PRETTY WOMAN…

From Adi Banaji to beau­ti­ful Aida Banaji, this mod­elac­tress from Mum­bai did in the ’90s what Cait­lyn Jen­ner did re­cently. From be­ing a con­fused boy, she ended her iden­tity cri­sis by choos­ing to trans­form into a woman by not only en­dur­ing sev­eral painful o

Society - - CONTENTS - By Pradip Ro­drigues

From Adi Banaji to beau­ti­ful Aida Banaji, this model-ac­tress from Mum­bai in the ’90s has an as­pir­ing life story to share with us.

Two rel­a­tively com­mon­place words, but Adi Banaji is no dan­ger of tak­ing them for granted; for they rep­re­sent the ful­fil­ment of an al­most im­pos­si­ble dream. Here she re­veals, in her own words, the long and painful process through which she be­came a woman. I was at the beauty salon I fre­quent oc­ca­sion­ally, when I saw this rather gor­geous look­ing woman hav­ing her hair tinted. She struck me as un­usu­ally tall, fair and stun­ning, qual­i­ties most In­dian males look for in a bride. Who was this woman, I wanted to know and the pro­pri­etress looked at me squarely in the eye and said, ‘ That’s a guy.’ Five min­utes and a lengthy ex­pla­na­tion later, I was still in a state of shock and dis­be­lief. In­trigued, I begged Anu, the pro­pri­etress to con­vince her to talk to So­ci­ety. I even of­fered not to use her name to her pic­ture. All I wanted was her fas­ci­nat­ing story. Adi re­mained non­com­mit­tal to this proposal. How she agreed to not only a full-fledged in­ter­view, but also a cover story is as in­trigu­ing and mys­ti­fy­ing as the sac­ri­fices she has made in her quest to be­come a woman. We is­sued our statu­tory warn­ing— that her fam­ily and friends would be per­turbed, that it could af­fect her fledg­ling ca­reer as a model. Af­ter much con­sid­er­a­tion, Adi de­cided to go ahead with her de­ci­sion to talk. She pointed out the sil­ver lin­ing, the ad­van­tages of com­ing out of the closet. So, lay­ing all her cards on the ta­ble, she now waits for so­ci­ety to lay down its cards, to shed its in­hi­bi­tions and to ac­cept her for what she is. This is her story: “Hi. I’m Adi Banaji. I was born a boy into a prom­i­nent Parsi fam­ily liv­ing in Bom­bay. I have one brother and a sis­ter. Around the age of four, I dis­cov­ered that my pref­er­ences, my think­ing and be­hav­iour were dif­fer­ent from those of other boys. My phys­i­cal man­ner­isms and, above all, my in­ner be­ing, were wom­an­like. I was trapped in a wrong body and I knew that in time, I would have to get out of it.

