Girl inside a boy: Kamalini Natesan on Raising a Child with Gender Dysphoria
Richard Bach once said, ‘I do not enjoy writing at all. If I can turn my back on an idea, out there in the dark, if I can avoid opening the door to it, I won’t even reach for a pencil.’ Yesterday I understood what he meant. I took this interview in the morning and it was painful to write it. So emotionally moving. Kamalini Natesan, is the mother of Aanya, who is now on a journey to become a girl, but was born a boy – Chaithanya. She talked to me at length about being mom to a child with gender dysphoria (the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.)
Listening to her journey, we both cried on the call. I wish I was there in person. To give a hug; to tell her it’s all going to be ok; to help with the healing. I finally understood what unconditional mother’s love means, and felt so small. I wish I could be half the mother that she is.
Kamalini is a French and Spanish teacher by profession and singer-writer by passion. She is also an avid blogger and has written on Parenting. Kamalini speaks to SheThePeople.TV about her journey as a mother to a child with Gender Dysphoria. She is married to Raja and has two beautiful children Ambika (25) and now Aanya (21).
So Kamalini, tell us a little bit about yourself.
I was born in Delhi but completed my studies in Pondicherry. My father was from Delhi and my mother is a Bengali. I married Raja, who is a Tamil – Brahmin, against much opposition. He is a proper Delhiite though, and I’m more Tamil than him. I was a practising Buddhist for 14 years, and a staunch vegetarian but gave up being one when I conceived Chaithanya (now Aanya) as the foetus craved for non-vegetarian diet, or so I believed. I have moved more than 10 times within India, and we are finally moving to Bangkok next month, on an assignment.
Tell us more about your journey as a mother.
So my elder daughter Ambika is now 25 and is working in Philadelphia. She was born in Delhi and has been the biggest support for Aanya all through her journey. Till she gave up when Aanya started stealing and gambling, despite repeated warnings and medical help. Ambika was very patient with her sibling, but when Aanya refused to give up all the lies and stealing, the elder sister thought the only way which might work would be to cut off all the emotional banter, the confessions post the misdeeds, which in Aanya’s heart and mind, were enough to gain forgiveness.
Chaithanya (now Aanya – 21) was born in London as a perfectly healthy baby boy. We moved back to India when he was around one year. Then we travelled back to London when he was around seven. He was very naughty, very boyish, up till the age of 16. That’s when he told us he was actually a girl trapped inside the body of a boy.
He was very naughty, very boyish, up till the age of 16. That’s when he told us he was actually a girl trapped inside the body of a boy.
And how did you react to that?
With complete disbelief, as you might imagine. You see Chaithanya had always been a troubled child. At the age of five, he was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder- children with ADHD are hyperactive and unable to control their impulses or pay attention for long periods of time). Small doses of medication (Ritalin) were started to help control his hugely impulsive behaviour and allow him periods where he could absorb lessons and be with kids his age without upsetting them, and thereby supporting any chance of making friends. Kids would avoid him, and he was unable to make friends at all. Ritalin was a life-saver… he was on and off it for a few years.
He would jump into the pool at midnight and swim. This all just seemed extremely attention-seeking behaviour to us.
Then at 15 years, he was diagnosed with borderline bipolar-hypomania. He would do things like bake all night, and he just *had* to bake. Or step out into the dark, in the middle of the might and cycle endlessly. He once walked to school which was 25 km away, in sweltering heat, after missing his school bus! And we could do nothing about it. He would jump into the pool at midnight and swim. This all just seemed extremely attention-seeking behaviour to us. And then he always had girl-friends you see. So how were we to even guess that our boy could be a girl inside? Our perceptions were coloured and what we observed was all very boy-like behaviour.
He would do things like bake all night, and he just *had* to bake. Or step out into the dark, in the middle of the might and cycle endlessly. He once walked to school which was 25 km away, in sweltering heat, after missing his school bus!
This must have been so painful for you as a mother… I wonder how you held on. But more on that later… What happened next?
At 16, he told us that he was a girl trapped inside the body of a boy. We said ok (thinking this was one more of his quirks. It was endless since childhood. How could we believe this one?). After much back and forth, we told him to give us a year, and see if he still felt this way, we’d take a call, we might start with the hormone replacement therapy and go in for a sex-reassignment surgery thereafter. We were biding time, hoping it would pass. And his medication continued. Because even his therapist did not believe this to be true. He had been going for treatment like forever and never had he mentioned this before. So it seemed like one more attention seeking behaviour of his. His psychiatrist also said that such a thing cannot remain hidden from family, and we were a close-knit family. None of us really bought this then.
We were biding time, hoping it would pass. And his medication continued. Because even his therapist did not believe this to be true. He had been going for treatment like forever and never had he mentioned this before.
But then, we are all layered human beings, right? We are all too complex and cannot be unravelled as easily as one might imagine.
Exactly, so this was one story he stuck to – that he is a girl. And his psychiatric medications continued. But then suddenly at 18, he started gambling and stealing, big time. Like he memorised my credit card details saying, he is downloading some song on my phone and then delete the OTPs from the bank. And I got a call from the bank, and was asked if I had withdrawn huge amounts of money suddenly!
The reason for this? He was constantly seeking instant gratification – drugs and gambling. He had outgrown the medications or they had stopped working. It was our next big shocker, and hit us like doom!
Finally, we as a family could not bear this continued fear, and thankfully he himself begged us to send him to a rehab. But then, sadly, he ran away from rehab, twice. Eventually, we brought him back home, when he told us he wanted to be independent and would take up a job. He did and was able to hold it down for six months, but alas even at his workplace, he started stealing and gambling. We were heartbroken.
Can you see how much pain this child is in? How tormented she is trying to accept her reality? She is resorting to every possible rebellious behaviour to ease the agony of her existence.
Yes… and our family underwent all of this pain. We were in it together and we were karmically tied. There was no escape, imprisoned as we were, in a cell that read: abhi story baaki hai!
And just as I had suspected, she chose to, finally, this January, leave the cocoon of this family again. And I told my husband, this is not over, nowhere near over. She will come back till we find peace. And that is exactly what happened. She overdosed and landed in the ICU. This earth-shattering event finally brought us back together as a family, and we summoned her older sister from Philadelphia. It is heartening to see and feel the unity of our family together, and we are hell bent on working this out, and we will do it together and soon.
And I told my husband, this is not over, nowhere near over. She will come back till we find peace. And that is exactly what happened. She overdosed and landed in the ICU.
Being a parent is the hardest job of all, and letting go is part of our brief, and our only brief once we’ve helped our offspring gain independence. We will get there, we’ve promised ourselves and our two beautiful daughters.
So what now, and what sort of a future do you envisage for Aanya…?
I see her as a beautiful girl who is living her life, on her own terms, as she chooses to, having finally found peace and happiness. We are there on this journey with her and will see it to its fruition.
Picture credits: Kamalini Natesan. The article was updated to change the word brother to sibling.