Had Diya, Rosa, Sakthi and Vyga not identified as transwomen, they would never have been ostracised for their transition, abused for their identity and forced into an occupation that never would have been. Life had changed for the four women once they came out as transsexual. They lived through the trauma of hearing taunts from people they loved most, when the neighbors they had grown up with refused to associate with them, and when all the career plans came crashing down when they were forced into prostitution.
This is the every day reality of thousands of transwomen.
For Diya, Rosa, Sakthi and Vyga, this life would have been an unending horror had they not secured a comfortable job in a bridalwear studio in Bengaluru.
This high-end brand finds its foundations in the emancipation of transsexuals and the founder, 34-year-old Samyuktha Vijayan identifies herself as a transwoman.
“I come from an extremely conservative family from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. But even so, I am extremely fortunate that my parents are open-minded. For a child growing up in a rural Coimbatore home, deviating from the gender norms can be extremely risky. But that wasn’t the case in my home. I have two brothers-an elder and a younger and from a very young age, the difference between them and I was evident. I always knew I was a girl and I found expression through art and music. My parents never talked me out of it. If anything, they encouraged me strongly,” Samyuktha tells The Better India.
With the same zeal that Samyuktha’s family had encouraged her to perform dance routines on stage, they encouraged her to study. And since they had always been supportive of her choices, the engineer had only to focus on her studies and not worry about the social obstructions she’d have to face. She credits her parents for their open-mindedness that helped her excel in studies throughout her school and college years.
Immediately after acquiring her degree, Samyuktha landed a job and thus began her career on a very positive note. In the following years, she was to work in Europe and in the USA where she witnessed a very different environment that the marginalised communities experienced than what she had seen in India.
“Especially in the USA, where I worked for two and a half years, I saw that everyone in my office was not only tolerant, but also welcoming to gender fluidity, to identity and personal choices.
It was this atmosphere that pushed me to undergo the transition. On Friday, I had entered the office as a man and by Monday, I had undergone my transition and entered as a woman. Everything was normal and the day went by as it always had,” she explains.
But it was this very privilege, of getting accepted by her family and her social circles that prompted Samyuktha to help out those transsexual people who were not as fortunate as she. Always interested in fashion and dress designing, she decided to leave her well-paying job, return to India and open a boutique where she could employ transwomen belonging to disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Initially, I tried getting them jobs in the MNC that I worked with but their skill-set did not match the requirements set by the company,” the entrepreneur explains. “So I dove into my passion and opened Toute studio in Bengaluru in November 2018. I connected with a few NGOs here who, in turn, gave me details of Diya, Rosa, Sakthi and Vyga. Although they did not have the skill set required for fashion designing, I mentored two of them in design, one in customer managing and one in photography. Safe accommodations were also provided for them so they could live in the city without an ounce of worry.”
Today, the studio has 21 cis-karagirs and four transwomen working in various departments.
The store that was opened about seven months ago has already served a range of happy customers who can expect Toute to be a one-stop shop for wedding attire needs. A unique aspect of the studio is that it rents the pieces of jewellery, clothes. Pocket-friendly and eco-conscious, the brand is truly working in the right direction. But what matters more to Samyuktha is that four individuals now have a safe job and home where they longer have to worry about society’s jibes.
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“They have gone back to their families after securing the job and their parents have been more accepting now than before. They could see that their children are working respectable, well-paying jobs in a city as big as Bengaluru. Such things matter to families who are not privileged with the social awareness that we had the fortune of having. With parental acceptance now, the four girls are happier, and at peace. What can matter more than that?” Samyuktha concludes.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)