Life & Style

Transgenders are breaking barriers

Sheethal Shyam

Sheethal Shyam   | Photo Credit: Vishnu Parameswar

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Transgender persons are making their presence felt as showstoppers and role models

“I am proud that I could empower our community to a great extent. There was a time when people looked at me with disgust, the policemen would call me ‘eda…’. Now they address me as ‘Madam!’” says Sheethal Shyam. Her film Aabhaasam reaches cinemas next week. In the meantime, Gowri Savithri, a model, recently became the face of vintage brand Karalkada. Both transgender women are joining an impressive list of achievers who are breaking barriers and erasing prejudices.

In fact, Honey, the first trans woman in Kerala to become the fashion icon of a boutique, Weavers Village in Thiruvananthapuram, way back in 2016, is busy judging auditions for the upcoming Kochi Fashion League. “There were about 10 to 12 transgenders competing for a place in the show and I was really happy to see their confidence. I am pleased that more trans men and women are coming out in the open and taking their rightful place in society,” she says. She does touch upon the trials and tribulations she had to put up with before she was accepted in the mainstream. “There are many challenges but we are determined to find our place in the sun,” she adds.

Honey in an advertisement of Weavers Village

Honey in an advertisement of Weavers Village   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Agreeing with her assessment, Vihaan Peethambar, board member of Queerala, a registered community-based organisation for Malayali LGBTIQ people, and corporate communications specialist in a Business Process Management industry in Bengaluru, says, “There are people who are getting into movies. They start with modelling and enter films. Sheethal Shyam, Anjali Ameer and Deepthi Kalyani are acting in films. There are well-known names in the make-up industry such as Renju Renjimar and Jaanmoni Das. Vineeth Seema from Thiruvananthapuram has just launched her bridal make-up studio, so there is a big movement among trans women in the glamour industry.”

Vihaan from Kochi points out that outside this field too trans women are getting into different industries, all along having to battle stigma and under-exposure to the field. “For instance, there is a doctor in Thiruvananthapuram who doesn’t want to come in the open but has an extremely successful practice,” he says.

“Though the government initiative of employing trans people in KMRL (Kochi Metro Rail Limited) has to be lauded, I feel it was a half-hearted attempt. Lots more needs to be done.” he says.

Vihaan points out, from a government survey, that 54% of the trans people in Kerala are dropouts and have no English conversational skills. Besides coming from ‘abandoned’ backgrounds, they lack social skills and discipline. Most suffer from psychological and health issues. This needs to be addressed along with measures such as the one taken by the KMRL.Vihaan says that there is definitely a movement towards including trans people into the mainstream but a need for a strict grievance redressal system is required. “There is still a very long way to go.”

Sheethal Shyam

Activist-actor

“My friends are ‘katta waiting’ (eagerly waiting) to see me on screen!” Sheethal Shyam, the face of the LGBT community in Kerala, can’t contain her excitement talking about her movie Aabhaasam that will reach theatres. “I had done a small role in Jayan Cherian’s Ka Bodyscapes that didn’t have a wide release. When Jubith, director of Aabhaasam, approached me with the role, I was expecting the usual portrayal of transgenders in movies. But he wanted me as the person I am and that excited me. The experience was heart-warming with the entire crew treating me with respect and affection,” she says. A champion for the cause of transgenders for 18 years now, Sheethal is happy that things are changing for the better for her community.

A founding member of many organisations that give voice and support to the LGBT community and a columnist with a leading Malayalam magazine, the 33-year-old is proud that she has come thus far in spite of being a class nine drop-out. “The years I spent in Sangama, an NGO for sexual minorities in Bengaluru, moulded me. I came out of the shell. I know about my rights and what freedom truly stands for,” she says. Sheethal has a pillar of support in her partner of 12 years, Smintoj.

Sweety Bernad

Newcaster

Sweety Bernad, 29, a newscaster with a television channel, is also a model and make-up artist. She worked, briefly, for the Kochi Metro. Things have changed a lot since Sweety came out as transgender 14 years ago, even her family wasn’t as accepting.

