Drag artist LaWhore Vagistan talks about gender inequality

Updated: Feb 07, 2019, 13:53 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Meet Kareem Khubchandani aka LaWhore Vagistan, a drag artiste who's bridging the gap between geographical boundaries and gender inequality

LaWhore Vagistan
LaWhore Vagistan

The genesis of Kareem Khubchandani assuming the character of drag artiste LaWhore Vagistan lies in his childhood years in Ghana. There, the youngster would sometimes sit pretending to surf the Net, while actually listening in to conversations his mother would have with her friends.

These could entail frivolous gossip. But, they sometimes also addressed grave concerns like domestic violence and how to help the victim, apart from important everyday issues like budgetary allocations for the family. And in the process Khubchandani came to appreciate the vital role that the feminine energy plays in shaping the society we live in.

"I also grew up watching my aunties having fun dressing up as different characters while rehearsing for things like Diwali shows. This creative life that they led as migrants was inspirational for me, and as I became older, they became the people I looked up to," the 36-year-old says ahead of a LaWhore Vagistan show in Mumbai later this week.

So that explains the drag artiste's aunty-like persona. But what about "Vagistan"? Where does the basis for this surname lie? Well, it's pretty straightforward really. The thing is, the Indian subcontinent is often depicted in the shape of a sari. Add Pakistan and Afghanistan to the mix, and it suddenly resembles a vagina more than any piece of clothing. Khubchandani says, "As a Sindhi [whose family was displaced from Lahore], I am invested in the vision of the subcontinent as one that's not split by colonialism. And Vagistan thus becomes a place where we can reproduce a future that has no bifurcations based on caste or nationality."

Such questions of enforced nationality, and gender bias too, are some of the issues that Khubchandani addresses in his day job as a professor of drama at Tufts University in Massachusetts. But when we ask him to compare the situation for the LGBTQ community in India and the US, we are met with initial reticence. Khubchandani then says, "There is a legacy to the community in India in the form of hijras, who have been doing the work of nurturing families for decades now.

America doesn't have anything like that. So, when we look up to the West [for a liberal attitude towards LGBTQ people], we often forget what we have already had before them. Also, I was in Mumbai for the recent Pride March. In the US, these events usually take place in the form of parades, where some people are just spectators. But the fact that the one here was a march meant that all the participants were actually walking, which was amazing."

And as for his routine at his show this week, Khubchandani says that he will borrow from his diverse influences for his performance as LaWhore Vagistan. "I will be doing a range of styles from Bollywood to hip-hop to ballads to Disney material," he reveals, adding that he will also sing an Usha Uthup number, which fits to the T with his drag persona because, well, what other musician epitomises the image of an Indian aunty?

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