Women's Day: Transgender belly dancer opens up about her life and community

Mar 08, 2018, 11:49 IST | Shunashir Sen

This Women's day a transgender belly dancer opens up about her life and community, ahead of her show

Alex Jool
Alex Jool

Women's day logoSocietal vilification aside, the transgender community in India struggles with a plethora of problems. But a lack of unity and an exploitative guru-chela system within the community are two of the biggest issues they face. That's what we learn after speaking to Alex Jool, a belly dancer who will perform a routine at a five-star this evening this Woman's day.

Alex Jool during a reality dance show on TV
Alex Jool during a reality dance show on TV

Jool is a transgender, who realised as a child that a hormonal imbalance meant that she would be trapped in a man's body despite identifying as a woman. "I can't begin to describe the sort of obstacles that I faced at home and outside because of this. Thankfully, my mother understood my dile­mma, and she would dress me up as a girl," she says, adding, "But everyone had to eventually accept me because I am a headstrong person, and there was no way that I would bow down to pressure and change myself."

Jool helps conduct a dance class for children
Jool helps conduct a dance class for children

Moving against the tide
What also helped her case is the fact that she turned a childhood love for dancing into a full-time profession, attaining some fame in the process through a number of reality dance shows on television. "I didn't know what belly dancing was as a kid, and found out only after people told me that that was the natural style I danced in. So, I took it up as a career and started performing in Bollywood movies. But there is one experience I would like to share. There is a famous director who once told me that had I been a woman, she would have cast me as the lead heroine in her film. That really hurt, because I am a woman, and she refused to acknowledge it," Jool says.

Handling this sort of a myopic response, however, is all in a day's work, she adds. The real problem, Jool stresses, is the lack of unity among the members of the community. "There is such a lot of jealousy based on looks and success. It sickens me. And if society views transgender people as a bunch of sex workers, I would say that the community itself is partly to blame, because many of us are only too willing to enter the trade.

"Had we learnt to stand up for ourselves together, on the other hand, the sort of societal change we could have brought about is mind-boggling. Look at the West. Transgender people face little or no discrimination there. So why can't the same happen in India?" she wonders.

Groove challenge
One big reason, apart from a lack of unity, remains the guru-chela system that's endemic to the community, she tells us in answer to her own question. "A powerful person within our ranks takes young girls under her wings, sometimes exploiting them to do her bidding. This includes thrusting them into the flesh trade for the sake of m­oney.

"Also, if you look at groups that perform at weddings or in households where a baby is born, it's the leader who takes 95 per cent of the earnings, leaving the rest to be divided among those who have worked harder than her. So, it's a case of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer," Jool explains.

"But no one is willing to speak out against this injustice. And that's because the gurus have a network of thugs who have ways of silencing those who fall out of line," the Mumbai-based dancer adds. So what plan of action does she have to secure her own future, in that case? "I will keep performing at shows, which I get on a regular basis, and save for my old age. But I don't want to concentrate on boys right now, though some day I do want to settle down and have a family. After all, I am a woman."

Time: Tonight, 10.30 pm
At: Kitty Su, The Lalit Mumbai, Andheri East.
Call: 7710010307
Cost: Rs 500 (free till 10.30)

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