Rajindra Narinesingh: From "Elephant Woman" to Soap Opera Star

In a room festooned with zebra-print wallpaper, a purple curtain, and a bed with neon throw pillows, a tall brunette sits at a makeup table. Gazing into the mirror, she tells her pretty, pigtailed, 11-year-old daughter that she's not thin enough. "Look at yourself... oooh, you look so pudgy," Mom whines in a thick Brooklyn accent. "If you don't spruce yourself up, you're going to wind up with a big, fat, smelly husband who works for the garbage company. That's what happened to your Aunt Norma."

"I love Aunt Norma," the girl protests.

"Well, you better pray you don't end up looking like her."

Narinesingh: "Taking control."
Colby Katz
Narinesingh: "Taking control."

Then Aunt Norma enters, towering over everything in the room. The girl runs into her embrace and is nearly buried under two enormous breasts. Norma's face is similarly proportioned: inflated cheeks, a swollen upper lip, and a plump, jutting chin. She speaks in a deep, drawling voice. "Come on, sweetie, I'll tuck you in for bed."

Norma is, plainly put, a transsexual. But that doesn't make her unique here: The entire cast of the yet-to-be-aired soap opera Bella Maddo — even the girl — is transgender. Rajindra "Rajee" Narinesingh, who plays Aunt Norma, is unique, though, because of her mangled appearance; she's the best-known local victim of Oneal Ron Morris, AKA Duchess, AKA the Fix-a-Flat butt doctor — who was recently charged with injecting patients with dangerous substances.

After the botched backroom surgery left Narinesingh with painful nodules in her bloated face, she retreated into shame and isolation. But then she took her story public and the world started staring. From Dr. Phil to Howard Stern to German television to one of England's most popular newspapers, the trauma of her botched surgery and its effect on her life has played out in grueling detail for millions of readers and viewers. The soap opera role is just the coup de grâce of her recovery.

The media blitz "allowed me to stop being a victim," she says. "People are going to see me anyway. Before, they were laughing. Now, they say, 'Oh, that's the girl from TV.' "

Narinesingh grew up in Philadelphia a mixed-race boy of East Indian and Creole descent with effeminate tendencies. A hard-drinking father, who died in 2006, tried to encourage young Rajindra to take up boyish pursuits. But when given a basketball, he snuck it to his room, stuffed it under his shirt, and pretended to give birth. "And GI Joe, he was never going to war; he was always coming home to me and I was cooking for him," Narinesingh recalls.

Old photographs show a gradual progression from childhood to effeminacy to androgyny. Narinesingh's mother, Sandra, who still lives in Philadelphia, says, "Strangers would take pictures with him. They thought he looked kind of like an Indian movie star."

The androgynous boy was, in fact, quite attractive. But around age 20, Narinesingh identified as a trans woman, and at age 27, began hormone therapy (though she does not plan to have genital surgery). She started talking to other trans girls about the popular practice of getting "pumped," or receiving silicone injections to appear more feminine. It was often done underground — in houses or apartments.

When Narinesingh arrived on the doorstep of an apartment near the Dade-Broward border in 2005, Duchess, a trans woman with a cosmic booty, exclaimed, "Girl, we gotta get the man out of your face."

She began a series of injections into Narinesingh's face, breasts, and buttocks. Though Duchess said the silicone was medical-grade, it turns out she was using a concoction of cement, Fix-a-Flat, and mineral oil.

Seven months later, Narinesingh's body began to protest. "The whole left side of my face felt like a boil," she recalls. Little nodules had grown, and they were hard as rocks. Panicked, Narinesingh called Duchess. No answer. The so-called doctor had left town.

"I felt like the elephant woman," Narinesingh says. Soon, she was diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and agoraphobia — fear of crowds. She couldn't go to the mall.

Though a Boca Raton plastic surgeon took her case as charity and gave her injections to soften the nodules and bulges, her look changed little. Then, last fall, six years after she began the procedures, she saw a CBS 4 news segment that stated Duchess had been arrested. The reporter urged other victims to come forward with their stories.

Narinesingh emailed a few local TV stations over the weekend. On Monday morning, a reporter and cameraman from CBS 4 came to her house. She was on the 11 o'clock evening news. On Tuesday, she began receiving phone calls from around the world. "On Wednesday, I was getting on a plane to New York for the Anderson Cooper show," she says. "On Friday, I got back, and on Sunday, I was packing my bags to go to California for Dr. Phil."

Backstage in Hollywood, she met Shaquanda Brown, another victim who had reacted badly to implants in her butt and nearly died. While waiting, Narinesingh told the story of how midway through the injections, Duchess stopped and, with tears in her eyes, allegedly said, "Girl, please, if anything ever happens to me, be careful who you go to, because people can make concoctions and pass it off as silicone."

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