Trigger warning: Ectopic pregnancy, abortion, fear of rape; description of ‘female’ reproductive biology
I am always unsure what to write when I am writing an article. Expectations that I must be precise and concise, articulate and prescient cloud my mind. It’s a rather deterministic approach to writing. Possibly, a way that my unconscious is recreating the deterministic frameworks of this world. Just like language, gender is perhaps an early recognition and a cultural imposition.
Returning to my discussion of my difficulty in writing, I find poetry simpler in terms of expressing emotion yet it seemed necessary to express this article in prose. The expectations for prose have always been enforced strictly. I didn’t have classes on ‘how to write poetry’ instead I had poetry writing competitions. How could one cultivate the art of writing poetry was not a question anyone seemed interested in asking or answering. Thus, poetry seemed to be something “anyone” could write. It seemed fluid and my mother tongue Tamizh has had a long romantic and historic association with poetry and poets. Since I cannot read or write Tamizh, my only knowledge of Tamizh poetry comes from films where lengthy, breath-taking dialogues sounded like poetry to me. Thus rose the state of in-between in my writing which combined poetry and prose: ‘prosetry’. (please cite B.R.Chandraan when you use it). I’ve written one prosetry, so far and I enjoyed the process immensely.
It seems like the link between language, gender and our unconscious is strong. Unconscious, here, does not mean being unconscious after a swooning incident but the unconscious that Freud/Lacan articulate which is the deeply unexplored parts of our mind which nevertheless influences our action.
Just like my discovery of prosetry, I discovered non-binary as my identity. I’m aware that I’m not the first to combine prose and poetry nor am I the first non-binary person. I arrived at both independently: the former, occurred due to an indecisiveness in choosing one form. The latter is a longer story.
I had never met another non-binary person before 2018 and had not heard the term until a decade ago. Yet, as far as I can remember my identity was a flux, where calling myself a boy, imitating actions (acting like a Rajini film rowdy), a sense of wanting to protect and earn (all masculine qualities that south Indian movies imbibed) happened when I was with some girls. But my identity also shifted to the ‘adaka-odukamana’ (meaning decent, although that does fair injustice to the baggage that term carries in Tamizh cinema), the jasmine flower, half-saree wearing person when I was with some girls and boys. These states of flux in my identify have existed within me for so long that I have forgotten what it means to exist without them.
It’s hard to write articles about being non-binary because my earliest reference point to the community was trans people. There is a comparison of struggle and identity to them. With or without the surgery and hormones, I see the difficulty they have. I shall never know what that means or feels like, regardless of the close bonds I have with trans people.
I’ve often felt guilty of taking space in the community due to this invisibleness of my struggle. This has nothing to do with transpeople because none of them have made me feel like I don’t belong. The idea of feeling guilty for being in the space often comes from cis-persons (regardless of their sexual orientation).
Some of them think that an enbie’s struggle is lesser simply because they either read/see/know graphic verging on pornographic descriptions of trans folx mostly transwomen. Conversations with cis men are a competition of pain, winning in it gives cis men their validation. The stories they validate are the ones where they graphically narrate trans folx struggle, often physical brutality centering surgery not the everyday struggles or struggles where cis men themselves are responsible for causing pain. For some reason, they do not detail stories about trans men. Perhaps, they are threatened by a new dick no matter its origin occurs metaphorically or literally.
What is an enbie’s struggle then? In the aftermath of the trans bill becoming an act, I was on a panel at the Delhi Queer Fest 2019 discussing the legal and social implications of the bill. I shared the panel with the brilliant activist Vyjayanthi, a transwoman who was ferociously stunning in tearing down the regressive trans bill. I mumbled and battled on stage about answering questions as I felt guilty. I did not have the same struggle. I never had to think about passing. I never had to think about saving up money for surgery or hormones or the humiliation I would have to endure while performing the physical transformation.
Transness is about visibility and that history is complex and beyond what I can detail here. However, the benefactors of such a culture of visibility are important to address. Cis men are the foremost benefactors of this culture economically while being the progenitor of the humiliation and abuse. The capitalist network of media foremost and medicine secondly, immersed in patriarchal values and dominated by men, magnify this visibility for their gain. In expressing such a statement, I also acknowledge the resistance of trans folx who work every day to dismantle this oppressive structure.
As a non-binary person, I face an opposite problem, that of invisibility. I can never choose one identity. I do not have the option of surgery or hormones because I have to exist in a body not of my choosing and can never attain a body of my choosing. I have to forever live in a state of dysphoria like an unstable element emitting waves of radiation that is toxic for me and sometimes I feel for people around me.
