On the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, Sai Rahul shares his story.
The world is full of magic, and the more we focus on the wonders around us, the less taste we will have for hatred and discrimination. My name is Sai Rahul. I am a trans man, which means I was assigned female at birth, and this is my story.
I was born into a well-to-do family in Palakkad, Kerala. My father was a businessman and my mother, a college professor. Looking back, I feel like I always knew deep down that I was not a girl. I would dress like boys my age, I would play with them and effortlessly fit into their circles. I felt so much closer to the truth of my being during these times.
My family didn’t make a big deal out of any of this, assuming that it was just a phase. My younger sister and I were very close, but she was too young to understand what I was going through. I was left alone to make sense of my feelings.
Puberty hit me soon, with bitter reality. My ‘tomboyish’ behaviour was no longer entertained. My parents forced me to wear feminine clothing and makeup. I had to grow my hair long, and behave like other girls my age. I resisted, but was forced to give in.
I had to attend social gatherings and marriage ceremonies, wearing clothes in which I didn’t feel like myself. They ignored my tears, refusing to hear me. I fought a dozen battles a day, feeling trapped in a body that I couldn’t accept as my own.
In high school, I was attracted to a girl in my class. One day, on an impulse, I awkwardly confessed my feelings to her, asking her to treat me like a guy so we could be together as boyfriend and girlfriend. I was naïve and vulnerable.
The girl was terrified and told all her friends about what I said. The news spread like wildfire in our convent school, and I was soon alienated from my classmates. I had never felt so alone.
In college, I realised that this country couldn’t give me the future I wanted, the acceptance I desired. I decided to move to the US. But when I graduated, campus placements were suspended because of a Y2K problem, and I couldn’t afford to study abroad due to financial difficulties at the time.
If I stayed home, I was afraid my folks would start seeking a matrimonial alliance for me. I moved to Chennai and worked there briefly. I got into a few relationships. Each time, things would start out hopeful, but eventually they’d all leave to marry a cisgender man. This took a toll on my mental health.
I finally decided to get help for my depression. I found a really good counsellor, whom I opened up to. She told me that I was a trans man. The term was very new to me, but I was able to identify myself with it and I could clearly see what I wanted. I wanted to transition.
Even then, I continued to face hardships. I was subjected to abuse as well. My depression got worse, and was coupled with anxiety.
As a result, I performed poorly at work and was on the verge of losing my job. I felt like there was nothing worth living for. But something inside of me wanted to hold on to dear life. I forced myself to snap out of it, worked really hard, got promoted and finally got a H1B visa to go to the US.
It was a dream come true. But even in a foreign land, the loneliness came back to haunt me. I wondered how people would react if I transitioned. Would I lose my job? What about my friends and family? I couldn’t go on living like this. I did the bravest thing I could do then – I cut my hair.
When I came back to India. I noticed people looking at me differently. I could tell they were wondering, “Is that a girl or a boy?” My parents were not supportive. At one point, they even took me to a psychiatrist, who prescribed “medication” for my “illness”.
I returned to the US and decided to transition. My parents were unhappy.
I wanted to come out to my employer, even if it meant putting my job on the line. I went to the Human Resources department at Cognizant, where I was working (and still do). To my surprise, I received immediate support and empathy. The company even covered the cost for my surgeries after altering the employee insurance policy.
I went back to India for what would be the biggest day of my life: my transition. I underwent surgery in a hospital in Kerala. On March 28, 2019, Sai Rahul was born. It shall forever remain the greatest and most memorable day of my life.
It took me almost 4 months to heal. I then struggled trying to change all my identity documents and certificates. It was a hectic legal battle. Thanks to an LGBTQ+ activist who guided me through this process, the court finally instructed Bharathiar University to update my certificates. Now it is a lot more feasible for LGBTQ+ people to approach the university for such changes.
I am 36 now, and finally living the life I so desperately yearned for many years. It feels liberating to be able to dress the way I want, to hear people address me as “sir” when I walk into a restaurant. I’m filled with joy when kids address me as “anna” or “chetta”.
I was fortunate enough to find love and friendship in amazing people who raised me up when I was feeling down. I know that I’ll always have the support of these friends. I find myself missing my family sometimes, but it can’t be helped.
I’m brave enough to live my dreams according to my vision instead of the expectations and opinions of others. I like the new direction my life has taken, and I feel the most confident I’ve ever been.
I know that there are a lot of people out there who are like me. I want to use this moment to reach out to you. I want you to know that you deserve love and happiness. Be bold and fight for what you believe in. Our community deserves the dignity and respect that most people take for granted.