“Change that begins at home drives social change,” says India’s first transgender international beauty queen Naaz Joshi. Winner of eight beauty crowns — one national and seven international including the recent Empress Earth 2021-22 held virtually, Naaz has been vocal about skill development for trans people. Her virtual sessions during the Pride month for Lovely Professional University in Punjab and the Vellore Institute of Technology focussed on sensitising people about the community.
Although she was born a boy named Aizya to a upper middle class Delhi family, Naaz identified herself as a girl and loved dressing up. “Some of my male teachers would teach me how to walk as a boy,” she remembers. Facing discrimination and abuse at her maternal uncle’s house in Mumbai, she was sheltered by a trans woman.
Naaz says she would dance, dressed as a girl, in bars in the evening and attend school in the morning as a boy. “My grandmother used to say education is dhan (treasure) that no one can steal from you,” she says. Her dream to be a fashion designer came true when she got into National Institute of Fashion Technology , Delhi in 2009, at which time she worked with designers Ritu Kumar and Ritu Beri after college.
However, she struggled to get a job, and earn a steady income. “My trans friend Deepika Sharma made me aware and instilled confidence to accept the truth. I worked as an escort to pay money for my sex reassignment surgery, which I got done in parts,” she recalls.
Not an easy transition
Her transformation into Naaz (meaning ‘pride’) in 2013 kicked off her career as a model. “I was blown away when I heard Nazia Hasan’s Disco Dewaane for the first time. The cassette was a cherished birthday gift,” she says, explaining the inspiration for her name.
From being a Miss United Nations Ambassador in 2016 to winning Miss World Diversity title thrice, the trans beauty queen is also known for her frank comments. Admitting the the transition was not easy, she says, “I was an introvert and cry easily when people made fun of me. I have learnt to face situations with courage. I don’t tolerate ridicule or teasing.”
As a model she now earns ₹5,000 as the showstopper, though at all 25 ramp shows that she has walked, she says people questioned the need for a trans model. “I often get to hear people talking about not having any shortage of of female models so what is the necessary for a transwoman to walk the ramp.” pset with negative portrayal of trans community she says, “Transwomen not only wear saris and huge bindi. We sashay the ramp wearing red carpet gowns too. We work hard to empower ourselves.”
Talking about the impact of COVID-19 on the transgender community, she says, “Voluntary organisations are stepping forward to provide food and monthly supplies but we need employment that gives us dignity and identity. Train us to be cooks, or bouncers. Train us to provide child care in orphanages and senior care homes.”
Her gender sensitisation sessions with school and college students focus on creating ‘empathy not sympathy’ and say no bullying. “The intent to share my struggles in these sessions is to make the youth realise about the challenges faced by the community. We need to create a safe space in the society and at workplace. We need to educate our children about the third gender also.”