During the panel discussion at the Delhi Queer Fest 2019, when a question on medical accessibility arose, I could only answer it with a story of my abortion which no doubt seemed irrelevant to many present. One of the most cruel aspects of the now trans act is it makes surgery a prerequisite for validating the trans identity. Because, I do not have the experience of surgery or wanting to have a surgery, I didn’t know how to answer the question and instead told a story about my abortion and medical (in)accessibility. In retrospect, I realise it was a story that was important and tied to my identity which I couldn’t articulate at the time.
My abortion was a clinical emergency. I was past the time where the fetus could be aborted with an injection. Due to my complicated health history of anorexia and PCOS, and in part my resistance to my female body, I never believed I was capable of harvesting a human life (I’m aware of the problematic use of the word ‘harvest’ and it is deliberate). I’ve always thought that I would be an inhospitable host. I never had any luck growing plants, I didn’t see myself as a nurturing presence and perhaps believing in my power of will too much, I let it slide. The combination of lack of money and access to an affordable hospital prevented me from taking action sooner. Throughout those months of pregnancy, I remember waking up with nightmares and crying thinking of a family that ceased to exist. Now, I know it was “pregnancy” hormones. It was the worst psychological stage in my life and it is not an understatement to say that I have been through some dark shit in my life.
I went back to a different place hoping that seeing my mother would make a difference. There, I finally had to be admitted because I couldn’t physically eat or drink anything including water and started vomiting profusely. It was my body rejecting the fetus, ah! success, did I not say I was an inhospitable host. Maybe my will was strong. I went to a not-so-private hospital with huge lines having not consumed food or water for two days. I had no one to accompany or take care of me while I stood in lines, paying receipts and going through ultrasounds. When the report came, the two lady doctors asked me with astonishment, “you have a growth in your fallopian tube, how are you standing!” If we had more time, maybe I could have been a spectacle of medical miracle. I had to transfer to another hospital since they didn’t have someone who could operate. This was a bigger hospital with bigger lines where I spent another few hours chauffeuring myself, walking up and down the stairs even after the doctors earlier were shell shocked I was walking but I had no other option. The pre-med students didn’t understand the gravity of my situation and took cognisance only when a senior doctor reprimanded them.
This was not one of those hospitals where the middle-class who think they are not well-to-do come to hospitals with IVs in their hand because they are “so tired” due to self-imposed or carelessness of dehydration and not eating well. This was not one of those hospitals where the doctors see their daughters’ likeness in their patients. This was the hospital where people travelled miles from a different zone in India often borrowing money to cover train fare and walked the rest of the way. This was the hospital where people stood near pharmacies asking for money to cover medicine costs. This was the hospital where women’s bodies were treated as nothing more than flesh. Screens around the bed are not used, they are casually drawn upon insistence, your legs are wide open while anyone can peek and that includes doctors. The female body here is a public spectacle because it belongs to the lower classes and by extension lower castes. It’s also one of the best known hospitals in India, thus the doctors are upper class. The combination makes it particularly dangerous because they can never see their daughter, sister, girlfriend, or mother in us.
Finally, after many hours of observation, I was operated late at night. I was not afraid of the pain of surgery. My deepest fear was of getting raped in that room because there were only two male attendants who kept pushing my dress down. I was afraid that once the anaesthesia was administered that they would do something. If I had the option, I would have asked them to perform the surgery without the anaesthesia. But our bodies are not valued regardless of how much value we attach to our bodies.
I had an ectopic pregnancy meaning the egg is fertilized in the fallopian tube. If the growth is small it can be dissolved with an injection. Because I was late by a few hours, they had to cut off one of my tubes, they assured me that I could still have a child. The recovery was hell, I couldn’t eat nor perform excretory functions. Days later, I had to pee into a measuring cup because they had to make sure my body was adequately excreting urine. This experience was also scarily similar to post-pregnancy, only I was alone. Here, I was in an inhospitable body, a body I didn’t want experiencing all the things I didn’t want.
Many times, when people have asked what I want as an enbie in terms of having a physical body, I have said jokingly if we could infuse the genes of a chameleon within us. So, one moment I could be a boy and one moment a girl.
My struggle during the pregnancy, subsequent abortion and my ongoing recovery is not visible to the outside world. It’s internal just like my gender. No one can see the laproscopic scars, no one knows that every cycle of ovulation and menstruation has different symptoms from the usual period, no one knows that my choices of exercise and diet come with a different caution. Irrespective of whether they are medial professionals or regular people, they see me and assume my health and strength incorrectly. A perfect metaphor for my gender struggle wherein lies the inexplicableness of being a non-binary person.
Rachelle Chandran Bharathi is a research scholar in the field of aesthetics and neuroimaging. Zir works have been published on Roundtable India, Skin Stories, Anti-serious, Gaysi and Forward Press. Ze writes on issues pertaining to intergenerational trauma and the intersections of caste and queerness.