The Open Dosa

Consuming the Ordinary Differently

Fluid Bodies

This essay by Anush K M S was awarded the Special Mention for the SJU Prize for the Personal Essay 2024 by judge Amulya Shruthi. The theme for the contest was Keeping Secrets.

“I can’t believe we all are naked under the water”

It had only been four days since we all met each other. Among us, M knew the most about the Goa ways of chilling in the ocean. He said that swimming naked in the ocean at night is one of the classic experiences. G agreed to it immediately. It was her 37th birthday and she wanted to strike skinny dipping off her list. By then I was quarter LIIT in and was feeling drunk enough to want to be adventurous but not enough to be shameless. My ankles that were almost buried in sand were tunnelling in as though they were grounding my integrity. On my right, a few feet away was R who was as insecure as me. R was staring at the dark sea, then at G, M and A who were walking to the edge of the shore. Suddenly he ran towards them screaming, “Wait, wait..I’ll also join you guys.” I sipped some more of the booze, unburied my legs and walked thinking about me, ocean and naked me in the ocean.

Before getting naked, we decided on two rules – staying a few feet away till our entire body is submerged and no looking while we run from the shore. The two guys took their shirts and trousers off and walked in their underwear away from the girls. G and A had complicated swimsuits and they were helping each other remove it. I was standing in my t-shirt and shorts wondering which side to walk on. That night, I took my shirt off in public for the first time. I walked closer to the water, removed my mutta boxer and threw it at the clothes pile and ran inside the beach. It was not a liberating run that one would expect from an act of empowerment. I ran for a few seconds then immediately fell on my naked butt and dragged myself till the water reached my waist. There was sand all over my butt crack. I heard four other heads screaming and squealing from the water and I forgot about the new residents in my butt valley.

I am naked, in a new dark sea. With strangers I met four days ago. In a body with a flat scarred chest and a vagina.

There were two guys, two girls and one me.

My family lived in a government quarters for many years. When I was in first grade, amma asked my brother and I to fill nalla thanni (fresh water) in the kitchen drum. The water pipe was two doors down and had to be connected to three hose pipes to reach the kitchen. We plugged in the water tube and sat in front of the TV waiting for the big blue drum to be filled. “Aiyoooooooo,” screamed my brother, sometime later.
Startled, I jumped to the door. My feet were cold, soaked till my ankles. There was water all over the living room floor expanding its territory to the kitchen, bedroom and the pooja room. I gasped. Then laughed at our home pool. My brother, who was old enough to know we were in deep trouble, hurried to turn off the pipe and ran back with two mops. I was mopping the floor laughing and him crying. He made me promise that we would never tell this to Amma. I told him it would be our secret and continued splashing water with my leg. For the next one week Amma didn’t allow us to watch TV. Keeping secrets about my gender feels like pretending there’s no water on the floor.

Illustration credits: Zinnia Fernandes

On the train from Bangalore to Goa, I decided that I won’t tell people I’m trans unless they specially asked me. Holding onto some parts of your transness as a secret is a habit you build over time. Sometimes, you don’t share because you are scared of what that revelation would do. But mostly, it’s because you don’t have a language to verbalise your experience. You don’t intentionally try to hide your life. You just don’t know how to share it with people. When they ask why I am trans, I never know where to begin, what to say, how much to tell. It’s lonely to not know how to talk about yourself.

A year ago when my psychiatrist was diagnosing me with Gender Identity Disorder (GID), he looked at my short hair, basketball shorts and loose black t shirt, and asked if I’ve always felt like a man and whether I always cross dressed. I wanted to tell him that I used to be a pretty girl who was crazy about pink, loved sticking bindi all over her body and playing barbie. She only entered the room twirling every time she wore long frocks or skirts. She loved being the only daughter to Acha and loved it when he two plaited her shoulder length hair which she wished was longer. Instead I told him, “Yes, I’ve always been a man. I hated when mom made me wear frocks. I always stole clothes from my brother.” To reveal that I enjoyed my girlhood would mean that I was not truly trans and would be refused the certificate that confirms my transness. Without his approval I wouldn’t be able to get testosterone and I really, really wanted a beard.

After getting on T, it was a different kind of secret that I kept from people. I loved my macho voice and rose thorn beard and would not shut up about it. My instagram had all cute updates of my teen boi discovery – broad shoulders, new stubble on the jawline, pokey Adam’s apple. My DMs were filled with “You go bro.” “Awesome, my man!” and occasionally “Are you sure about what you are doing?” I ignored the last and dreamily floated in other nice messages. But change is never unilateral and always complex.

My period cycle collapsed. I put on five kgs. My cheeks grew pimples for the first time. I was moody and sad for reasons I didn’t know. There were moments I was scared I was making a mistake. Everytime I felt it, I’d stop thinking and go to sleep. Next morning, I’d wake up, with a voice that reverberated in my chest, and felt like I knew what I was doing again.


I was newly admitted to college while I was in the process of legally changing my name. So I introduced myself with my to-be-name. What I knew as secrets others thought of as lies. I had friends who had changed themselves into trans accepting people because of me. They felt betrayed when, after a year, they learnt that my name wasn’t always what I had told them it was. Maybe they thought trans meant transparent.

The consequence of withholding bits of myself from friends is loneliness. Which is sad but it is not so bad a fear, say in comparison to giving my to-be-information to government officials and worrying about its to-be-effects. When booking my train tickets to Goa, I entered, ‘Gender: Male’ knowing fully well that my Aadhar shows F. Inside the train, the TTR looked at me confused and said, “Idu huduganannu torisuttad, ni…” (Here it shows male, you…) and before he could finish, I replied, “Male sir naanu.” (I am Male sir) in the most basey testosterone voice. He looked at my face, back at his list and said, “Mukka purti wohley, muguti hakond idre huduga antha yeng gothagadu?” (If you have piercings all over your face means how will i know you are a boy?”) and walked away. A sigh of relief. Like peeing at home after holding onto it for hours after a long day of college.

Train restrooms are funnily toilets that I prefer over the ones in college. Trains don’t have separate toilets for men and women. When I had breasts and a beard, women’s washrooms felt suffocating and men’s was terribly unsafe. The anxiousness of people finding out my body is a mist, didn’t leave me even after the surgery. The fear of ‘what if someone knew’ held me back from using restrooms in any public spaces.


I didn’t want to talk about having lived as a girl because I was not prepared to compromise on my boyhood. I was scared of not being seen as a boi. I realised that it changed in Goa. It was my first solo trip after top surgery. I stayed in a hostel with mostly tourists. Everyday I spoke to new people. Depending on what I was wearing that day, people either called me a girl or a boy. Sometimes, the ones who addressed me as ‘her’ used ‘him’ when they met me again some days later. Before surgery, anytime anyone called me ‘ma’am’, I would hunch my back and make my breasts disappear.

In Goa when I was laughing with strangers, standing naked in the sea, salt water brushing over my healing nipples, I realised I stopped living my past. Breasts, as I remember, are only memories. Memories that become secrets as new people meet the flat chested boi. Now, I’m amused by things that make people assume what my gender is. I feel like gender is a secret everyone knows and keeps. As much as I’m tolerant of people approaching me as a woman, my girlhood, for now, it’s only mine. Boyhood, I’m willing to share.


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