A story of sheer grit and determination, Indian trans beauty Naaz Joshi’s journey to being crowned winner at several beauty pageants was not without a fair share of struggle.
Today, Joshi is a pioneering transgender international beauty queen, a trans rights activist, and a supermodel from the trans community. But the 37-year-old says her life had “no family support, no friends, no relatives”, and has achieved solely due to her individual effort. Born Aizya Joshi in Delhi’s Malviya Nagar, Joshi shares her life story and views on issues that affect the LGBTQIA+ community.
“All the pageants that I have participated in, I have had to arrange my own money for my fee, for my costumes and flight tickets. All the international contests I have participated in have been with women. I have faced discrimination to the point that gyms didn’t allow me membership because my presence would make other clients uncomfortable. So to work on my body, I saw YouTube videos of Shilpa Shetty and learned the art of yoga. I have been through physical and verbal abuse by my family and society. I escaped an acid attack attempted by strangers a few years ago. While traveling by metro, I have seen many people turn to me with hate,” Joshi tells IANSlife in an interview.
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In a poignant chat, Joshi says that life has been hell and one “worse than an animal” for her, adding that she isn’t allowed to meet her relatives to date. Joshi recently won the international title of Empress Earth 2021-22 in a virtual contest during Covid-19.
Trans teasing and discrimination
Sharing her views on the strictly enforced gender binary in India, and how any other identity stands to be erased, ridiculed, and discriminated against, Joshi says:
“India lacks gender sensitivity. Trans Bill 2019 spoke about how sexual harassment to transwomen is subject to punishment of just two years, while for natural-born women it’s seven years. In a country where the state of women is still regressive, parties ask for votes on agendas like No Rapes. Do you think in this country we shall get the freedom of expression?”
Adding, even people in urban areas and the Indian capital, call people of the trans community derogatory terms, even after getting sex reassignment surgery done.
“Trans teasing is very common. It’s painful to be born transgender in our country. The government is not bothered with a marginalized community as they don’t consider us as their vote bank.”
Unrealistic beauty standards for women, including transwomen
Joshi recalls seeing fairness cream adverts, which claim fairness can unlock Miss India titles and high-ranking jobs.
“The beauty standards have increased now, I see everyone using filters and using beauty apps on Instagram. Photoshop has become an essential need. Beauty is from within. Internationally, Indian skin is loved, look at Priyanka Chopra, people called her ‘kali (dark) in her childhood, and today she is ruling the world. I have been offered many web series where I auditioned but roles were given to extremely female-looking trans women. Do you think it’s fair? I don’t look like a woman, I don’t wear much make-up, people age shame me, body shames me, color shame me, they comment, look at her, is she a beauty queen? But internationally beauty standards are changing. The standards of Indian beauty for women and transwomen must change. We are full of compassion and passion for humankind. Kindly see our heart, not the face,” she adds.
As a beauty queen, how far does she think beauty contests go in setting the scales right? Are they a step in the right direction?
“In India, there is only one beauty pageant for trans women and in the world, there are just four. I have been so lucky to get entry in the pageants where the entry of trans women isn’t possible. I will thank Miss World Diversity to show their faith in me and I went on to a responsible queen where I just didn’t sit with the crown at home, I did grass-roots work not just for trans women but for women and underprivileged children too.”
Joshi believes, “Indian beauty pageants are still looking for a movie actress in their winners while internationally it’s more about community service, it’s about your internal beauty. They see your love for humanity. International beauty pageants for women are doing a great job, but it all depends on their winners. Today I go and speak on gender sensitization to many schools and colleges and it’s all thanks to my crowns. I compete in various pageants every year, dreaming that maybe one day I will be recognized as a celebrity and then I shall have a voice to demand respect for everyone.”
International brands like Revlon and L’Oreal have not shied away from naming LGBTQ+ figures as their ambassadors, but Indian beauty brands have not attempted it thus far. Joshi’s take?
“Perhaps they don’t see Indian transwomen as worth it. Most of us live under the poverty line and don’t have money to buy Mac or Sephora products. The population recorded of transgender women in India is just 4.5 lakhs but in reality, it’s much more than that. So for such a small buyer list, they don’t want Indian transwomen to be the face of their brands. I am India’s first and only international trans beauty queen who holds the main title and that too, not one but seven. But my own trans community is unaware of it,” she says.
Finally, Joshi’s message this Pride Month?
“My message would stay strong. If no one supports you then you be a big support for yourself. It’s your struggle and doesn’t think there will be the magic that shall happen, you want a change? Speak out loud. Be fierce. Be strong and don’t let anyone change your opinion. You are beautiful and stay beautiful. Don’t let your happiness depend on anyone. Let your happiness be yours. Love what you do. Do what you love. I want people to treat us like humans and not animals. We too have a heart and it hurts. We are also born out of a straight mom and a father. Please don’t hate us for our gender or orientation. Respect us. Happy Pride Month to all.” (IANS/KB)
(trans beauty pageant, who is Naaz Joshi, India’s first transgender international beauty queen, trans rights activist)