Naveen: First of all wishing you International Transgender Day of Visibility 2020 and in India we are celebrating this day with you through your interview session. What you think from your side why this day is most precious in the world of persons?
Nithu: Many thanks to Miss Woomaniya, Magazine for having me featured in your special edition for International Day of Trans Visibility. I believe visibility plays a crucial role in changing society’s attitudes towards a certain image of person wrapped in historical and imperial oppression. The story of a trans woman is no different than biological women, even though our biological history may not support the fact. But, if you ask me, it has been no different for me as a trans woman. That is because the social life of gender / gender expression enjoys privilege as long as it has elements of conformity or masculinity. 19thcentury marks the liberation of women’s right through the legal discourse of “equal rights movement”. It took decades of struggle for women to claim visibility in politics, social equality and most importantly, economy. But can I say that transwomen benefit out the feminist movement? To a certain extent, perhaps yes. May be in a certain panel discussion over women’s right, an inclusive feminist might mention our bodies and its struggle in passing, but to say our struggles have been recognized by law, and state and society at large would merely be an euphemism. Ironically, for us our visibility is our biggest enemy when we begin to accept our gender identities. It is when Sita crossed the boundaries marked by Lakshmana, that her safety and dignity became disposable. Same applies to us, only ten times worse, because we have no Rama to come and rescue us. Our struggle for our rights is fought by none other than us, no matter how supportive your parents might be. It is because our visibility questions the existing law that provides / ensures protection, rights and respect solely based on biological sex or the binary model of sex and gender. So say, If I am a modern day Sita, crossing my gender and sex boundaries puts me in a vulnerable situation. Every person who is not trans tends to abduct our bodies according their understanding of what gender is, so what does it leave me with? Explanations for lifetime? Answering queries? Updating about my genitals to every person who seems to be in doubt who I am? There’s no rescue for trans Sitas under the current framework of gender justice. We fight our battles by ourselves, by never giving into a world who’d wish we would rather not exist, by reinforcing faith that we and our bodies are harmless because it doesn’t demand people to change their gender and sex to accept ours. This is the reason I believe our visibility should be celebrated. In my experience of working in fashion industry, movie industry and now representing India internationally, one thing that sets you apart is the belief that integration of life begins, when you believe in it.
Naveen: You won India’s Miss Transqueen India 2019 and set up the record and example that the crown never shows the discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender. What’s your point of view did you face any kind of difficulties or the racism in this competition?
Nithu: You said it right; the crown certainly doesn’t discriminate on the basis on gender and sexuality. In fact, the same logic applies to my gender identity. I didn’t choose it, it was meant for me, just like the crown was meant for my head. Potter heads would agree with me on this! My journey at Trans Queen India was one with a lot of discovery. I was so happy, rather, amused to see so many young contestants coming forward from different parts of the country to represent their state and themselves. I wish I had as much privilege and visibility while I was growing up in my small town of Gadag, Karnataka. I think platforms like the Trans Queen India gives transwomen a decent platform to showcase their talents, abilities and personalities, something which mainstream pageants haven’t bothered to invest in. The crazy amount of participants shows that the trans community dreams, too. Just don’t have the wings to fly. I thank Ms. Reena Rai, our mentor and the organizer of TransQueen India for investing her time and efforts to create a platform for us. She has true qualities of an ally and more and more people should consider investing in our lives, too. And yes Akkash K Aggarwaal, who helped me in every aspect to won this TransQueen title.Pink money is always profitable and no, I didn’t find racism or sexism in our spaces since trans bodies are anyway very revolutionary. I think we can’t afford racism to occupy our bodies and beauty standards, that would be counter-productive to our message through our gender identities
Naveen: What was the experience of competing in such a fiercely-contested competition that saw participants from different Indian states?
Nithu: My experience in Trans Queen India was certainly amazing since I got crowned. I agree that pageant spaces are filled with intense competitiveness, fierce representations, etc, however, I was determined about one thing – that is to challenge myself to add another milestone in my achievement’s basket. India, as you know, is known for its diversity and Trans Queen India was able to captivate all of its essence through all their participators. As I mentioned earlier, I was amused to see many young trans women coming forward to live their dreams. They were so polished, well spoken and immensely talented. The sight of such diversity took me by surprise and I wish to see more and more participation in the coming year.
Naveen: Did you face any stereotype of cat fights and rivalry in beauty pageants is limited to films and TV shows alone?
Nithu: Well, everything in the media spaces is a little ambiguous these days, so it’s not right for me to say that Trans Queen India was a replica of stereotypes. However, wherever there’s competition, there’s animosity in the air. To tell you truthfully, I had one such a moment and that moment was when I was being crowned. The 1st runner up from Chennai made a huge ruckus about me winning. She made claims that I wasn’t deserving of the crown, but she was. Imagine, your moment of victory not going down well with others around you. It does leave you a little heartbroken, but I am of a belief that people who show these insecure tendencies operate from a space of self-doubt, and low self worth. And healings to them, because I know how it must feel to see your dream lived by someone else. But that certainly shouldn’t make you bitter. These feelings should help you become better J I won and own the crown because I have been through all these feelings and gracefully overcame them. “Whenever in doubt, look within instead of pointing fingers at others” – this has been my crowning mantra in Trans Queen India 2019.
Naveen: Do you think there is any difference between the Miss Transqueen India pageant and Miss India pageant?
