A group of transgenders from Tiruchi hope their beauty salon changes perceptions about the community

I have been pacing the corridor outside a painted door in the third storey of a residential building in Ariyamangalam for close to half an hour. As the phone rings and a cordial voice bids me to walk through the door, I’m puzzled how anyone got past me, unnoticed.

“We usually get in through the back door,” says Kajol, dressed smartly in jeans and striped shirt, her expertly arched eyebrows, a self- advertisement for her recently launched ladies beauty salon. Run exclusively by a group of transgenders, the backdoor entrance betrays their uncertainty about gaining acceptance in a residential area.

The ‘Look Me’ salon’s sparse waiting room opens out into a warm area with walls a bright splash of colour, where soft toys, porcelain figures and flowers dominate the shelves than stacks of beauty products.

Where beauty meets comfort

The salon is envisaged by the group not only as a place where women can relax but a refuge for transgenders for their beauty and personal care. Most parlours hesitate to admit transgenders or even if they do, are uncomfortable about rendering services, says Kajol, the mainstay of the project. “Though we may have feminine tendencies, hormone spurts cause excessive hair growth and hence the need for regular waxing. Transgenders may feel uncomfortable waxing their chest or legs in a women’s beauty parlour.” While members of the transgender community drop in during select hours, the parlour is open to women in mornings and evenings.

“Before opening the salon, I used to shape eyebrows and wax in a small space in the office of our welfare association,” says Kajol, who has a diploma in beauty and hairdressing from a popular Chennai institute.

Alternative employment

The initiative is seen by Kajol and Co as an attempt to encourage the community and prove to the world at large they can earn a dignified living. Being early days to depend entirely on income from the salon that has received lukewarm response, members continue at their old jobs to supplement income. Rasiya and Pooja work as construction labourers and Uma, Kajol’s apprentice works as a cook.

“My dream is to train transgenders like Uma so that many more salons would come up in Tiruchi and neighbouring districts,” Kajol spells out. “We transgenders are natural at the beauty industry as we are inclined towards applying make-up, dressing up and styling hair.”

Seeds sown

“It was district Collector Jayashree Muralidharan who sowed the entrepreneurial spirit in me,” says Kajol. “She told me I should set an example for the others in our community by availing the loan offered by the state government to transgenders.”

Getting the loan turned out to be the easiest part of the deal. “The loan was ready but getting quotations for electrical fittings, equipment and furniture was a rough deal,” recounts Pooja. “We were shooed off the campus like flies even before we explained what we had come for. I believe they heard quotation as donation.”

“No one was willing to rent us a space,” says Rasiya. The current premises is a result of negotiation through a third party. Support from government officials can perhaps elevate their stature feel the members who also offer home services like bridal make-up. “We were surprised when the first client, a woman walked in. She behaved like she would in a normal salon.”

Having to repay Rs. 7,000 per month, it would be a challenge to break even, feels Kajol. “If the government increases the subsidy on the loan, it would help us. Venturing into such professions is something new for the community. If it’s a failure, others in the community will hesitate.” Not the one to mince words, Kajol says, “I have to struggle to repay the loan and make both ends meet. But many transgenders have the notion ingrained in them that they can earn the same money in one night(as sex workers).”

Talking proudly about a transgender friend who is employed as a nurse, Kajol hopes government and private agencies would be open to employing transgenders. “Then we don’t have to beg and plead everywhere.”

A little girl from the neighbourhood, peeps in at the door, asking if her aunt can get an appointment. For the group, their first victory has been won.