For 27-year-old Aakruti Patel, who was born Ajay Patel, it has been a long wait to find the “true gender identity”. Aakruti recently underwent sex reassignment surgery (SRS) in Vadodara after several years of counselling and medical treatment. An orphan, who had to drop out of school, Aakruti says she is looking forward to social acceptance, love and marriage. She hopes to be an inspiration for many others like her who are “trapped in their bodies”.
Interacting with media persons at a press conference, anchored by former Standing Committee Chairman of Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) and sitting BJP counsellor Dr Vijay Shah in Vadodara, Aakruti says the SRS procedure has given her a new lease of life. Although she will be unable to have biological children as the process of reassignment from male to female does not include implant of the female reproductive organs, Aakruti wishes for marriage, love and adoption. “I am looking forward to social acceptance, love and marriage. Which girl does not want this? I have felt like a girl, a woman since the time I was in my mother’s womb. I looked up to her and wanted to be like her. Now, I feel I am what I really am,” says Aakruti, an employee of Lakshya Trust, a public charity founded by the erstwhile prince of Rajpipla, Manvendra Singh Gohil, a gay, who has been serving the LGBT community in the state.
Aakruti says her life has been full of struggle, having lost her parents in childhood. She dropped out of school, took up odd jobs before joining the Lakshya Trust, where she grew from being a peer educator to an outreach worker, a counsellor and finally a team leader for HIV awareness. She says she has worked hard to achieve her true gender identity. “My parents were separated long before they passed away. I always lived with my mother and she was my role model. I knew I just wanted to be like her and I have always felt like a girl, a woman, since my childhood. I am happy I was able to raise the funds for my medical treatment and achieve my true gender identity at an early age.”
Aakruti’s SRS procedure took several years to materialise. Right from beginning with psychiatric counselling to ensure that her desire for sex change was not born out of trauma, to the female hormone injection procedure and finally the series of plastic surgeries to reshape her body, Aakruti’s transformation has been one of its kind, doctors claim. Uro surgeon Dr Sanjiv Shah, who was among the team of four doctors who performed the SRS procedure on Aakruti, said, “This is the first case of sex reassignment in Vadodara where a normal male has been transformed. We perform other minor sex correction surgeries on many people, but Aakruti’s case is one of its kind.”
Plastic surgeon Dr Umesh Shah said the procedure to construct Aakruti’s sex organs lasted four hours, as part of the last stage of the procedure. “We first begin the physical changes with breast implants that are reversible. We allow the patient to live a few months with the first physical change and begin feminine behaviour to understand what the final outcome will be like before taking up the irreversible reassignment of the sex organs (genitals),” Dr Shah said.
According to Manvendra Singh Gohil, Aakruti’s case may not be the first sex reassignment case in Gujarat, but it sets a benchmark as the case is the first to be referred from the government medical hospital, SSG, in Vadodara, where her first documentation began prior to 2009. Aakruti says she is committed to serving the LGBT community and helping other transsexual persons to face challenges.
“I feel blessed that I had no immediate opposition from my family of three sisters. They have accepted me as their sister after my sex reassignment surgery too and they are supportive. I have always been independent in my life and I feel complete now.”
Aakruti says that many people in India are trapped in their own bodies, but fear the social stigma. “There are so many people in the country who feel trapped in their bodies – men who know they are women and women who feel like men. But there is a lot of social stigma and so it takes a lot of process and counselling to accept the fact,” says Aakruti.