Sweety Benard (left) with Renju Ranjimar

Sweety Benard (left) with Renju Ranjimar   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

“My take is that a lot of what passes of as the transgender cause is aimed at garnering publicity for themselves,” says Sweety.

She treasures her job as news anchor, it has changed her life for the better. For transgenders, employment and ‘employability’ is still an issue, and help has come from within the community; it has changed lives and given them a sense of pride in who they are.

Well-known make-up artists Renju Renjimar and Jaanmoni Das have helped the community, she says, by encouraging them to stand on their feet.

She walked the ramp for a recently concluded fashion week in Kochi, and has acted in a play staged at the International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFOK), Parayaan Maranna Kadhakal, in Thrissur. She is still out of kilter with the man or woman question, but she agrees that life is better. The struggle continues. She wants to be able to wear what she wants, when she wants.

Sweety is pursuing a correspondence under graduate course, to complete her education which she couldn't continue as she came out while in high school.

“The visibility that people talk about is all fine but there isn’t acceptance yet. I am still asked if I am a man or a woman when I step out...it is very much an everyday struggle. A lot of what is said and done is mere lip service. We want to be understood.”

She says Kerala has a long way to go before we accept transgenders occupying public space.

Zara Sheikha

Senior HR Associate, UST Global

“For 25 years, I lived for others. Now I am living for myself” That’s Zara Sheikha for you. The first transgender in the state to get employed in a multinational company, this Kollam native is a fine example for how the tough get going when the going gets tough. A few days away from completing a year at UST Global as senior HR associate, the 27-year-old says it has not been an easy journey. “When I announced to the world who I am, 855 friends on my Facebook page unfriended me!” she recalls.

Zara Sheikha

Zara Sheikha   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

A graduate in Botany, she had enough work experience behind her when she applied for the job at UST. “But I had my apprehensions because three companies had already refused me a job on account of who I am. But at UST, they judged me on the basis of my experience and my qualification. I am treated like any other employee till date,” she avers. Not just that. Within a few months of taking up the job, she underwent sex reassignment surgery (SRS). “I can’t wait to celebrate my first birthday….,” she adds.

Zara’s advice to her community is: get educated and polish communication skills. A speaker at TED Talk events, she is a travel buff, enjoys modelling, dancing and is planning to study law. She will soon start Mohiniyattam classes for some of her colleagues. Zara, in Hebrew, means princess. Sheikha stands for royal female. Reasons enough for Zara Sheikha to take up that name.

Sandra Larwin

Model-actor

Sandra Larwin, who worked with the Metro in Kochi, in the facility management department, points out that discrimination comes from lack of awareness about transpeople.

Sandra Larwin

Sandra Larwin   | Photo Credit: Special arrangement

Being mocked and harassed for getting a job on the basis of one’s sexual orientation and her different demeanour forced Sandra to quit.

Luckily, for the versatile and talented Sandra, she is now a busy model with assignments that will see her walking the ramp internationally.

“These offers in Paris and Germany are in the pipeline,” she says after a successful stint.

Sandra was on the ramp with Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, Royalty of Rajpipla, in Chennai and the Kerala Fashion Week held in March 2018.

Sandra has also acted in several short films and one that created an impact, Jay Jithin’s I Wonder Why, which deals with the reactions of people when they see a transgender exiting a woman’s washroom.

Entrepreneurs all

* Amrita Shilpa has created her brand of pickles, Amrita Pickles. Amrita and business partner Sajna have set up a juice stall that was inaugurated by the District Collector of Ernakulam.

Amrita and Sajna

Amrita and Sajna   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

* Tripthi Shetty became the first trans woman to get a licence from the Handicrafts Development Corporation of Kerala and an artisan ID from the Union Ministry of Textiles for her line of handmade jewellery.

Tripthi Shetty

Tripthi Shetty   | Photo Credit: special arrangement

* Anjali Ameer, a transsexual, is perhaps the first to play a female lead in Indian cinema.

* Deepthi Kalyani is a model and was featured on the cover of a woman’s magazine.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 5:48:42 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/transgender-persons-are-breaking-barriers/article23698720.ece

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