I was 3 years old. My grandmother would wear a headscarf when she prayed. Women of my faith do that while we pray. I did too - except, mine was a hand towel.
My name is Sophia David. Hello!
I am a 33-year-old Christian girl. I am from India. I teach for a living and for the moment I am juggling two jobs.
As a child, I was happy playing with dolls and my other girlfriends. I wanted to grow up and become a doctor (a neonatal surgeon to be specific - healing newborns) because as an empathetic person, most ‘caregiving’ and helping professions naturally appealed to me. I always knew that I would ace at all roles of a woman – daughter, sister, wife, mother and career girl.
This is the happier side of my life. But I have a secret.
It taunts me, ridicules me and instils a deep set angst in me.
I wear a mask. It’s an ironclad mask. It fits me so well that people look at it and believe the mask is me. Sometimes I have to wear it in every waking moment of my existence. Because of it, the thought of ending my life occurs every day. While my past was painful, the will to live and see the future was agonizing. I cannot act on killing myself, because according to my faith, committing suicide means losing passage to heaven. My grandmother saw my grief, she always pushed me to keep going. She thought I was special and God took his time to mould me.
One day while I was teaching a class. I experienced a shooting pain in my abdomen. It hurt so bad that my legs were about to give up. I knew something was wrong. While I blamed it all on work stress, I knew it was a lot more sinister.
I was 29, and diagnosed with cancer (Adenocarcinoma – Stage 3). It was fatal and rare for my age. 1 in 70000 rare - told you I was special!
The surgery was a close call with death. Now that I am sharing everything with you, I will share one more truth to you – when my family was sad about my illness, I was actually comforted by the fact that death was close. Finally, my soul will be released from this ribbed cage of a body. But, it seems like, the heavens had other plans, and I got a second lease of life. I constantly asked myself the question – why did I survive cancer? Why did I want to end my life even before my diagnosis? Well, this story is not about cancer, but perhaps about something equally bad, maybe worse.
My life would have been perfect, if on the day I was born the doctor had not assigned my sex, “male”. Anatomically, I have a male body but my gender has always been “female”, right from my first memory – my prayer with my grandma.
I thought, felt, prayed and believed like a woman. Psychology calls it Gender Dysphoria. The word “dysphoria” means distress, and is quite aptly coined. I feel distress in my own body. I feel my soul is scratching at the insides of my body, rattling an iron cage. I feel smothered and suffocated. I feel my life is an empty, hollow cistern – blacker than black.
A few saw Sophia as an easy target, they saw her reclusion and her loneliness and preyed on it beginning at the age of 5. I look back at that age and wonder… is that when I lost my childhood… lost my joy? I have to admit a part of me allowed that abuse and blamed myself for it because I thought they were the only people who saw the real me. On days when it pained, I thought I deserved it because, in the Indian society, a dysphoric kid like me can very quickly get seen as “cursed”.
Sometimes I think the hatred I felt towards my body manifested into cancer. My battle with cancer was on for just two years, but my war with Gender Dysphoria has been on for thirty.
I am tired of wearing the mask now. I hate it. I loathe it. I have to pretend to be a different person even with my very own flesh and blood. Not being able to be yourself is excruciating. Wouldn’t you agree? All this, while I was afraid I would lose my friends, my family, my loved ones, my God.
I am not scared or lonely anymore. I will not obliterate aspects of my life, from my own life, to make people or society comfortable. I want to take off the mask. Let my face shine to the world. I have a purpose. I have hope. H-O-P-E.
Today medical science has a cure for girls like me. Gender confirmation surgery. With hormones and surgeries, doctors can realign my body and gender. Tie Sophia’s body to her soul. I look at my dysphoria as an illness and I am seeking a cure. I beat cancer and now I WILL beat this.
I have to go through surgeries, the journey will be rougher than usual for me because this is my second major surgery. I embarked on a two-year journey to transition completely. This year I’m eligible for my last step - Gender Confirmation Surgery. I want to get this surgery in a hospital in South East Asia. They are willing to work around my past medical history. And I can get on a waitlist in a week’s time if I pay for it.
This life post-surgery – my life – comes at a price. It all adds up to $28000. Both my jobs put together, editing essays for students and picking up work over the weekends like voice artist for radio ads are not helping me. I did explore other options like a loan (my cancer treatment’s loans keep me from getting another loan). Moreover, banks in India will never give out a personal loan for this surgery.
I created this profile with the help of my friends. I need your help too. This is a very hard thing for me to do… asking for help. I put myself through school by doing odd jobs, I took care of my parents and supported my family. I am someone who’s always donned the role of a strong, independent, caregiving, self-made woman. So stretching my hands out and seeking help seems to be going against my nature. But as my friends say – "you should get all the help you can get because you spent your life helping others".
As selfish as the world is, there are also good Samaritans who want to help. People who can relate to my kind of angst and grief. People who’ve known my kind of sadness. I am appealing to their hearts and their sensibilities. If you cannot contribute, that is fine - just pray for me and wish me well.
But if you can help Sophia; help her while you can. Thank you.
Two questions that the campaign is often asked are-
Q1. Does her company have an insurance policy for LGBTQ professionals and does it cover for the surgery?
Answer: Yes, her company does offer an insurance cover. And Sophia was instrumental in bringing that policy. She pioneered this change working with Leaders, Diversity partners and stakeholders. This is monumental because she never wanted the next person to go through the struggle that she went through in terms of medical care and benefits provided by the organization.
Q2. Why does she not want to take advantage of the policy and get the surgery in India?
Answer: Her previous medical history of Cancer is the reason. She had to get her cancer surgically extracted. For her 'Gender affirmation surgery,' She wanted a surgeon, who has experience treating cancer survivors. The hospital in Thailand has had patients with such complexities and was successful with this critical procedure because of the number of surgeries they do in a year. This Thai surgeon is retiring at the end of this year and so she wants to get this surgery before his retirement.