I never dis­cussed this with my fam­ily, for it was taboo. I never had any close friends. My fam­ily tried to strongly dis­suade me from giv­ing in to my fem­i­nin­ity. My brother was very ashamed of me and once when a grand-aunt of mine was vis­it­ing, to tease her, I had worn her bra, which I pa­raded in front of her. My brother en­tered the room at that point of time and got quite a shock. In fact, he hit me. I was 10 then. My grand-aunt of­ten used to tell me what a pretty girl I’d make. We were very close and would of­ten play cards to­gether. Se­cretly, I would put on her makeup, use her pow­der puff, rouge, lip­sticks and clothes. Oc­ca­sion­ally, I would go to the neigh­bour’s place, and bor­row her shoes to try on, or put clips on my hair. Those used to be my hap­pi­est moments, be­cause I could be my­self, the girl I knew I was. When my mother went out, I would wear her dress and raid her cos­met­ics, for which the ser­vants would get blamed. I would look at my­self in the mir­ror and fan­ta­sise about my life as a woman. I would keep up the mas­quer­ade as long as I could, tak­ing if off when I heard her at the front door. Ac­tu­ally, though, there was noth­ing wom­anly about my ap­pear­ance. I was thin, gaunt and had bony legs, the last of which I still do. In my pre-pu­berty years, I nat­u­rally grav­i­tated to­wards women’s cloth­ing though there was noth­ing sex­ual about it un­til pu­berty. I was very in­no­cent about sex­ual mat­ters, un­til at about 12 years of age, when I started get­ting at­tracted to men. I was con­scious of boys and com­fort­able with girls. Around this time. I un­der­went the on­set of pu­berty and I was ter­ri­bly dis­tressed about it. When the fuzz ap­peared on my up­per lip, I felt fate had worked against me. I felt cheated, but my mother was de­lighted. Dur­ing my sum­mer hol­i­days in Pune, she in­sisted that I start shav­ing, an act I tried to post­pone for as long as I could. The minute I used the ra­zor, it af­fected me men­tally. The loss of my smooth skin hurt me a lot and re­luc­tantly, I had to ac­cept my body changes. I was a stu­dent of Cathe­dral School and I was a pretty poor one. In­stead of con­cen­trat­ing on work, I was pre­oc­cu­pied with boys and the things I would or could do as a girl. I was a very un­happy child, a loner, an in­tro­vert. I had ter­ri­bly painful emo­tional ex­pe­ri­ences, es­pe­cially when I had boyfriends and the re­la­tion­ship fell apart. At times like that, I of­ten won­dered why I was made this way. All the time, my school­mates used to mock me, I was al­ways the butt of jokes, un­til I had no choice, but to take on the role of a clown in the class. In a way, it was a nice di­ver­sion from the prob­lem of want­ing to be a girl. It served as an es­cape from re­al­ity and I ex­celled at mim­ick­ing teach­ers and other peo­ple. When I look back, I think I would have made a good ac­tor. I had a good voice as a child—I still do. We had singing classes in school and my mom who has a won­der­ful voice, at one point, joined my school and taught me. I sang in a choir and I was also on ra­dio. With my high pitched voice, I could hit a B-flat ef­fort­lessly. Even dur­ing pu­berty, when most boys’ voices crack, mine didn’t . I was se­cretly happy, but also ashamed that I was dif­fer­ent, and liv­ing in a so­ci­ety that would term mine be­hav­iour ab­nor­mal. At the same time, I also re­alised that for my own hap­pi­ness, I had to get along and face the te­dious task of trans­fer­ring my­self. I was sup­press­ing the woman in me and my man­ner­isms as a boy were forced. I was spend­ing my life try­ing to please oth­ers and liv­ing ac­cord­ing to their norms, and I was un­happy as a re­sult. I knew it would be done qui­etly and peace­fully, and in the most so­phis­ti­cated man­ner. Dur­ing pu­berty, my breast glands were swollen and it was very painful. All the same, I was happy that they were en­larged even with­out hor­monal tablets. I would wear loose clothes, be­cause my nip­ples hurt when I wore tight shirts. I used to grow and paint my nails. I’d grow my hair and put mehndi on it and peo­ple would al­ways try to fig­ure out if I were a girl or a boy. I got tremen­dous sat­is­fac­tion do­ing things like this. Be­fore I went in for a change, I had no choice but to be gay. I was around 15 when I had my first sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ence. My lover was a close friend of mine who found me at­trac­tive. For him, it was a pass­ing phase, but I thor­oughly en­joyed it. Later, I met a man of 28, with whom I had an af­fair for the next six years. Around the age of 18, I was con­vinced that I had to go in for a sex change. Af­ter school, I skipped col­lege be­cause of the rag­ging and other prob­lems about my iden­tity. I had well-wish­ers, who sent me ar­ti­cles of boys who be­came girls. I was stunned to know of the ef­fect of tablets on the hu­man body, and these ar­ti­cles in­spired me to carry out the changes that were to come. Even to­day, when I am low, I read these ar­ti­cles and feel bet­ter. I be­gan to take the hor­monal tablet, es­tro­gen, in ever-in­creas­ing doses and

“Through pain I have learnt about life and love. I have seen far more of life than an av­er­age per­son— boy or girl.”

