India’s first transgender modelling agency: are we ready for it?

Do we have a Laith Ashley in India? – A transgender model who will enchant you with his hot body and looks to die for. Check his Instagram account here. He was born a girl.

Laith Ashley, trans gender, model

Laith Ashley via Tumblr Peche Di

The most hyped Caitlyn Jenner aka Bruce Jenner transformation has already taken the year 2015 by storm. Carmen Carrera was voted to walk with the Victoria’s Secret Angels last year as the first transgender angel in the fashion show. Not many know that she was born as Christopher Roman. But are we ready for transgender models and professionals in India yet?

Carmen Carrera, transgender, model

Carmen Carrera via wikipedia free source

Every morning I cross a junction where a transgender woman (Hijra) asks for money from the commuters waiting at the traffic signal. She used to ask me money in the beginning and I used to give her a very rude look. I somehow feel that by giving alms to the beggars we are encouraging an unhealthy environment. Crimes related to children and women are rooted into begging. I would rather buy a packet of agarbatti or a balloon from the not so fortunate but never encourage begging by giving money. Many a times, I offer food to the beggars. Two vada pavs may cost Rs. 20 but it fills up a hungry stomach. I am more than ready to do that. But I have seen beggars refusing to take food and instead ask for money. I feel pretty unhappy with this behavior. So I avoid to entertain beggars at all cost.

Coming back to this transgender woman, who I am very sure, knows me by face now and every time I see her coming towards my car, either I look away or make a nasty face so that she doesn’t ask money from me. Worst is when she starts banging hard on the car’s glass window as if threatening ‘either you give money or I will break the window’. Over a period of time, she has stopped coming to my car. I feel relieved. But then the question arises, why a healthy human being like her is forced to beg. Yes, we are humans first and a gender later. She wears some great sarees, applies bindi and lipstick then why doesn’t she earn money by doing some business or a job? This is a valid question and might absolutely support my stance. But when I did some reality check, I realized that may be that transgender woman has no other option but to beg.

India recognized the third gender in 2014. In many official forms you will find the mention of a third segment below Male and Female. But has the transgender community come at par with the others after this ‘on paper’ recognition? May be not. I was reading about an incident where a transgender woman wanted to start a tea stall and run her own business. No one knows if she was able to fulfill her dreams. First of all in India, we still look down upon transgender people. Not many will be ready to consume food or tea prepared by a transgender woman due to several reasons including religion. And in case, she is able to run a business, she will be subjected to a lot of humiliation, harassment and bullying. May be she will be violated and abused physically and mentally, for trying to lead a normal life, like every one of us.

In India, the minute a family realizes that a child is born with intersexual characteristics or over a period of time they realize that the child has transsexual bent, they quietly hand over the child to the hijra community. This is specifically true for the rural and small town low income families as they believe that they will not be able to support or protect the little one with special tendencies. How unfortunate is the child who is given away to an unknown group where he/she is raised without proper education, nutrition and safe environment. Transsexual people are never allowed to be a part of the main stream. They are never offered an opportunity to get formal education or to get regular jobs. Often they are subjected to violence, discrimination, sexual assault and forced to either beg or to take up prostitution. Most of them contract AIDS or other deadly diseases which leads to their untimely and painful death. So in this light of ambiguous identity of the transgender people in our society, are we ready to feature a transgender model for our popular brands alongside Khans and Kareenas?

I remember two incidences from my growing up years that show how insensitive we are in terms of transgender community, their needs and their rights. And this insensitivity is engraved in our childhood.

An effeminate boy in my class was always harassed by a group of the so called manly boys. He was beaten up so badly once in high school where they tore his shirt, blew dust on his face and hair, and he had cuts and bruises all over his face. He cried a lot. He was traumatized, physically and emotionally. He didn’t know why he was subjected to this harsh treatment. He couldn’t understand why other boys pounced on him just because he was a little different than them. Apparently, the boyish boys were trying to fix him up as they deemed his condition to be abnormal. These were school boys who were conditioned by our society to look down upon people who did not fall into the normal category. They were conditioned to behave in a certain manner and made to believe that anybody who belonged to their gender and behaved abnormally should be outcasted, beaten and bullied. Boys like these, carry this idea of discrimination throughout their adulthood and are never able to accept or respect the third gender.

