NEW DELHI: After decades of battling depression, former soldier Betty Ann Archer finally flew to New Delhi to complete her gender transition, one of a growing number of foreigners heading to India for budget sex-change operations.
Born Dale Archer, the 64-year-old American said she felt trapped in the wrong body right from the start, recalling secretly trying on her mother's dresses as a boy -- much to the horror of her conservative military father.
"I attempted to kill myself twice... I didn't like myself. I didn't like my body at all. I couldn't be myself," said Archer, who is from Arizona.
"I became very ill in 2011 and almost died," she said, wearing a bright blue sari and ornate Indian jewellery that she bought after her gender reassignment surgery in Delhi.
"While I was recovering I came to the conclusion that I had to transition or die."
A small but steadily increasing number of transgenders are travelling to socially conservative India for such procedures, which are cheaper than those in their homelands and with no waiting lists, according to industry experts.
Some are even choosing India over leading sex-change destination Thailand which is regarded as more accepting on this issue.
In November, Archer found herself at the Olmec Centre nestled in a northern Delhi neighbourhood, which she picked over clinics in Thailand which she felt were "just a bit too expensive".
"This is affordable. This is an option that some transgender people can look at and not have to kill themselves because they can't afford it," said Archer, who paid about $6,000, a fifth of the price back home, and said India's conservative views on transgenders had not been an issue when deciding to come. For up to $22,000, India provides the treatment, but also accommodation, airport shuttles and post-operative care that include shopping trips and visits to the Taj Mahal and other tourist favourites.