Five years at IIT: A degree and a new gender identity

Feb 15, 2014, 06:37 IST | Varun Singh

In 2007, a young man joined IIT Bombay; by the time of graduation, he had resolved an inner conflict, and decided that it was time to make the transition that would make him truly happy

'Born a he, now a she’; that’s how an article in InsIghT, an in-house magazine of IIT Bombay, is titled. The piece is about a 2011 graduate from the institute, who recently wrote to her alma mater, asking the authorities to re-issue her certificates, changing the honorific title from ‘Mr’ to ‘Ms’, as she had recently undergone sex reassignment surgery — from male to female. The institute assisted the student without any hassles.


The turmoil
“Five years at IITB had greatly changed my priorities. When I had entered the campus, I was just a girl trapped inside a male body trying hard to live up to expectations. But after years of living and interacting with the people here, I knew that I should rather strive to be happy. I knew that I had to make the transition and let people know,” the alumnus says in the article. When she contacted IIT, her experience was very good, “The professor that I spoke to was really nice and showed me a lot of support. I am very, very thankful to him. I received a written reply that my degree certificates would be reissued in my new name,” she says.

A new life
While the institute kept the former student anonymous, and the article mostly focuses on the favourable part of the transition, it does also shed some light on the negatives. For instance, how difficult it was for the alumnus, who now works with an IT firm in Mumbai, to get her landlord and housing society members to understand that sex change was her choice.
“In my building there was a huge controversy over my transition and I was asked to leave my apartment. My parents helped me out here a lot. They convinced the building’s secretary, the landlord and the society members to let me stay at least till my surgery. After my surgery, none of them had any problem with my staying anyway, since I am now a “normal” woman. I now have a renewed contract with my landlord, with my new name, addressing me as Ms instead of Mr,” she says.

Finding acceptance
The woman claims that her parents were the first to support her, and when she broke the news to her friends, even they backed her decision. She did find it a bit difficult to adjust in her office, but then later decided to do what makes her happy.

“At work, I did not disclose my gender identity initially to avoid biases, but when I was sure that I had created a good impression on my colleagues with my work, I came out to them one by one – and they were all highly supportive.

It was at this point that I emailed all my friends from IITB. I piled up courage and started living and attending work completely as a woman after some time. Yes, people stared and talked among themselves, but I learned to go into a bubble and not pay attention to any of them unless demanded by work,” she recounts.

However, she also cautioned that people shouldn’t get the idea that sex change is a day’s job and an easy process. “Quite contrary to what most people might think, transitioning isn’t an overnight development. It is an excruciatingly long procedure that requires a lot of patience,” she says.

'Everyone is welcome'

Suman Rao, an IIT student and also the editor of the magazine, said, “This shows that our campus is a place where people do not discriminate on any grounds. Even our professor was very happy and supported her a lot. Two years ago, we had a student who came out of the closet and declared that he’s gay. Everyone welcomed him too. The campus is an open place, and also helps the students express themselves the way they are.”

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