India’s first transgender international beauty queen, an activist and motivational speaker, Naaz Joshi shares her thoughts this Pride Month
A story of sheer grit and determination, Indian trans beauty Naaz Joshi’s journey to being crowned winner at several beauty pageants was not without a fair share of struggle.
Today, Joshi is a pioneering transgender international beauty queen, a trans rights activist, and a supermodel from the trans community. But the 37-year-old says her life had “no family support, no friends, no relatives”. Born Aizya Joshi in Delhi’s Malviya Nagar, she shares her life story and views on issues that affect the LGBTQIA+ community.
“All the pageants that I have participated in, I have had to arrange resources for the fees, my costumes and flight tickets. All the international contests I have participated in have been with women. Gyms didn’t allow me membership since my presence would ‘make other clients uncomfortable.’ So to work on my body, I saw YouTube videos of Shilpa Shetty and learnt the art of yoga. I underwent physical and verbal abuse at the hands of my very own family. I escaped an acid attack attempted by strangers a few years ago. While travelling by metro, I have seen many people turn away from me with unpleasant expressions on their faces,” says Joshi.
Joshi recently won the international title of Empress Earth 2021-22 in a virtual contest during the pandemic. Despite such accolades coming her way, she is still bothered by how her relatives still refuse to meet her.
Sharing her views on the strictly enforced gender binary in India, Joshi says that any identities which differ from the conventional gender roles are ridiculed and discriminated against. “India lacks gender sensitivity. Trans Bill 2019 spoke about how sexual harassment of transwomen is subject to punishment of just two years, while for cisgender (person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex) women it’s seven years. It’s painful to be born transgender in our country. The government is not bothered with a marginalised community as they don’t consider us as their vote bank,” she rues.
As a beauty queen, how far does she think beauty contests go in setting the scales right? Are they a step in the right direction? “In India, there is only one beauty pageant for transwomen and in the world, there are just four. I have been extremely lucky to gain entry in pageants where the entry of transwomen isn’t possible. I thank the Miss World Diversity platform for showing their faith in me. I went on to be a responsible queen where I didn’t sit with the crown at home; I engaged in grass-root work not just for transwomen but for women and underprivileged children too,” Joshi recounts.
She feels, “Indian beauty pageants are still looking for a film actress in their winners while internationally it’s more about community service, it’s about your internal beauty. They see your love for humanity. International beauty pageants for women are doing a great job, but it all depends on their winners. Today I go and speak on gender sensitisation at many school and colleges and it’s all thanks to my crowns. I compete in various pageants every year, dreaming that maybe one day I will be recognised as a celebrity and then I shall have the voice to demand respect for everyone.”
International brands like Revlon and L’Oreal have not shied away from naming LGBTQ+ figures as their ambassadors, but Indian beauty brands have not attempted it thus far. What is Naaz’s take?
“Perhaps they don’t see Indian transwomen as worth it. Most of us live under the poverty line and don’t have money to buy a M.A.C. or Sephora products. The recorded population of transgender women in India is just 4.5 lakhs. However, in reality, it’s much more than that. So for such a small buyer list, they don’t want Indian transwomen to be the face of their brands. I am India’s first and only international trans beauty queen who holds not one but seven titles. But my own trans community is unaware of it,” she expresses.
Finally, Joshi’s message this Pride Month? “This Pride Month my message to everyone would be to stay strong. If no one supports you then you have to be your own biggest supporter. It’s your struggle and you can’t expect magical things to happen if you don’t believe in your own magic. Be yourself as loudly as possible. Express yourself firmly. You are beautiful and stay beautiful, your happiness shouldn’t depend on anyone but yourself. Do what you love. I also request people to be kind and not hate someone simply on account of their gender or orientation. We too have a heart and it hurts real bad at times,” Naaz signed off on a sombre note.