‘It’s so liberating’: India’s first salon run by transgender men | Global development

TThe beauty treatments listed in the new Beauty & Style salon are pretty much the same as those offered by the dozen other salons that dot the busy Dilshad Extension area of ​​Ghaziabad, 28 km east of Delhi . But this is where the similarity ends.

The wall behind the reception is painted in the colors of the rainbow; a mural of a trans man with flowing multicolored locks decorates another wall; a woman wearing a sari gets her eyebrows plucked next to a trans man who tells a stylist how he would like to have his hair cut.

Beauty & Style salon made history in September when it opened as India’s first salon run by transgender men. The owner, Aryan Pasha, 30, is a lawyer, activist and India’s first transgender male bodybuilder. He opened up the living room to create a space where trans people would feel comfortable seeking beauty treatments. Everyone is welcome, he says, not just the LGBTQ + community.

Equally important was creating a business that would generate jobs for its community, which “continues to face social discrimination and rejection in academic institutes, as well as in the workplace, despite the 2019 law on transgender people (rights protection), ”he says. .

“While leading food and ration campaigns during the epidemic, it was heartbreaking to meet transgender youth who were educated and skilled but unemployed because of their gender. They survived on charitable donations, while others were forced to return to unfavorable and abusive families in their villages, ”Pasha explains.

Aryan Pasha, owner of Beauty & Style salon in Delhi – and India’s first transgender bodybuilder. Photograph: Siddharth Behl / The Guardian

With financial support from the Joint United Nations Program on HIV / AIDS and the Gravittus Foundation, a Pune-based charity that works for social change, Pasha created the salon with her partner, Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, 43. .

Tripathi has been a transgender activist since 1999, campaigning for many causes, from HIV to community-run social enterprises. Through their charity, the Gaurav Trust, the couple are focused on raising awareness and protecting the health and rights of male sex workers and others within the LGBTQ + community.

Tree people sit in chairs in front of mirrors while stylists stand beside them
“My family turned their backs on me, but the salon kissed me,” says a stylist. Photograph: Siddharth Behl / The Guardian

“Despite our advocacy and collective action over the years to mainstream issues such as the well-being, rights and health of transgender people, stigma remains a major challenge. We face a hostile environment in schools, colleges and in the workplace, which leaves us with scars for life, ”says Pasha, who went from female to male after gender reassignment surgery in 2011.

According to a 2017 study by the Indian National Human Rights Commission, 92% of transgender people in India are deprived of the right to participate in any form of economic activity in the country; 99% have experienced social rejection more than once, including from their family; and 96% are denied jobs and are forced into fields such as sex work or begging in order to survive.

A man looks at himself in a mirror while two hairdressers stand behind him
A client has her hair cut at the Beauté & Style salon. Photograph: Siddharth Behl / The Guardian

At Le Beauté, the six newly trained staff earn between £ 100 and £ 300 per month, depending on their level of expertise and skill.

More and more beauticians are being trained near Mumbai. “We plan to open our next show in Pune and eventually go national once we have more funding,” Pasha said.

Bhanu Rajodiya, 25, says he was at the lowest point of his life when Pasha recruited him. “I used to work in an export house in Delhi and made between £ 80 and £ 100 a month, but lost my job during the pandemic. My family turned their backs on me, but the living room embraced me and now I have a stable job with a fixed income. It is so stimulating.

Another employee, Nakshatra Rajput, who made the transition last year, was working in Delhi as a team leader but lost his job when management found out his identity.

A street scene with walking crowd and traffic
The living room, in a bustling satellite town near Delhi. Photograph: Siddharth Behl / The Guardian

“They started to find flaws in my job and the work atmosphere became so toxic that I had no choice but to leave. This despite the fact that I was transparent about my gender in the human resources department when I joined. They hired me for my skills and paid me well, but fired me on a whim, ”said the 25-year-old.

Rajput added that although his relatives and friends accepted him, Indian workplaces were far from inclusive. “This discrimination really hurts. After leaving my first company, I joined another, but I had to leave it also within a few days because of my identity, ”he says.

However, he’s happy that La Beauté has opened a door for him and trained him as a hairdresser – and recently made him a part of the salon’s management team. “I feel loved and appreciated here,” he says.

“I no longer have to act or hide behind a different identity just to do my job. It’s so liberating. And that’s how society should be too – inclusive and diverse, ”he says proudly pointing to the rainbow-colored walls of the living room.

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