence is extremely severe on Roopini causing a great deal of agony in the latter.
I.Sadasivan– He’s a renowned Bharatnatyam dancer and Roopini’s adoptive father. When Roopini first meets him, he’s about 45 years old. He comes from a cultured, educated background. Physically, he’s quite attractive—with a fair complexion and emerald green eyes.
Paolo– He’s an Italian in his mid 30s and Roopini’s husband. He’s tall (about 6’2’’), has brown hair and blue eyes. Unlike a former fiancé’s, Paolo’s love for Roopini is true. Roopini’s gender identity is inconsequential to Paolo as he feels it doesn’t change the wonderful person she is.
Sia– She is the little adoptive daughter of Roopini and Paolo’s. Sia has smooth marmoreal skin, straight hair and small tip-tilted eyes. She serves to fulfill Roopini’s desire for motherhood, who being a transwoman can’t bear children.
Olirpirai– She’s a middle-aged woman who runs the brothel Selvi is forced to work in. Olirpirai is tall and imposing, and has a cruel heart. She foils Selvi’s attempts to escape from the brothel, thereby sealing her fate and that of her unborn child’s.
Mani– A rough-hewn pimp who, along with three other men, abducts Roopini and forces her into flesh trade.
Bhavani– A tall lanky girl in her 20s who becomes Selvi’s best friend in the brothel. She is also quite friendly with Roopini, and recounts her mother’s past to her.
Murugan– A lecherous auto-rickshaw driver in his mid 40s. He is one of Selvi’s regular clients at the brothel. Murugan is swarthy and obscenely overweight.
Porkodi– Porkodi, a tall masculine-looking hijra aged about 50, is the guru or leader of the Jamaat or group Roopini belongs to. She is mean, lethal, tyrannical, domineering, avaricious and power-hungry.
Radharani– She’s the Jamaat dai ma or midwife hailing from Gujarat. She’s about 55 years old and has an authoritative albeit benevolent nature. She performs the Nirvan or emasculation on Roopini and also conducts the Mehndi ceremony on her 40 days later.
Shanti– Radharani’s assistant, a young hijra in her 20s.
Prabha– A sweet, gentle, maternal hijra aged about 25 who is one of Roopini’s Jamaat sisters. Prabha eventually becomes Roopini’s best friend, sounding board and support system. She cares about Roopini’s wellbeing and teaches her the concept of protected sex to avoid getting sexually transmitted diseases when Roopini begins life as a sex worker.
Anandan– A young man ( in his mid 20s) hailing from a political family to whom Roopini is first engaged to. He possesses a patriarchal mind-set which upholds the view that men are superior to women who are expected to be submissive to the former.
Lakshmi– The elderly devoted domestic help who works in I.Sadasivan’s house.
Priya– Roopini’s manager and close friend. She imparts the knowledge of computer-operation to Roopini and teaches her how to use the internet.
[Sample – less than 10% of the story is shown due to restrictions of KDP]
Any genesis of life begins with the mother creature, so I’ll start with the story of my mother, Selvi. My mother barely spoke to me and all that I am going to tell you was recounted to me by her friend Bhavani, to whom my mother often spoke to about her past. Selvi was born a family of the lower economic strata in Madras, the former name of Chennai–her father was a daily wage laborer and her mother a domestic help. They were a large family; her mother spawned one child after another, leading to umpteen mouths to feed. The family found it difficult to make ends meet; they depended on humble gruel for survival. My mother was the first-born, hence had a plethora of responsibilities which included rearing her younger siblings when her parents had gone out to work. When the second sibling in line was old enough to take over the nanny’s role, Selvi was sent off to various houses to work as a maidservant. She worked hard and incessantly, for a pittance. When eighteen, she missed a period and begun throwing up violently in the mornings. Yes, you’ve guessed right–she was pregnant with me. Pre-marital sex is generally considered a taboo in conservative Indian society and an unwed mother is condemned and ostracized by society, in addition to a plethora of other woes that she has to go through. In case this happens, parents of the girl zero in on the man responsible for her ‘condition’ and either beg or coerce him into marrying their daughter and ‘making an honest woman of her’ so that she can still ‘hold her head high in society’. Selvi’s folk, to whom her condition was apparent right at the outset, apparently beat her black and blue for bringing ignominy on the family. They, I believe, demanded to know who the father of the child is. ‘I can’t name him’, Selvi refused obstinately. ‘No’, she said to herself, ‘I can never tell him about the child, whatever I may have to endure!’. They grilled and prodded her for a few days, before throwing their hands up in defeat. ‘First you bring shame upon us, then you refuse to name the scoundrel–your partner in crime!’ her father spat. ‘What sin have I committed that I had to witness all this….’, Selvi’s mother beat her breast in loud lament. ‘It’s what she has brought upon herself, the bitch on heat!’ her father said crudely before adding ‘the consequence is hers to bear–we’ll have nothing to do with her’. So that was that. My mother, three weeks pregnant, was conclusively disowned and summarily thrown out of their little house.
