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
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.”