Happy Pride: Setting the stage for self-expression

Inspired by the art of performance, this South Delhi-based human rights lawyer embraced drag to celebrate their identity
Lush Monsoon during a  drag performance
Lush Monsoon during a drag performance

Aishwarya Ayushmaan (they/them) was always fascinated with the idea of transforming one’s appearance through make-up and jewellery. “[As a child] I would see how my mother would transform her look from that at home to one of a diva when she would go out. That transformative aspect fascinated me,” shares the 29-year-old South Delhi resident. Even Bollywood celebrities and the confidence they exuded while on screen left Ayushmaan in awe. Such instances influenced their idea to own the stage while being dressed to the nines.

Today, Ayushmaan is a human rights lawyer by day and a drag artist by night. “Performing is like unleashing all the repressed queerness and feminity that I had kept away from the world,” they share. However, this journey of fully embracing drag—a gender-bending performance art—has not been easy.

Aishwarya Ayushmaan
dressed up as Lush Monsoon

Of freedom and acceptance
After graduating from law school in 2015, Ayushmaan mentions that they barely had any understanding of what drag meant. A drag artist performs while exploring a certain gender identity—using heavy make-up and elaborate clothing—that allows them to break heteronormative barriers. “Drag is a culmination of all my artistic energy,” explains Ayushmaan, who became aware of the art when they watched a show about it. Later, they experimented with make-up and clothes at home before showcasing this avatar on stage.

Ayushmaan recalls details from their first performance at the Delhi International Queer Theater and Film Festival in February 2017. Sashaying down the stage in six-inch heels as Shirley Bassey’s I Am what I Am played in the background, Ayushmaan shares, “I was shaking, thinking I won’t be able to move another step. But then I heard the song and the crowd cheered. It was memorable.” It was the first time Ayushmaan performed as Lush Monsoon, an identity, they feel, has been part of them but had no name until the first time on stage. “It’s like an amalgamation of all my creativity, all the movies I’ve watched, all the things I have enjoyed doing over the years,” they explain.

Balancing both worlds
If performing is something Ayushmaan enjoys, why practise law as well? “I grew up in a small town—Ranchi, Jharkhand—where the options were to become a doctor or an engineer. I chose law but was certain I did not want to practise in court. It is a heteronormative world,” they say.

Ayushmaan usually performs twice a month, sometimes more. The challenges in coming to terms with their identity have also been manifold. Advising those struggling to come out of the closet, Ayushmaan concludes, “Take it one step at a time. Appreciate all parts of you, even the ones you feel ashamed about. This journey is very tough, but emotionally, it is very rewarding.”

Embracing your true SELF
Ayushmaan says, “Coming to terms with your identity is always a work in progress. Every day you discover something new about yourself that you may have ignored or neglected, and then you have to expert those in parts. Gender is such a complicated thing that you don’t even understand the many things you have internalised. So, every day is a challenge—whether it is about my body image issue, gender, or where I fall in the spectrum, all these things require work. Each day, you have to love yourself and accept yourself regardless of whatever comes up.”

June is celebrated as Pride Month. Watch this space for LGBTQIA+ stories

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The New Indian Express