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Today is Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Intersex Youth Undergoes Genital Surgery and Lives as Male

[KALOL, INDIA] - Strange are the ways of nature and stranger still its ways of expression. Nature played a crude joke on Pravina, a 16-year-old from Kalol, by putting her gender status in suspension for 16 years. This hermaphrodite had a tough time -- until doctors stepped in to correct the anomaly. Now, after getting a new identity as Praveen, this teenager is gearing up to fight a very important battle. A battle for acceptance by others.

People, today, see him as some kind of a freak. They gather outside his maternal grandfather's house in the city, just to catch a glimpse of him. "I find this very annoying," says Praveen. "Why can't they leave me alone?"

Not just the world outside, Praveen also apprehends problems with his dear ones, especially, in his relationship with his elder brother Sanjay. Although they have never been very close to each other, he fears that his new status could drive Sanjay even further away. "When we get back, his friends might tease him because of me. I fear this will cause a rift between us," he adds.

He is also unsure of the reaction of people back in Kalol as they have always seen and treated him as a girl.

For 16 years, Praveen had been Pravina Parmar of Kalol. Pravina went to a girls' school; wore frocks and grew up just like any other girl. But all along, she was a hermaphrodite -- a rare condition in which a person has both male and female external or internal sex organs. Hermaphrodites are biologically intermediate between male and female.

Of late, she hads been exhibiting masculine characteristics. Her voice had become gruff and a moustache also appeared on her face. So, along with her parents, she approached the Civil Hospital in Ahmedabad with an unusual request. They wanted Pravina to undergo corrective surgery and become a male.

"Pravina came to the hospital with streak gonads. She had a rudimentary penis and internal female sexual organs like ovaries and uterus too. She also had a vaginal opening which created confusion about her gender," said Dr Sheikh, an associate professor of Plastic Surgery at the Civil Hospital.

Pravina says, "Only my elders and I knew that I was a hermaphrodite. My parents had approached the hospital to seek clinical opinion when I was five years of age. But, the doctors advised my parents to wait till I was 15-16 before opting for surgery."

Matters grew complicated for Pravina last year when she was in Std X. Her classmates became aware of her condition and spoke about her in hushed tones. "Soon, friends became former friends," said Pravina, adding that girls refused to sit next to her in the class. As the feeling of isolation overwhelmed her, Pravina decided to drop out of school.

She dropped out after her Std X exams. Now, she plans to drop Std XI also and appear straightaway for Std XII exams as a private student.

It is speculated that this condition may occur due to abnormal combination of sex chromosomes or as a result of parental hormonal abnormalities. Dr N M Sheikh, associate professor of Plastic Surgery at the Ahmedabad Civil Hospital, says: "The reasons behind such a complication are unknown. There are hundreds of hypotheses behind it."

Dr Sheikh, who treated Pravina, adds: "Such cases are very rare -- maybe one in a million*. At the Civil Hospital, we get one such case every two years though they are mainly young children."

"A decision to perform corrective surgery on Pravina was taken after a series of tests were conducted. First, we took the chromosomal and hormonal profile. Then, we followed it up with psychological tests. We also took into account Pravina's preference," he said. As per the chromosomal profile report, Pravina was genetically a male: 46 (XY).

A corrective surgery was performed on Pravina last week, transforming her into Praveen.

Praveen has discarded salwar-kameez and frocks in favour of shirts and trousers. He even sports a new haircut as per his new status. Although he is more comfortable with his new status now, his troubles are far from over.

Following the surgery, he has confined himself to the house. He avoids meeting others. Pravina's childhood friend, Asha says, "He has not spoken to me since the surgery."

His family is trying to ease him into the new status. His maternal uncle Chandrakant says, "I am trying to introduce him to my circle of friends." However, his female friends Asha and Neeru say: "As Pravina has become Praveen now, we will have to maintain some distance from him. Our interaction with him will be less as he is a boy now."

* EDITOR'S NOTE: Accepted medical research indicates that intersexuality is much more common than one in a million. In fact, depending on how intersexuality is defined, it may be as common as 1 in 500 births. See the frequency information compiled by the Intersex Society of North America.

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