Another incidence is when I was in my early twenties and a boy used to come to office with full make-up on. Yes, he loved his mascara, lipsticks, nail polish, kajal and everything feminine. He used to dress up like men but could never let go off the makeup. People used to think he is weird, including me. He was a pretty boy who didn’t have many friends. I had seen him cry a few times alone in the cafeteria. People used to laugh at him and the managers used to talk to him harshly. He was made to feel unwanted on many instances. One day, he decided to wear a skirt and use the women’s toilet. That was the breaking point. He was relieved from his service immediately. He was educated, belonged to a decent family but his fault was that he felt like a woman trapped in a male body. I know, we Indians are not sensitized to deal with such incidents in our home and work environment. But that day I felt that it was unnecessary, it was unfair and unjustified to sack him from work. May be the office could have been more sensitive towards his condition and helped him understand the consequences before firing him. I don’t know where he is today. May be he would have made a great transgender model!

Rudrani Chettri, a transgender activist from Delhi and the head of the MITR Trust, is launching India’s first Transgender Model Agency – run by transgender people, for transgender people – and they need our help to make this a reality. MITR attempts to give an opportunity to beautiful, talented and young TGs to get respectable, mainstream work and showcase their talent. To realize this dream, Chettri has taken an unconventional route of crowd funding through BitGiving to fund her project. Chettri has been working for more than 10 years in spreading awareness and fighting to improve TG’s lives in India. Her trust helps over 1500 TG in Delhi alone. They have also teamed up with eminent fashion stylist and photographer, Rishi Raj who will work towards getting a spread in a leading fashion magazine. In addition, the trust has been working with an Indian-British team of filmmakers for the last one year. They have been closely documenting their lives and struggles, with the hope that it will connect the long isolated hijra community with the national and international audience.

Rudrani Chetri, transgender Indian woman, MITR

Rudrani Chetri in grey top via Facebook page

Their aim is to identify 5 top models, who we will work towards getting a spread in a leading fashion magazine – in an attempt to launch them to mainstream society. They will also have photos done by a top fashion photographer. These will be turned into printed postcards which will contain information about the TG community in India and the crises that they face on every day basis. They hope to sell these postcards far and wide.

We can also contribute and make way for these game-changers. Their crowd funding campaign aims to reach out to everyone, with the hope that they can bring the change and successfully set up India’s first TG modelling agency.
Log onto https://www.bitgiving.com/tgmodels (Get details here and donate generously)

Now you must be wondering why modeling? Fashion industry in India is more open to transgender people working with them than any other industry till now. Be it stylists, fashion assistants, or makeup artists, you will find many TG professionals working in this industry without any bias. Now, the TG community is looking for a face which can represent them in the fashion industry nationally and internationally. Of course, they mean serious business. They aren’t looking for cross dressed characters from the comedy shows but beautiful transgender people who can give international transgender super model Peche Di run for her money.

Peche Di, transgender model

Peche Di via Instagram

I am sure Indian LGBT community has a lot to offer in terms of manpower in various industry segments. When we can have Manabi Banerjee as the first transgender college principal then why not explore other areas of work life. This initiative is a small step to get the transgender people back to the mainstream work environment. Let us support this cause!

About MumbaiGloss

Parimita Chakravorty is an author, blogger, features writer and a communications specialist. She has written for various popular magazines and websites related to beauty, fashion, jewellery and lifestyle, including HAIR India, Femina.in, BeBeautiful.in, Hello, etc. She has also contributed to various youth blogs and magazines. Her book ‘Look Stunning At Any Size’ has been well appreciated and received by the readers. Currently, she is part of India’s leading IT brand and takes care of their internal communications. Parimita is also working towards bringing awareness about Endometriosis in India; a silent epidemic which is consuming a lot of lives. She manages a page ‘Endometriosis India Files’ where patients discuss their condition and diagnosis.
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