Transgender activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi is a phenomenon, and her new book Red Lipstick; The Men in my Life, written with Pooja Pande, is a great read. Frank and fearless, it speaks about the different individuals, both men and women, who have had an impact on her life. This includes the LGBT activists who helped her arrive at a better understanding of herself and her sexuality, those who’ve been supportive of her and her journey and those who have not, her exceptional parents who continued to cherish her even after she came out on a television show as transgender, her siblings, her lovers, her friends, and those who sexually abused her as a child. The section that deals with what she went through as a six-year-old is the most difficult part of the book.
“That is the reality of life. For trans women or children whose identity is not very clear in this country, it is still about abuse,” Laxmi said during a FaceBook Live chat. “We have a law now, the POCSO, which talks about child safety but how much of this is being taught in colleges and schools? How much is taught about good touch, bad touch?” wonders Laxmi, who believes she was singled out because of her femininity.
“I have written this book because it is not only about my life, it’s about children like me, or even those children who are in the boxes of male or female and whose sexuality is not identified. I believe that everybody should have a secure atmosphere,” says Laxmi who makes a strong plea for greater inclusiveness and openness in education.
Thankfully, she has emerged stronger from her early ordeals and her book brings out her feisty spirit, her strong activism that has helped the Indian transgender community begin the move towards greater integration within the mainstream, and also her superb sense of humour. That rollicking sense of fun is especially evident in the section about her sexual adventures that had this correspondent in absolute splits.
“I pulled out my own truth. I’m very comfortable in my own skin. It was the same Laxmi who was abused. The same Laxmi can be the epitome of femininity. The same Laxmi can be a seductress and the same Laxmi is the Acharya Mahamandaleshwar of the Kinnar Akhara,” she says. After much opposition from the 14 akharas of Hindu sants and sadhus, the epitome of orthodox patriarchy, who had objected to their participation at the last Kumbh mela, the kinnars or hijras have now established an akhara of their own, thus reclaiming their position within the Hindu religious establishment.
“A lot of people said ‘Mai, you should not come out with this book; you are now the Mahamandaleshwar’. But my life has been transparent and I have to speak about the true Laxmi, I have nothing to hide,” she says.
It is this frankness that has made Laxmi who she is – an effective spokesperson for her community, an individual who makes those who meet her think about their own perceptions of themselves and the world and its ways, and a huge celebrity.
“Your sexuality walks 10 feet ahead of you. I might be a celebrity, I might be a known face but the stigma is there,” says Laxmi, who adds that the government’s recent transgender bill “is horrible”. “I believe the government should invest, there should be more literature about the community, more books about its history, and about the problem with gender and sexuality,” she says.
Red Lipstick; The Men in my Life is remarkable, much like its author.
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