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How a Men’s Health cover model turned into a stunning diva

Last week, 24-year-old fitness model and TV star Gaurav Arora came out to the public about being transgender, and changed his name to Gauri. In ‘her’ first in-depth interview, Gauri Arora gets into a frank discussion on what this change actually means

brunch Updated: Oct 01, 2016 20:17 IST
Gauri Arora,Gaurav Arora,fitness model and TV star
Fitness model and TV star Gaurav Arora came out to the public about being transgender, and changed his name to Gauri.(Right:Styling: Rin; Makeup: Neeraj Navare; Hair: Kamal Palan; White shirt and shoes from ASOS, bra by La Senza, shorts from H&M)

He was six feet tall, taut and toned. When he was on the cover of India’s leading men’s fitness magazine in 2014, he had a 40-30-36 physique, six-pack abs and 16-inch biceps. On MTV’s Splitsvilla (Season 8), his fan following went through the roof. And his family members were happy to see him make his mark in the modelling world, even though it was far removed from their business background.

She walks in, the picture of willowy glamour. As she glides through the coffee-shop, all eyes are on her. She’s impeccably chic, her beautifully manicured hands gesticulating to make a point as we talk about everything from bras to boyfriends. At 24, this Mumbai model has already had offers from Bigg Boss 10 and several agencies for shoots, but she dreams about achieving a 32-24-36 figure and making it to the cover of a women’s fashion magazine.

Such stereotypical stories of two young, good-looking people living a charmed existence in modern India, right? Not quite. This is the tale of ONE person’s life: Gaurav Arora, who was born a boy but always wanted to be a woman. Last week, Gaurav came out, telling the world that he’s not a he, he’s a she.

Gaurav Arora on the cover of Men’s Health magazine in June 2014.

Past tense

The dictionary will explain that transgenders are people whose gender identities differ from the sex they are born as. This has nothing to do with sexual preference: it’s about how you feel as a person. For Gauri, despite the Y chromosome that gave her her gender, this means that she’s a girl.

“As a boy, I was drawn to my mum’s and sister’s clothes and make-up and would often wear them,” says Gauri. “My family were aware of how I was but they didn’t want to acknowledge it. They were worried how people would react. I think it’d have been easier if we weren’t wealthy, with many important connections. But they found it very difficult to accept me.”

Also read: International fashion runways are breaking gender stereotypes. Will India follow suit?

The world can be cruel to those who are different from what they’re supposed to be. At the age of 11, Gauri, then Gaurav, was raped by older boys from his tuition class. It began innocuously: the boys took Gaurav to the park with signs of great affection, and he revelled in it. “But before I knew it, they were caressing and kissing me, then manhandling me and molesting me, and I was in pain. I knew this was wrong although I didn’t know exactly how,” says Gauri.

Speaking up about it didn’t take the pain away. Gauri’s mother first tried to persuade the child to hide what had happened. When Gauri’s father heard anyway, the police were called and the boys were confronted. But that meant that everyone in the area had heard what had happened, and wherever Gauri went, they’d laugh at her. “Because I was different, it was as though I had asked for it,” she says ruefully.

Gauri dreams of achieving a 32-24-36 figure and making it to the cover of a women’s fashion magazine. (Dress by Aura, shoes from ASOS; Photo by Subi Samuel)

Do you ‘get’ Gauri?

Few people ‘get’ Gauri. Even her younger sister cannot accept her as she is. “I really want her to understand. She’s educated, she’s an architect… but she doesn’t. Maybe it’s what her friends say or even possibly about me being prettier than her. But she doesn’t know all that I have to do to achieve that beauty. And I wish she would understand that whatever I do, I will never have what she has – biological womanhood, the ability to have babies. What I want most in life is to be someone’s wife, the perfect bahu, to be a natural mother.”

Perhaps, in time, science will give Gauri what nature has not, but meanwhile, she must really work at being a woman. “I’ve done my nose, my Botox, laser treatment to reduce facial hair, lip fillers, permanent lashes, etc. I make such an effort… I spend Rs 50,000 on me every month. If a girl spent that much, she would look wonderful too. I’m now in my transitioning phase, getting prettier every day, and need just about three more months to come out as a diva,” she smiles.

“I’ve done my nose, Botox, lip fillers etc. I spend Rs 50,000 on me every month. If a girl spent that much, she’d look wonderful too!” says Gauri. (Sports bra and jacket by Adidas, pants and shoes by Zara; Photo by Subi Samuel)

What exactly does the transition entail? Initially, Gauri had to undergo a psychiatric assessment to see whether she was ready for such a drastic change. This meant dressing as a woman and visiting the more basic areas of the city, such as chawls and government colleges, to see how comfortable she felt there in her womanly form.

Once the psychological profile added up, hormone replacement therapy started. This involves blocking testosterone, the male hormone, and taking oestrogen, the female hormone. “The doctor said it’s too late to change my voice but with practice I may be able to change it a bit, or I can go for vocal surgery. But I’m not keen on surgery for at least a year,” says Gauri.

That’s because sex reassignment surgery is a complicated procedure in which doctors must build a vagina. Recovery is stressful and painful. “One vagina doesn’t make a difference to me. I feel I have one already. I sit and pee,” says Gauri.

As it is, she’ll be on hormone pills for the rest of her life. “I had to sign a declaration stating I’m okay with the risks and side-effects,” says Gauri. “I know it can affect my liver badly and I could die any time. It’s such a serious health risk and still people laugh at me for taking this step. They don’t realise how much I’m doing just to become a woman. I wouldn’t play with my life just like that.”

These stunners were born men: (From left to right) American reality TV personality Carmen Carrera; Project Runway star from Canada, Gigi Gorgeous; Brazilian Lea T who was the face of Givenchy and became the first transgender woman to host the opening ceremony of the Rio Olympics in August. (Getty Images)

Bi the way...

For Gauri, the physical risks involved in gender change are less frightening than admitting who she is to her family, friends and the public at large. Last year, when she signed Splitsvilla, she didn’t have the courage to talk about being transgender outright, so she told the production team she was bisexual. “They said no one needed to know that aspect of my sexuality. But I landed up admitting it,” she says. “I was scared… what had I just done? It was going to be out there on national television! I asked if they could cut it out, but they convinced me that I should stay true to who I was. The TRPs went crazy that week.”

But Gauri went crazy too. “I was not happy as I had not revealed the entire truth,” she says. “I’m not really bisexual, but it was a starting point to explain who I really was to family and acquaintances.”

In many ways, Gauri is luckier than most transgenders in India: she’s made enough money to protect herself, and she’s highly ambitious, so she’ll always get the work she wants. For one thing, she could still model – fashion for a long time has been about androgyny. For another, with a back story like hers, she’s made for TV. That’s exactly the career she intends to have.

“What happens to people like me who can’t afford the treatments and clothes I can? People like me who don’t have access to psychologists, people who live in a milieu where they cannot come out because of the fear of being harmed… what are they supposed to do?” asks Gauri. “So many people like me commit suicide. It’s because we are so alone. I believe that television is a great platform to reach out to people. I shall go on TV, but I don’t want to be a star. I want to be a real-life heroine.”

From HT Brunch, October 2, 2016

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First Published: Oct 01, 2016 19:01 IST