Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : September 1st 2013 Contents A16
Sunday Guardian www.guardian.co.tt September 1, 2013
As far as she could remember, Kathy (not
her real name) always enjoyed doing "girl
things," but there was one problem---she had
a male body. Not content with her life, she
decided to change her body to suit her inner
feelings; she became a transsexual.
From as early as three, she was inclined
toward feminine behaviour, Kathy said. "I
always wanted to play games with girls. Some-
times I would try my mother s dresses and
shoes. My speech was always more feminine
and what I liked was not what a boy would
like," she said.
Attending an all-boys high school didn t
make things easier. Saying her situation was
different from that of a homosexual, she said
students called her "gay" and even physically
Nevertheless, in search for her identity,
Kathy tried to be gay.
"I tried to go to gay clubs and tried to be
like gay people, and I realised that wasn t who
I was. I couldn t fit in."
At 16, with nobody to talk to, Kathy
researched her feelings and came across "tran-
sitioning"---the process of changing one s body
to conform to one s internal sense of being
male or female, one s gender identity.
"I read about the procedure of becoming
trans...and I realised that this is who I am.
You can t hide from who you are, and I always
felt I was a girl, not a boy---that was my moti-
Unable to make an immediate transition,
Kathy tried to tolerate her body, but at times
it got the better of her, causing her to consider
"It was getting so bad. I just wanted to be
who I was. I just wanted to feel whole and I
just wanted to live."
Kathy started taking birth control pills---
which contain oestrogen, the chief female
hormone---on her own, before visiting a psy-
chiatrist, who sent her to the Endocrine Clinic
at Mt Hope for supervised hormone therapy.
She started on antiandrogens, also called
testosterone blockers, and then moved on to
oestrogen. Kathy s body responded to the
therapy: her hips got rounder, she started to
develop breasts, her facial features changed
slightly, and hair growth on certain parts of
her body decreased, she said.
As her body took shape, Kathy, 22 at the
time and employed, started to dress differ-
"I did it gradually. It wasn t like I started
boom one day to dress like a woman. I made
my clothes more feminine by adding acces-
sories and stuff. It was a subtle change at
first...I was still kind of in-between.
"People would ask: Is it a boy or girl ? ...peo-
ple didn t know what I was."
It took her a year to adopt the complete
dress of a woman, she added.
Running for her life
Wearing her new identity proudly, Kathy
now found herself constantly fending off
attacks, verbal and physical, from family, col-
leagues at work, and the general public.
"At home, it is a battle every day. They
would wait every morning to scold me...My
father used to really abuse me, physically. One
day he charged towards my mother and me
with a cutlass and we just had to run."
Saying she doesn t live with or talk to her
father any more, Kathy said her mother still
treated her "like a human," which angered her
Work was no safe haven for Kathy, neither
were the streets of Port-of-Spain or public
In highlighting that her colleagues at work
witnessed her transition, she said: "It is torture.
I have to put up with people telling me all
kinds of things and calling me names and
telling people who don t know that I am trans."
"And I have to use the male toilet, which
is very embarrassing and very degrading for
a trans person like me, even though there is
a toilet outside that doesn t have male or
female on it."
Walking along Frederick Street, Port-of-
Spain, one day, Kathy was attacked by a group
of men who pelted glass bottles at her. On
another occasion, after disembarking from a
public bus, a girl who knew her from high
school pulled a knife on her.
"I was so scared...I just ran until I got to
the office. To see how much people hate was
Saying these things could happen any time,
Kathy said she intended to seek asylum in
Europe because it was too difficult to live in
Although she changed her name, the law
in T&T---unlike that in Europe---did not allow
her to change her sex, Kathy pointed out.
"Not being able to change my sex negatively
affects me, because if I go for a job or anywhere
where I need to present an ID, it makes people
watch me strangely."
She is yet to take the final step in her tran-
sition---surgery---which she wanted to do in
Thailand, but couldn t afford.
Transgender people on the rise...
The prevalence of transgender people in
T&T is growing, says Prof Gerard Hutchinson,
head of clinical medical sciences and co-ordi-
nator of the Psychiatry Unit at the University
of the West Indies, St Augustine.
"Up to three years ago, I had seen one case
in Trinidad. Over the past three years, I have
seen seven cases, with many more, I think,
out there," Hutchinson said.
Transgender is an umbrella term for people
whose gender identity, gender expression, or
behaviour does not conform to the sex to
which they were assigned at birth, according
to the American Psychological Association.
In an e-mail to the T&T Guardian, Hutchin-
son said "transgenderism" only became a psy-
chiatric disorder---Gender Identity Disorder---
if it caused dysphoria, an emotional state
marked by anxiety, depression, and restlessness,
and impaired normal functioning.
"It s difficult early in life because a lot of
gender identity is about socialisation, unless
there are obvious anatomical differences," he
Hutchinson said most transgender people
took hormones on their own and there was
no formal treatment protocol available in T&T.
Asked how he approached a transgender
case, Hutchinson said he gave his patients
freedom to decide and ensured they were not
depressed or pressured.
Health Minister Dr Fuad Khan said more
transgender people are openly declaring their
position. In a telephone interview, Khan said,
"More people are coming out and saying this
is what I am and I want to change."
Khan, a urologist, said he performed "gender
reassignment" surgeries while in private prac-
tice, although it was not a common request.
Saying a comprehensive analysis was needed
before surgery, he added, "First we send them
to a psychiatrist for counselling for two years
to make sure this is what they want. We may
also do chromosomal genetic testing and then
He said the surgery was "nothing big,"
although it took "pretty long," and could be
"It s basically removing, replacing and recon-
structing organs...but they lose feelings and
the ability to reproduce."
In advising the general public, Khan added,
"One should never feel threatened or uncom-
fortable by transgender people because it is
something we see all around us now."
On becoming a woman
• Gender is the socially constructed roles,
behaviours, activities, and attributes that a
given society considers appropriate for boys
and men or girls and women
• Sex is assigned at birth and is one's
biological status as either male or female.
• Gender identity is a person's internal sense
of being male, female, or something else.
• Gender expression is the way a person
communicates gender identity to others
through behaviour, clothing, hairstyles, voice,
or body characteristics.
• Transgender is a broad term for people
whose gender identity, or gender expression
does not conform with their sex.
• Transsexual is one form of transgenderism
and refers to a person whose gender identity
is different from their assigned sex.
• Transsexual people usually alter or wish to
alter their bodies through hormones, surgery,
and other means to make their bodies
consistent with their gender identity.
• Gender identity and sexual orientation are
not the same.
• Sexual orientation refers to an individual's
enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional
attraction to another person, whereas gender
identity is one's internal sense of being male,
female, or something else.
(American Psychological Association)
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