Nithu: There is certainly a huge difference between national pageant and international pageant, strictly talking the lines of sponsorship, investment and necessary grooming. While Trans Queen India is a new venture in India, International Trans Queen is now a decade old and continues to grow bigger and bigger by the day. Trans Queen India is undoubtedly a very essential platform for the trans community in India. It gives us a platform, help us with exposure, and visibility, however, with no investment or sponsorship in crowning queens, the journey is burdened with discouragement. Indian brands haven’t recognized the power of Trans Queen India as yet, maybe that’s why the lack of help is justified. Talking about International Trans Queen, they have sponsorship from biggies which makes the pageant class apart from our national Trans Queen India. Mostly all pageant girls are supplied with basic help like costume designer, make-up artists, creative persons for the national video, logistics and accomodation. However, in my case, I had taken charge of all the expenses, right from costumes to grooming myself, preparing for speech and logistic. Not to mention the registration fees that nearly a lac. Had somebody helped me build a good team, my chances of at least making to the top 10 would be ten times more. With no option and time left with me, I had to resort to taking the help of a person called Hare Krishna Siddhant who basically helped me in the construction of the national costume. All the pageant queens from different countries had a good team. I was with the army of one, who literally backed out on me when I needed him backstage for trials, and putting the gown on. Please note you just have maximum 3 minutes to change before it’s your turn to walk the ramp. This person said “I am not your assistance”. I was shook. I paid for his entire travel and accommodation and this was his returns. Nevertheless, I kept my calm at the moment, took help from a kind lady in the backstage and went on to slay the ramp! You can tell me how I did justice to my evening gown or not . So these are some of the many challenges that decide your fate at pageants.
Naveen: What would you like to say to all those who believe that beauty pageants are regressive and focus on the physical beauty of a contestant rather than their intellect?
Nithu: See beauty pageants cannot do away without the element of beauty, now its up to you to choose whether you want to translate beauty through your physical appearance or through your intellect. In my opinion, one is not possible without another. It’s a combination of both that decides the fate. Beauty is subjective, and perhaps traditionally pageants might be normative but I don’t see beauty overpowering the norm of justice, at least, at International Trans Queen. If you closely watch the whole show, you will see the diversity of beauties that you will never see in mainstream cis pageants. We had the inspiring Miss America, who was differently abled, We had Miss France who was black, We had me, who hasn’t pursued any cosmetic surgery, but at the same time there were those who also did everything according to the norm and still didn’t win. Miss Mexico is truly an inspiration and a dear friend to me. Her hardships and struggles as a lationo trans woman is not be to ignore considering the hate crime cases of latino / non white women in that part of the world. I am proud of myself and everyone who came there to represent their respective countries.
Naveen: What was your childhood passion, did you always want to enter a beauty pageant?
Nithu: Not really! My childhood passions have led me to establish my businesses around them, like tattoo art, painting, cooking, dancing and acting. My participation in the pageant was of spontaneity and I am happy to witness where it led me.
Naveen: If we talk about family or friends, who has supported you in your tough times? Did you face any type of regression that you are a model rather than a straight one?
Nithu: Mothers in India have a long legacy to fight for womanhood, and to fight for womanhood in non traditional woman’s body was a big leap of faith for my mother. That’s why I dedicate all my life, success and prosperity to her. It was her perseverance, patience, courage and strength that gave wings to my dreams and my identity. She is a super mom because she birthed me twice.
I don’t have any regrets being labeled as a trans model because that holds so much truth about myself. Plus, if I had to be labeled as a straight model, I think my project to make beauty and fashion industry inclusive would be a fail. I want to represent trans femininity so that the world who denied me and the many others like me to be beautiful, can unlearn that conditioning and become accepting of diversity. I am a proud trans model and a role model.
Naveen: You went to head to Thailand for the Miss International Queen 2020 contest, unfortunately you lose that crown. How did you feel at that time? Was it like to lose hope for the future or are you preparing yourself for next year?
Nithu: No, I didn’t feel taken aback one bit. You have to witness for yourself how it feels to represent your country internationally. That feeling itself is sufficient to giving your losing spirit a little boost! After the incident backstage, I was certain that I wasn’t prepared to win. That certainly made me feel a little disappointed, especially, when you’re the only one who bears the cost of losing after investing everything by yourself. I took my lessons out of these episodes for sure and has certainly given me better clarity on how things really work. However, if I had to answer whether or not I will participate next year, I am in two minds. If there are good sponsors, adequate help for logistics, and a small team, I might as well consider.
Naveen: If you get the chance to meet our Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi, what will you suggest him to change in our laws?
Nithu: I would request him to first of all, do a nationwide broadcast addressing the Trans bill and our community who is long waiting for a leader to proactively campaign for our civil rights in independent India. Our honorablePM has the capacity to de-stigmatize us with just one press conference. The current law under Trans Bill 2019 has a few loopholes. 1) Self identification is removed, that means we will be issued ID cards according to our assigned sex and post operative sex which violates fundamental rights of choice. 2) The law undermines our pain in sexual violence since the sentence for any sexual, physical abuse ontrans people is up to 2 years, unlike upto 10 years and life imprisonment reserved under women’s right. 3) Reservation is a pre-requisite for traditional trans communities due to their lack of education, work and shelter. These are top 3 points on my list.
Naveen: Would you like to give a motivational message to the Transgenders of India on this historical occasion?
Nithu: “We have a long way to go, don’t be tired already”. My humble regards to all my trans sisters and brothers. Don’t shy away, the law recognizes you and your rights. The door to our liberation and freedom is just one step ahead, don’t lock yourself in. Be there, be respectful, be grateful and be humble. We all born in different bodies to tell the same story of love, respect and triumph.