peo­ple be­gan to won­der even more about my sex. My hair was get­ting finer and smoother, and my bone struc­ture was chang­ing no­tice­ably. When I be­gan tak­ing larger does, I ex­pe­ri­enced side-ef­fects like wa­ter re­ten­tion and liver prob­lems. I of­ten used to be in great pain, my cornea of­ten got grainy, and I still feel an aw­ful pres­sure in my head. Since these tablets are strong, I took them for three months at a stretch fol­lowed by a break for a month (I still fol­low this rou­tine). As a re­sult of my heavy in­take, my skin has be­come very sen­si­tive and burns eas­ily in the sun. At this point, I had the choice of be­ing a gay, but I pre­ferred to be a woman com­pletely. I bought an elec­trol­y­sis ma­chine, sat at home and be­gan burn­ing and re­mov­ing my hair, the scars of which re­mained for months. Next, I vis­ited the or­tho­don­tist, who pushed my mouth in a bit and made me wear braces for three years. Then, I went to a plas­tic sur­geon, a Dr Buch, to re­shape my face and have my gen­i­tals re­moved. This was in Novem­ber 1988. Af­ter a month’s break. I had my nose, a typ­i­cally long Parsi one, bro­ken down and re­shaped. It had to be done again later, as the doc­tor who did it ear­lier, ru­ined it. The fi­nal look, how­ever was a dainty lit­tle up­turned af­fair. In June 1989, I had my fore­head shrunk, a most painful ex­pe­ri­ence. My head was sliced open on the scalp, from ear to ear and about two inches of skin from my fore­head was cut off. My skull was then shifted, moved lower down and a piece of my skin was grafted to close the gap be­tween the base of my neck and skull. Oh, it was ter­ri­ble…there were tubes go­ing through my head to siphon off the ex­cess blood and the whole op­er­a­tion took five and a half hours. I lost a lot of blood in that op­er­a­tion. In Au­gust, I un­der­went yet another sur­gi­cal pro­ce­dure, where they cut around my skin from ear to ear, this time from down be­low, to re­shape my en­tire jaw­line, which was chis­elled to a more fem­i­nine shape. My cheek­bones were also given def­i­ni­tion, and to ac­com­mo­date my newly-shaped bone struc­ture, some of my teeth had to be knocked off. In 1989, I had all the hair from my un­der­arms re­moved and un­der­went a breast aug­men­ta­tion and en­hance­ment surgery. That whole pro­ce­dure lasted nine months. Since I had no breasts speak of in com­par­i­son with most peo­ple who un­dergo this op­er­a­tion like women wish­ing to in­crease their bust­line, it was a dif­fi­cult op­er­a­tion. They did cer­tain im­plants be­tween the mus­cle and bones be­hind the ribs. There wasn’t enough tis­sue for them to play around with and so I de­vel­oped com­pli­ca­tions. The ac­tual im­plant is gel, filled in bags, and is avail­able in all shapes.

It can be ob­tained eas­ily on a doc­tor’s pre­scrip­tion. Cuts were made on my ribs and a cav­ity was formed, in which the im­plant was placed and stitched up. My own skin was grafted over it. The size of the im­plants de­pend on one’s bone struc­ture. The breasts get larger when I put on weight and then peo­ple start to ask if they are real or not! Once I had my breasts, I said good­bye to man­hood and im­me­di­ately got into my new role. Ev­ery­thing about me is a now like a woman, ex­cept my pe­nis. Al­though the drugs I take have caused the pe­nis to shrink, if I stop tak­ing them, it gets back to nor­mal. Un­for­tu­nately, my sex drive has gone down. I can get ex­cited, but it takes me a long time! Next year, how­ever, a fi­nal

“At the disco, a guy came up to me and I was im­me­di­ately at­tracted to him. I didn’t break the news to him at first. But when it came to sex, I told him I couldn’t go all the way be­cause I was dif­fer­ent.”

