LGBTQ Community

5 minute read


A few years ago, I met a transwoman at a traffic signal, begging for money. When I asked her to find a dignified job instead, she narrated her social stigmas, forced prostitution, shame and isolation suffered every single day. Transgenderism in India has a recorded history of more than 4000 years, evident from ancient Indian scriptures such as the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Transgender is an umbrella that describes people whose gender identity or gender expression differs from expectations associated with the sex assigned to them at birth. Transgender people in India are many; ‘Hijras’, ‘Aravanis’, ‘Tirunangais’ and Kothis’. 

I met Sunil Menon, Founder and Trustee of Sahodaran, the first Community Based Organization in Chennai run by and for the Transgender community. Sahodaran works with transgenders from low-income backgrounds that are at high risk for HIV/AIDS, combining prevention and care services with social support, counselling, and crisis intervention. I visited the Centre continuously for few days interacting with Jaya, the General Manager and other transgenders (kothis in Tamil). The place was a riot of colour and laughter, as kothis from across the city would drop in for lunch, to seek advice regarding personal crisis, practice for an upcoming dance performance, or simply rest and watch a movie. The Center owed its vibrancy to the fact that it was completely managed and peopled by the transgender community. This also made it a safe space for the members to find relief from the stigma they encountered in the outside world. 

Jaya introduced us to five beautiful Transwomen, who had emerged out of their closets just like my silk moths who became beautiful butterflies! That year aeshaane was turning 7, which also aligned with the 7 beautiful colours in a Rainbow associated with the LGBTQ. We also shot 7 pictures titled ‘ThiruNangai’ which depicted the masculine and feminine side of the community. The life of a transwoman is akin to the transformation of the silkworm into a beautiful butterfly. What is in front of you is this idea, a reformed parallax of the transgender community, shown through metamorphosis of the silkworm. Precisely how the silkworm goes through a spell of darkness in its cocoon, bearing all the pain while trapped inside, finding a way to get out and be free, transgenders also endear the same spell throughout their life. Each picture represents this transformational cycle and is a strong narrative of their struggle!

Seen here is Transwoman Dr. Selvi fighting her battles both within and with the outside world. Now a trained and certified Physiotherapist, she went through a lot of harassment initially. The crisis ranged from housing and landlord trouble, to discrimination within the family, educational institutions and police pressure. This was compounded by the fact that, since homosexuality continues to be criminalized in India, transgenders cannot directly approach the cops. Finally, she found solace at Sahodaran, since they were continually engaged in crisis management, drawing on their network of community-friendly lawyers, doctors, police, and counselors to come to the best possible resolutions. 
Anjali and Ponni, are trained classical dancers in a South Indian dance form called Bharatanatyam. The duo teach dance to the underprivileged children in their neighborhood. Ponni confesses that in India, getting a house is difficult for a transgender, so running a dance school was out of question! Initially, she had to convince parents to send their kids, since this was her childhood dream. But slowly things got easier. Her mother was very upset when she came out as a transwoman, but today after seeing her teach dance to the less fortunate, she is extremely proud of her!

For their performances, Anjali and Ponni take up either a mythological story or social issue. They have touched upon subjects such as dowry harassment, female feticide, poverty, women empowerment and eradicating illiteracy. Together, they underwent many obstacles from belonging to poor families, small towns, lower social strata, low castes and most of all being transwomen. But slowly, they rose above the seemingly impossible and are now living their life with dignity. They are so happy that people are now accepting the ‘Third Gender’, and hope that in a few years it becomes easier for survival and sustenance. Click here to watch their journey.

Sudha, a double doctorate in Tamil, savors her euphoric moment after coming into her own, symbolizing a beautiful butterfly! Combining two of her passions — Tamil language and the cause of the community’s welfare; Sudha gets a little pensive when she talks about her journey. “In 1985, I came out in the open about my identity, when such things were unheard of. There was no scope of acceptance from your own family, leave alone society. Many like me had to leave our homes and live on the streets. I struggled to pursue education and I dropped out of school after failing in class 10,” she says. Recently, she received the ‘Kalaimamani Award’ from the Tamil Nadu government, and made her community proud!

Aeshaane also collaborated with Royalty, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla, Gujarat and Ambassador, Duke Deandre of Hanumanteshwar, to celebrate The World International Transgender’s Day on March 31st 2018 in association with the Duchess Club, Chennai. “In 2006, I became the first member of the Royal family to openly come out, and I am proud of it,” he says. People hated him for that, “Because it was like secrets were tumbling out. But I had to. I could not live a hypocrite’s life, he says. I will do what I can do without harming anyone.” The Prince has been on ‘The Oprah Winfrey’ show and ‘Keeping up with the Kardashians’. Through these shows, he wants to spread the message and clear misconceptions. He has been working with the LGBTQ community for the last 20 years. Read the full article

In 2000, he started the ‘LAKSHYA FOUNDATION to help and support the LGBTQ community in India. 

CLICK HERE TO MAKE A DONATION directly to the trust. All donations are tax exempted under 80G.