Dazed and confused, she aimlessly wandered the streets of Chennai and the next thing she was cognizant of was being grasped by muscular hairy arms and being pulled into a moving car. Apart from Mani, the man who had forced her into the car, there were three other uncouth looking guys in the vehicle. Frightened out of her wits, my mother tried to scream and claw at their faces, but a filthy rag was tossed into her mouth before she had the chance. Stronger arms pinned her slender rebellious ones down. And then they did it, at knife point, the most heinous atrocity men commit on women, sapping my poor mother of the last drop of energy that was already depleting owing to her not having eaten a morsel for many hours. ‘That should tame the wild cat, ha!’ one of the monsters gloated as she lay exhausted and semi conscious.
She woke up and found herself in a hideous stifling little cubby hole. She looked out of the window to realize that the place she had been brought to wasn’t her beloved Madras; she was later to realize that it was a town called Sivakasi. Crowding around her were women of assorted ages, shapes and sizes, united only by the vulgar revealing clothes that they were wearing and the cakes of cheap make up that covered their faces. My mother was stifled by the overpowering reek of cheap perfume that the women had doused themselves with and the general aura of grossness and impurity that tainted the air of the place. She tried to flee, but the girls, commanded by a middle-aged woman (My mother was later to realize that she was Olirpirai, the madam of the brothel), curtailed her. She could read empathy in some of the girls’ helpless faces, jaded indifference in the others. Yet they weren’t unkind, these women–they were only doing as directed by their superior. There were sounds of raucous male voices from the ground floor and Mani and the other pimps who had assaulted Selvi the previous night barged into the room on the first floor where she was being held prisoner. ‘No need to be overly nice to her’, they growled at the other girls ‘She is a defiant piece of goods’. The girls, obviously terrified, nodded.
For the first few months of her pregnancy, Selvi was compelled to offer her services to clients. Later on, when she started swelling to what seemed to be near bursting point, they permitted her to stop and ‘take rest’. My mother was apparently ravenous at this time and consumed a lot of food. All the time, Olirpirai cursed her for not being in a position to earn her keep and being a burden on the brothel resources and provisions.
Selvi gave birth to me in the sweltering summer of 1982. The pregnancy was a difficult one and she was apparently in labor for 12 long hours before I actually arrived. The midwife who attended on her inspected my genitals carefully and was thrown in a state of perplexity. She ushered other women in the brothel to show what was clearly an unusual, aberrant phenomenon–an atypical male organ with some features of the female. I was born a hermaphrodite–like a fish, slug or snail. But unlike these creatures that possessed the miraculous ability to reproduce without mating, I couldn’t reproduce at all. I was impotent until my sex change operation, barren later.
Had the midwife and sex workers been an educated lot, they would have known that my condition had been caused due to possessing both XX and XY chromosomes. But not being so knowledgeable, sophisticated or sensitive, they spoke about me in the most basal of terms, beneath their breath. ‘Ayyo Shiva, the child is a Pottai!’ Olirpirai coarsely interjected (‘Pottai’ is the derogatory term for hijra or a transgender). ‘It’s an inauspicious omen–we’ll all lose our fertility’ said another curvy woman. ‘So much the better’ sniggered a lanky girl, Bhavani (who incidentally, was my mother’s best friend and the one from whom I learnt all this) ‘we wouldn’t have to use the glove when we make love’. Naive as she was, she didn’t consider the possibility of venereal diseases being transmitted thanks to unprotected sex. The others, who were just as ignorant, considered this. ‘Nature’s birth control’, they thought, ‘that could indeed be liberating for sex workers’. ‘Actually, hijras are known to enhance fertility’, a slightly enlightened sex worker chipped in ‘that’s why they’re invited at weddings–to bless the newlywed couple with fertility and good reproductive health’. ‘Oh never mind all that, Pushpa’, said the others dismissively, ‘Let’s now show Selvi her baby. She’d be eager to see it’.
As I’ve stated before, in spite of being victims of the most odious of circumstances, these girls had their hearts in the right place. They lovingly wrapped me in a light blanket and took me to my mother. For starters, I believe my mother was ecstatic to see me and nearly snatched me from the arms of one of her colleagues. ‘Easy, easy, Selvi’ they laughed indulgently ‘the child is yours for life’. Selvi held me in her arms for a minute, before she started foraging through the blankets like a hungry animal. ‘Boy or girl?’ she asked, without lifting her head. The girls paused awkwardly, obviously hesitating to tell my mom the truth about me. However, the malicious Olirpirai didn’t have any issues expressing herself. ‘It’s an intersexed child’, she said with malignant relish, ‘You’ve given birth to a bloody hijra.’ ‘It can’t be true.’ cried my mother, her eyes filling with tears, ‘After all I’ve been through, this child was my only hope!’. ‘Oh, please don’t be dejected’ her friends tried to console her ‘It was God’s will… be grateful that the child is alive and healthy’. ‘It would be better had it died!’ my mother replied wildly ‘that way it could have spared me this profound shame!’. ‘The mid wife said the child’s anatomically close to a boy. You could bring it up as one’, Bhavani tried to placate my flustered young mother. ‘There’s no need to think of him as different as any other boy’. But my mother refused to react. She continued lying on the bed in a melancholy stupor. ‘Oh cheer up now’ said the curvy woman ‘It’s a beautiful baby- such nice green eyes he has, look!’. My mom didn’t budge. ‘Okay, at least think of a name for him’ coaxed Bhavani. ‘Raja’ my mother muttered mechanically, looking out of the window in a zombie-like fashion.