op­er­a­tion will get rid of the pe­nis, and in its place will be con­structed a false vagina. Peo­ple stare at me a lot, which can of­ten em­bar­rass me. I won­der if it is be­cause they think I am dif­fer­ent or just at­trac­tive. In my new role, only peo­ple who knew me from be­fore are aware of my sex change; to­tal strangers can never be­lieve I was ever a man. Though I am happy in my role as a woman, some­times I am a lit­tle sad: but my bad, sad days are much less to­day than they were be­fore. I have dis­cov­ered my­self. When men get to know about my past, they are shocked and of­ten don’t know how to re­act. When it comes to po­ten­tial re­la­tion­ships, I tell the per­son the truth right on the first meet­ing, and then let him de­cide. Just a few nights ago, at the disco, a guy came up to me and I was im­me­di­ately at­tracted to him. I didn’t break the news to him at first, but when it came to sex, I told him I couldn’t go all the way be­cause I was dif­fer­ent. And the guy re­fused to be­lieve me. He looked at my breasts and said I was cer­tainly 100 per cent woman. He be­lieved me only when he saw the rest! These days, I party a lot, un­like in the past, when I was an in­tro­vert. To­day, I fre­quent the disco and what I find re­ally strange is to see young guys of 20 to 24 com­ing up to me and say­ing, ‘Ex­cuse me, you’re very pretty and I’d like to dance with you!’ It of­ten hap­pens at the 1900s and the Pi­ano Bar. I oblige if I am in the mood, and as we dance, the guys of­ten ask me which coun­try I come from, mis­tak­ing me for a for­eigner. Next, they ask me my age and I tell them 31 and they say, ‘Oh, my God, we thought you were 24.’ Many also ad­mit that they pre­fer older women to some­one from their own age group. I, too, pre­fer younger boys be­cause I have ma­tured emo­tion­ally and what I see isn’t very nice. Through pain, I have learnt about life and love; and seen far more of life than an av­er­age per­son—boy or girl. I would rather be in the com­pany of young peo­ple as they are more ex­cit­ing, and more fun to be with. Sec­ondly, when I walk into a party, it is the younger gen­er­a­tion who come to talk to me. The older lot, from 30 to 40 years, usu­ally have prob­lems ac­cept­ing me. But, on the whole, my wom­an­hood has been a sat­is­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. Al­though I am now more out­go­ing. When I at­tempt very sig­nif­i­cant changes in my life such as my sex op­er­a­tion, I don’t tell a soul. I pre­fer be­ing by my­self and in­tro­spect­ing. My re­la­tions with my fam­ily are good; they have more or less ac­cepted my change, though ini­tially, they were shocked. I don’t blame them, for they didn’t know how to deal with me and this new per­son that I had be­come, but they have been sup­port­ive. My brother and sis­ter, how­ever, are very wor­ried about what I’m go­ing to do with my life. I sup­port my­self by trad­ing on the stock ex­change. I want to do many things, like be­come a model, or join the air­lines, but I won­der if I can make it. Some­times, I think I should quit smok­ing, train my voice and be­come a singer. Ear­lier, when I was a man, I thought I’d re­main gay and get mar­ried in Los An­ge­les. Not here, of course! I al­most got mar­ried once to a very nice man, hand­some and loaded. But I said no, and now I regret it. But, he had ac­cepted me for what I was. I have flings off and on, but I am re­ally look­ing for a se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship if I can find my­self the right guy. I thought I found him, but he’s gone off to Dubai and I don’t know if he’ go­ing to come back. He and the pre­vi­ous man, both ac­cepted me for what I was and I loved that.

“For 30 years, I was as flat as an iron­ing board, and to sud­denly get a 36” bust­line is tremen­dous.” “I had my fore­head shrunk, a most painful ex­pe­ri­ence. My head was sliced open on the scalp from ear to ear, and about two inches of skin from my fore­head was knocked off. My skull was then shifted down.”

My sex life is quite er­ratic. When I’m off tablets, I start notic­ing be­havioural changes in me, my sex­ual urges in­ten­sify and this causes prob­lems. I party a lot and get into sit­u­a­tions where I have to tell my date that I can’t make love. Quite of­ten, the re­ac­tions are hi­lar­i­ous; there have been funny moments, but more of­ten, my part­ners feel cheated that I wasn’t hon­est and break up, and then I’m mis­er­able. Once I’m on the tablets, there is no prob­lem at all be­cause I then be­come rather old-fash­ioned in my be­hav­iour and thoughts. But, tablets don’t work if I see a good look­ing guy. There are times when I de­cide to for­get my past, and forge a new iden­tity for my­self, but I have to live with my past. That’s the price one pays for do­ing some­thing dras­tic with one’s life. In any case, peo­ple will talk for a while, but when the nov­elty fades, they will for­get. Peo­ple, ul­ti­mately, ac­cept you for what you are. I no longer iden­tify with gays. Ear­lier, yes, I had many gay friends. Gays are not re­ally at­tracted to a man who has gone so far. They like their own sex. I’d rather be with women with whom I can have nor­mal, gos­sipy talk, and gen­er­ally talk about boyfriends. And I am at­tracted mostly to straight men. I am of­ten asked if I con­sider my breasts a nov­elty. They were and have been so. It was as if I didn’t have a part of me, which I now have and I feel com­plete. It took quite a while to get used to them. For 30 years, I was as flat as an iron­ing board, and to sud­denly get a 36” bust­line is tremen­dous. For three months af­ter the op­er­a­tion, I had on ban­dages. Cer­tain ar­eas had lost their sen­sa­tions, but some have started com­ing back, though there are por­tions which are numb and stiff. I have to take hor­monal tablets for the rest of my life, since I don’t have ovaries and fe­male-pro­duc­ing hor­mones. Noth­ing would hap­pen for six months if I stopped tak­ing them, but later, I would start los­ing a lot of my scalp hair. A woman whose hor­mones work has very thick hair growth.