Kerala, one of India’s 28 States, located in South India, is often referred to as God’s own country’, given its natural beauty. Kerala has the best rates of literacy, health care, life expectancy and female literacy in India. The majority of the transgender people in Kerala live outside their homes due to gender identity issues. The Transgender Survey Kerala, 2014 showed that 90% of transgenders in Kerala drop out of school due to taunting from fellow students, teachers, neighbours and family. In 2015, the Supreme Court of India ruled that transgenders had equal rights under the law and granted legal status to the ‘Third gender’, giving them the right to marry and inherit property. Kerala was one of the first states to act on it, released a State Policy for Transgenders and received much appreciation. While all this was explicitly done for the de-stigmatization and empowerment of the transgender community, the first step toward integration happened in 2017, when the Kochi Metro Rail became the country’s first government agency to hire transgenders to work in various positions with them.

Sandra Larwin, who worked with the Metro in Kochi, in the facility management department, points out that discrimination comes from lack of awareness about trans people. Being mocked and harassed for getting a job on the basis of one’s sexual orientation and her different demeanour, eventually forced her to quit. Luckily, Sandra’s versatility and talent saved the day, she was soon hired as a professional model. She walked the ramp with Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, Royalty of Rajpipla, at our Chennai show and at the Kochi Biennale thereafter. Sandra also acted in several short films, Jay Jithin’s, ‘I Wonder Why’ which deals with the reactions of people when they see a transgender exiting a woman’s washroom. This not only notched up some impressive hits on YouTube but also went on to win the ‘Rituparna Ghosh Award’ for best Trans film at the ‘Chemeen International Short Film Festival’. Click here to watch the video.


In May 2010, Mumbai based contemporary artists, Bose Krishnamachari and Riyaz Komu, were approached by then Culture Minister of Kerala, M.A Baby to start an International Art project in the state. Thus, the Kochi Biennale Foundation was setup in the year 2010. The First Kochi-Muziris Biennale began on 12 December 2012. The Biennale hosted 88 artists from 30 different countries, site-specific works and a sustained education programme for three months. Since then, it’s been the most sought after international exhibition of contemporary art.

A charming seaside town, Fort Kochi is known for its Dutch, Portuguese, and British colonial architecture, with elaborate bamboo fishing nets. Upscale eateries and chic cafes serving authentic Keralan delicacies, and quaint shops selling handmade souvenirs line the meandering by-lanes. Also known as queen of the Arabian Sea, it beams with its rich European heritage and true cosmopolitan temperament. The name is derived from ‘Kochaazhi’, which denotes ‘small lagoon’ in Malayalam. With this, the stage was set to host the Kochi Biennale and to fall in love with this little Jewish town all over again!

Aeshaane collaborated with the Hashtag# Collective and OED Gallery to present ‘GenderFluid’, a thoughtfully-constructed installation, that allows people to experience gender fluidity as a positive movement towards a more inclusive world. It arose out of interviews with trans-men and women, and a desire to communicate the specificities of their sense of identity, belonging and gender. The installation, in the form of translucent panels, allowed visitors to walk through and experience the interchange-abilities of gender forms.

Art and Fashion may seem to speak from opposite ends of the creative spectrum but they share one important quality - both are of the moment, both talk about the edge of thinking of where we are at this point. Fluid forms, a performative fashion show was brought to life, by beautiful transmen and women swathed in threads of Ahimsa walking through the translucent panels, allowing powerful interplays of rainbow-colours, figures and shadows. It's a response to the changing paradigms of gender in our society. People are still resistant to the idea of gender being not just biological, but also performative, changeable and transmutable. 

Theyyam is a grand dance festival performed in Kerala to honour heroes and ancestral spirits. Face painting is one of the most important parts of Theyyam, creating different patterns by hand in bright colours like orange, soot black, reds and yellows, using natural materials such as charcoal and stone powder mixed with coconut oil. The first segment of the performative fashion show Fluid Forms was titled Caterpillar! The silkworms are not killed, in the production of Ahimsa silk. Defying the conventional wisdom that the broken threads are not of value – fabrics of immense value and beauty are woven from them. From the eggs on a leaf hatch the caterpillars. The caterpillars are kinetic,  they are on the move, consuming – knowledge, information, facts, fiction. They shed skin, they discard old ideas, they moult, they reabsorb truths.

We celebrated real life heroes – (from left) Classical Bharatnatyam dancer, Transwoman Ponni, Dr. Selvi, a Physiotherapist, Mobina, a social activist, Ms. India pageant winner, Namita (at the back). Segment two of this show was ‘Chrysalis’, a time of reflection and blending in. They do not to run away to hide, but to be in a safe space, to think, to assess, to just be, without getting hurt. In the life of the potential trans-man or trans-woman, this is the moment to get in touch with the inner core of who they really are. A quiet time. The world around may not be inclusive but the Chrysalis protects and keeps them safe. A time of resting, but also a time of starting to readjust, of thinking through those magical words – metamorphosis, transformation, change.

Segment Three of the show was the ‘Butterfly’. The chrysalis opens and the imago emerges, it is soft, the wings are damp, folded against his/her body, still tired, blinking at the sudden light, looking at the world. Blood pumps into the wings that slowly unfold. They stretch and try to fly, but flying takes practice. They learn quickly and there before your eyes is that final metamorphosis into creatures of flamboyant truth and beauty. It is a celebration of all that is exuberant in life.