What it's like to be me

Updated: Dec 13, 2019, 19:40 IST | sunday mid-day | Mumbai

Italian collaborators, photographer Domenico Pugliese and designer Diana Linda, bring Mumbai's transgenders and crossdressers to a SoBo exhibition

Parineeta, 26, Kolkata///Fashion and costume designer, illustrator
Parineeta, 26, Kolkata///Fashion and costume designer, illustrator

In December 2018, when freelance photographer Domenico Pugliese met designer Diana Linda in Mumbai, they decided to collaborate on a project. On what, they weren't clear. This was when Pugliese—known in Latin America for documenting the emerald mines in Colombia and the Zapatista rebels of Mexico—encountered the transgender community in the city. "After the scrapping of Section 377, I thought things would have changed in India. But when I saw so many transgenders begging on the street and living an unhappy life, I was surprised," the photojournalist says over the phone from Myanmar where he is on assignment.

Linda was excited to interview and write about the transgenders and crossdressers of Mumbai, even as the two convinced them to pose for him. Initially, the two decided to present the content to an international magazine, but later got in touch with the Italian Consulate in Mumbai. Linda, an expatriate living here since 2002, shared the project with Italian consul general Stefania Constanza.

Saiba, 23, Jharkhand///Bar dancer
Saiba, 23, Jharkhand///Bar dancer

That's how Transgenders' Voices was able to mount at Colaba's Sakshi art gallery. The exhibition, on view, till December 12 features the interviews of 20 trans people and crossdressers. Some of these were conducted at their home, and the rest at Linda's Vile Parle residence. The exhibition marks the beginning of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, an annual international campaign coordinated by UN-Women. It launched on November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and runs until December 10, Human Rights Day.

"Belonging to the transgender community in India means facing daily contempt, but worse, it is almost always a life of sexual abuse, harassment, thrashing and death threats. Hidden behind these faces are intense and dramatic stories," Linda says.

Dicky, 34, Assam///Crossdresser
Dicky, 34, Assam///Crossdresser

She worked with Medecins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) for eight years before deciding to follow her passion for designing. She now crafts a range of fashion accessories from bags, pouches, jewellery, belts, decorated stockings, shoes, ornamental jackets to home décor items. A few years ago, during an HIV awareness campaign fronted by Doctors Without Borders, Linda first encountered Mumbai's LGBTQi. With the help of friend Savio Mascarenhas of Color Positive, a theatre production house, she met members of the community who were willing to be featured in the photo series. Linda says, "We started work in February with the aim of giving a voice to the stigmatised transgender women and men, non-binary individuals and crossdressers. The interviews explain their journeys as they negotiate their families, school, college and the workplace. It is unfortunate that they continue to be discriminated against, stereotyped and excluded.

Of the lot, they say Saiba's case is special. "She was born in Jharkhand. As far as she can remember, she never felt like a boy. Her feminine gait provoked the reprobation of the neighbours and her family locked her up for days, beat her up with metal bars and stopped her from going to school," Linda says. At 12, she ran away and spent a day outside Haji Ali dargah in Worli. "Two hijras took her in and fed her. She began to beg, and slipped into the world of prostitution. Unhappy, she escaped this to become a dancer at a bar. She is so beautiful; nobody can tell she was born a boy." Today, Saiba at 23, has managed to own a home in Andheri, and continues to work at the bar.

Diana Linda
Diana Linda

Domenico Pugliese
Domenico Pugliese

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