These badass transgender sari models are turning heads and challenging old attitudes in India


An Indian fashion designer is challenging the way people in India see transgender women with a line of saris modeled by trans women.

Designer Sharmila Nair worked with the trans rights non-profit Queerala to seek out trans women to be the faces of her Mazhavi (“rainbow” in Malayalam) line of saris. Nair told me she hopes the campaign helps to humanize and raise the profile of trans women in India.

“It should really open up more opportunities for transgender [people],” she told me. “People should break the ice.”

The women in the photos, Maya Menon and Gowri Savithri, had no professional modeling experience before working with Nair.

“I have never had open conversations even with my own family about this. Not many of my friends are aware that I am a transgender. But this shoot has given me the confidence to admit that I am one,” Menon told The News Minute.

Both women are from the South Indian state of Kerala, which is far ahead of the rest of the country and the U.S. in promoting and protecting the rights of transgender people. In November last year, Kerala’s state government enacted a transgender policy specifically designed to uphold transgender peoples’ constitutional rights, including equal access to education and housing, and reiterating that trans people should feel as safe from violence as anyone else.

“We assure the transgenders in the state that your freedom and movement will be taken care of by the Kerala Government,” M. K. Muneer, the state’s minister for social justice, said at the time.

That followed a decision from the Indian Supreme Court in 2014 recognizing a “third gender” for trans people who don’t identify as male or female.

For Menon and Savithri, that’s a start. Nair told the BBC the two college-educated 29-year-olds are still unemployed because they’re discriminated against when they look for jobs.

“I could never have imagined that I’d look so beautiful. I have no words to thank Sharmila for the opportunity she gave us,” Menon told The News Minute.

Nair hopes the campaign might help give trans women a little positive visibility and that hopes it will help Menon and Savithri eventually find employment.

“Kerala government had passed a policy for transgenders. So when I saw the article I thought if the state has accepted then why not give them an opportunity,” she told me.

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