CHENNAI: Some times I think if I had been born in this period when there is access to so many resources and opportunities, I think I would have been much more successful in the fashion industry or the movie business. Then again, I think it’s because my my career in modelling and acting did not go as well as planned is why I took to social work and have been serving the transgender community for this many years. Maybe it was all part of the plan. I had been interested in fashion since I was a kid.
Naan Fashion TV paathu paathu kettu poiten. It’s not that I was drawn to the women but I was fascinated by their clothes, the make-up, the red carpet extravagance. Even before I could identify as transgender, I had a mini Malaika in me. The modelling dream persisted in me and I worked towards it I got my surgery done, I was well-dressed, I followed a good diet and exercised every day to maintain a slim figure, I was good on high heels.
But, I started my career at a time when we only had Orkut. It didn’t allow for the promotion one gets with social media and YouTube today. And it wasn’t easy. Besides, discrimination was everywhere; people had very little awareness about the LGBT community. The shows done by queer people were much different than those by people outside the community.
My big break came in 2007 when I participated in the Miss Sahodaran and won the title. It was the equivalent of the Miss Chennai contest for the transgender community. From there, it was the Transgender Miss India organised by VCare. Then, in 2011, I got to be the first transexual to represent India in the international beauty pageant (for transgender people) in Thailand. Coming back from these wins, I was able to do a lot of shows with Sunil Menon, Sidney, Vivek Karunakaran and many others. I even did two Tamil movies.
But, I did not get the success I was hoping for. Given the limited resources available, taking my work to a larger audience was also difficult. And you never know who to trust. I had to turn down several offers for small roles in movies because I wouldn’t know if it was a genuine opportunity or a scam. These were the days when you can’t even look someone up on Facebook and Instagram to check if they are really who they claim to be. I missed out on a lot of shows that way too.
They’d sign me and discuss pay and everything and then drop the bomb, “Madam, neenga ECR ku varamudiyuma?” (Euphemism for quid-pro-quo sexual favours.) I used to get incensed about this. He might as well have asked me how much I come for; I would have agreed if I had wanted it. Instead, it was a blow to my self-respect, breaking my trust and sabotaging my life. Then, how could I trust anyone who came after?
Today, our network is much wider and stronger. Unlike my days when I was the only transgender model in the city, today they have each other to rely on and share their experiences with. The industry has come a long way too. There are many transwomen who are doing well in this space now. Mila was recently introduced by Shakila through Cook With Comali on Star Vijay. She is like a daughter to me; she has been doing quite well. Then, there’s Vaishu she’s been doing a number of shows. There’s also Namitha (who represented India at the Miss Trans Star International 2019). While the opportunities available for transwomen are much better, there’s a lot more that can be done.
The way big companies hire Miss World, Miss India or Miss Chennai winners, they should also hire the best trans models in the field and promote them. They don’t even have to take the centre stage; if they are one among six models hired for a project, even that can be life-changing. This is the kind of representation we want. It’ll offer other transwomen an example of success inspiring them to take risks. The models stepping into this industry should start off with self-confidence. Whether we are successful or not, this is the one thing that’ll keep you well.
And get yourself a degree. I did a course in Catering and Hotel Management and worked in a number of the city’s top hotels. I don’t know what I would have done without this. And don’t hesitate to start small. There are so many NGOs serving the transgender community that host beauty shows and pageants. They also help the winners get educated, trained and find employment. Choose them. It shouldn’t be that you went to one show, won the title and returned to your daily life the next day. Every show should be seen as a stepping stone.
(As told to Kannalmozhi Kabilan)