India’s First Transgender Modelling Agency Is Bringing Representation To The Industry

India’s First Transgender Modelling Agency Is Bringing Representation To The Industry

The history that we studied in our schools as a subject had patronizing and glorified tales of war and sacrifice. What it left out and continues to ignore is the trail of gender, race and identity-based violence and oppression perpetrated against people and communities. It's not until you get out of school and start learning about the world yourself through a particularly academic lens that you realise the horrors of our past as a species. I wonder how many perspectives rooted in hatred and bigotry could be dismantled if we were taught about inclusivity and the need for reparations based on a dark history right from the start when our ability to empathize was still developing and malleable.

I see a good amount of snarky memes on the internet insinuating that the 'progessive liberal' world has gone too far with too many genders and the non conformity. One said, "Oh I'm sorry I didn't know you were trans, you can do anything all the time" to an illustration of a trans woman watching porn at a bar. All these micro-agressions reflect the intolenrace we still carry about minority communities. While some may argue that it has 'gone too far' I think we haven't gone far enough.

The rising representation of trans and queer identities on social media is not even remotely close to what happens in the real world. According to a study conducted by the National Human Rights Commission in 2018, 96 % trans people are denied jobs and are forced to take low paying or undignified work for livelihood like badhais, sex work and begging. The first-ever study on the rights of trans people also revealed that about 92 % of them are deprived of the right to participate in any form of economic activity in the country, with even qualified ones refused jobs. 

In the fashion industry, for transgender and gender non-binary models, entry into the upper echelons of runways has been limited, and many models in this cohort have felt forced to conceal their identities in order to land jobs or succeed in the industry. Even when the industry does recruit trans people, it is still guided by the beauty standards mixed with transphobia preferring trans women who "look like women".

Facing the same stigmatization and frustration as a trans woman, activist and model, Rudrani Chettri decided to start India's first Transgender modelling agency in 2015 called Bold. Rudrani also spearheads the Mitr Trust in Delhi that works toward creating and maintaining a safe, inclusive, and fair environment for LGBTQIA+ individuals. She shares with Medium her inspiration behind the agency which was, “...a feeling of frustration seeing many young beautiful TGs (transgenders) are made to feel ugly from a young age. I was one of them and there was no such option open to me when I was young.”

Here's a short documentary celebrating the self-expression and body-positivity catwalk by Rudrani and her team.

Come As You Are was shot by the Delhi-based filmmaker and cinematographer, Priyanka Verma who is deeply invested in telling stories that help people connect with others on a deeper, more empathic level, and challenge their perceptions of the world. In an intimate documentation of the models getting ready for their show, Priyanka also take us into their minds through the conversations on identity, ageism, transphobia and real, trans people representing trans people in media and fashion.

The filmmaker's nine-year career celebrated over 50 films with her role as a Director, Director of Photography and a cinematographer. As a DoP, her most recent film Critical Juncture (2022) has received seven nominations which includes, L.A. Independent Women Film Awards (U.S), Toronto International Women Film Festival (Canada) and Women's International Film Festival Nigeria. 

Rudrani Chettri and Priyanka Verma are one of the many people doing their part in bringing about a much needed shift in the narrative about trans people in society. The entire queer community has faced their own share of hatred but if there's one particular group in history that we owe an apology to, it's trans people. Condemned and alienated from their own community with the rest of the world, trail blazing activists like Marsha P. Johnson and Silvya Rivera were the strong winds in the sail of early LGBTQIA+ rights movement. Their legacy is carried on with every person who stands and fights for the right and representation of trans people.

Follow Rudrani here and Priyanka here.