If I stopped the tablets, my hair would thin out, and my body hair would thicken. My fi­nal op­er­a­tion is sched­uled to be done next year, but peo­ple have ad­vised me against hav­ing it in In­dia, as there could be com­pli­ca­tions. I know of two other peo­ple in Bom­bay who have un­der­gone such op­er­a­tions. Some­times, I sit back and won­der how much these drugs have changed my per­son­al­ity. When I take an over­dose, I tend to get ex­tremely de­pressed. As a boy, prior to tak­ing es­tro­gen, I was very bois­ter­ous. I would lose my tem­per eas­ily and swear a lot. When I am off the tablets, I still swear like a sergeant-ma­jor, which is a trait that puts off my boyfriends. My be­hav­iour changes dras­ti­cally when I’m on the tablets. I am docile, force­ful and think pos­i­tively, which all goes to prove, no mat­ter what the fem­i­nists say, that there is a per­son­al­ity dif­fer­ence be­tween men and women. Hav­ing been a boy for many years has in­flu­enced me a great deal. I was used to do­ing as I pleased and I didn’t know where to draw the line. My rash­ness as a boy still sur­faces and my im­pa­tience shows, but to a lesser ex­tent, now that I’m a woman. I would like to marry, but I know I can’t have chil­dren. I’m sure we can adopt one, though. I don’t have any set age or time limit, but I won’t marry any­one be­low my sta­tus. The per­son should be some­one I can talk to in­tel­lec­tu­ally and I’m sure there would be no dif­fi­culty in find­ing such a man, re­ally. I would like to con­tinue liv­ing in Bom­bay, af­ter all, I have ev­ery­thing go­ing for me here, but if the man of my dream lives abroad, then I would have no choice. Right now, I’m hav­ing my cake and eat­ing it, too. I’m hav­ing a ball of a time! Some­times, I have regrets. At times, I feel my sex change hasn’t been worth it, es­pe­cially when I meet a nice guy and I tell him about my­self, and he drops me like a hot brick. At other times, I hurt when peo­ple can­not ac­cept me as I am, and when peo­ple can­not ac­cept me as I am when peo­ple won’t love me for what I am (be­cause of what I am). What name do I go by in my new avatar? Most of my friends still know me as Adi, but I in­tro­duce my­self to strangers as Aida. Top of my agenda right now is to buy my­self a wardrobe of women’s cloth­ing. Strange to say, I still wear uni­sex clothes like jeans. My big­gest worry at the mo­ment is that thanks to the tablets, my face and bone struc­ture are con­stantly chang­ing. In six months, I will look quite dif­fer­ent. Peo­ple who see me af­ter a while al­most fail to recog­nise me be­cause of the change. But, I have to live with this fact for the rest of my life. So far, I haven’t had a prob­lem with my pass­port, but I wish I could have a sta­ble face. Nev­er­the­less, at this sig­nif­i­cant point of time, all I say is that I in­tend to take one day at a time. So long…”

(As told to Pradip Rod­grigues)

“My sex life is quite er­ratic. When I’m off tablets, I start notic­ing be­havioural changes in me, my sex­ual urges in­ten­sify and this causes prob­lems. I party a lot and get into sit­u­a­tions where I have to tell my date that I can’t make love.” “What name do I go by in my new avatar? Most of my friends still know me as Adi, but I in­tro­duce my­self to strangers as Aida.”

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