My poor mother, who was already demoralized as the result of having been ejected from her house, and subsequently abducted and raped before being forced into the most degrading of trades, became severely depressed now. Giving birth to an intersexed child was more than she could handle–that way I had clearly failed her and I still blame myself sometimes for causing her unhappiness. She became more and more passive and spent all her time distractedly looking out of the window, obstinately refusing to eat, sleep or feed me. ‘The child is going to die of hunger!’ the kindly girls at the brothel fretted ‘We have to make other arrangements….’. They pleaded with Olirpiral to allow them to buy an extra liter of cow’s milk everyday; a request she at first refused saying it wasn’t her duty to provide for the intersexed illegitimate child of a prostitute. After much beseeching, she assented. ‘Okay, but you’ll have to shell down three-fourths of the money from your pockets’. So the girls scrimped and saved to buy extra cow’s milk and tried feeding me through a bottle. Since I was a new born, my system initially resisted being fed the milk of a mammal of another species and I used routinely to throw up. However, as time passed, my digestive system accepted and assimilated the alien juice and I survived.
Growing up in Sivakasi was a singular experience in itself. The weather was always dry and the water scarce, so the only crop that grew was millets, among a few others. The town is famous (or for that matter, infamous) in India for its umpteen firecracker and matches factories that employ child labour. It has a few temples that are really glorious. The geography is rather plain; there are no rich mineral deposits or anything. To come to think of it, my hometown is rather barren, just like me.
As a child, I loved working hard and helping those around me. By the age of seven, I was cooking, cleaning, scrubbing and doing all the clothes and the vessel washing for the inmates of the brothel. I prepared the choicest delicacies for my mother and washed her clothes with especial care, but she didn’t seem to notice my efforts at all. To come to think of it, she barely spoke to me expect to reprimand. With age I’ve become analytical–probably the craving for maternal love left an echoing void inside me; rejection on her part left deep scars.
The women in the brothel who had raised me–all of whom I, incidentally, addressed as ‘Aunty’–were charitable enough, but shirked away from me, as if I had a contagious disease they dreaded getting infected with. They gently chided me when I asked for frocks and dolls, and said I ought to continue wearing shirts and shorts, and go out and play cricket or something. They also wouldn’t let me grow my hair long and luxuriant like them, but had the local barber chop it into an unprepossessing crew-cut. ‘You are a boy’, they would emphasize, ‘You ought to dress and behave like one’. When around me, they were jumpy and uneasy–as if they were hiding some secret of mammoth proportions in their bosoms.
I desperately tried to identify with boys. However, they would heckle and taunt me and call me names like Pottai, khoja, hijra, aravani etc. I had no clue what they meant (or for that matter how the fact that I was a transgender had got around). ‘That means you are neither a boy nor girl’, they said rudely. ‘But I am a boy’, I would repeat what I’d been taught though on the inside I felt like a girl. ‘Okay’ they challenged me ‘Does your wee-wee look like ours?’ They pulled their pants down and I knew what they were talking about. I wasn’t a boy. Nor a girl–like I felt on the inside. I was different–abnormal–a nature’s freak. Neither a boy. Nor a girl. The truth was too jarring for me to take and I ran towards home, my eyes welling with tears.
The girls in my neighborhood were more benevolent. They let me play ‘Home-home’ and ‘Hide and seek’ with them. However, after a while their mothers turned me out–probably because I was a hijra and my mom a prostitute.
Meanwhile, my mother was immersed in her own debauched world of men and liquor. She had acclimatized herself quite well to the surroundings and trade, and no longer seemed to resent it. However, she still resented me, it was clear, for she never lost an opportunity to admonish me, even over trifles. Once, I sneaked out to play with the little girls in the neighbourhood. Thankfully, their parents weren’t around, otherwise they would have shooed me out outright as if I was a mangy street dog. The girls were reading from a book and scribbling on a slate with a chalk. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked with interest. ‘Homework’ they replied ‘We come home and practice what we were taught in school’. Yes, I had observed them wearing blue and white uniforms and leaving in the morning for school. Reading and writing seemed to be very interesting skills. That night, I wheedled some money from one of my ‘aunts’ and purchased a book of alphabets, a notebook and a blue pencil. I sat up all night skimming through it. I must have dozed off sometime after, for when I opened my eyes the first thing I took in was the sight of my mom burning the books in the kitchen fire. In front of my very eyes, she flung the cherished pencil far away from the window. ‘Amma’ I cried aghast, ‘What have you done?’. ‘Shut your mouth!’ she bellowed, kicking me hard in the stomach ‘How dare you do all this? Reading and writing is not for the likes of us!’. I don’t hold any ill-will against mother for what she did that day. Life had dealt her a tough set of cards and had colored her life-view with cynicism and suspicion. She was bitter enough to think that nothing on earth could better our lot, not even education.