27-year-old trans woman Zoya Thomas Lobo is a photojournalist.
Today, she has more than 12.4K followers on Instagram, and her film, Hijra Shap ki Vardaan Part 1, has over 4 million views on YouTube.
Her early life, however, was fraught with several battles. When she began her journey, she would often have to beg in the ladies’ compartment of Mumbai’s locals.
Growing up in Mahim’s Kapad Bazar with a single mother was tough, she recalls, and the family had to fend for daily meals.
“At 11, I knew I was different from other boys. But I couldn’t talk to anyone for fear of being scolded. We used to shift from one area to another area of Mahim, and that’s when I met a few friends who I was comfortable enough with to come out as gay.”
When she turned 17, she met Salma, a trans woman who invited Zoya in her group. “I felt immediately accepted,” she says, adding that she was christened ‘Zoya’ by her Guru.
Though her mother took time to embrace her daughter’s identity, eventually, she came around. “She was worried that I might fall prey to sex work, but I assured her that I would beg for money and wouldn’t sell myself.”
“I used to beg for my bread and butter. Trans people do not get a chance to have an occupation. So that was my only source of earning.”
Most days would earn her around Rs 500. During the festive season, the amount would go up to Rs 1,500 or so.
Zoya received her big break as a photojournalist in 2020, when she captured hundreds of migrant labourers protesting outside Bandra station.
Many big publications started to pick her pictures, and that was her turning point.
While she had a press card, she needed money to buy a camera. Hence, she continued begging till she was able to save Rs 30,000.
Today, she is an acclaimed photojournalist, and wants to use her journey to make the world better for trans people.
“My only hope is that future trans persons will not be abandoned by their families, but loved. This will help in keeping more trans people off the streets.”