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‘Gender is identity, sex is what you are born with’

First-time drag queens Roveena Tampon and Ivanka tell us about their journey of self-discovery and struggle for acceptance

punjab Updated: Nov 02, 2017 20:03 IST
Oindrila Mukherjee
Oindrila Mukherjee
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Kitty Su,The Lalit Chandigarh,LGBTIQ
Ivanka performing at Kitty Su’s Halloween party at The Lalit, Chandigarh on Tuesday (Sant Arora)

Roveena Tampon, a play on Raveena Tandon, is the drag persona of Rovin. He has just shifted back to his hometown, Ambala, and has changed four jobs in four years. Ivanka is Arandeep’s drag persona. Based out of Delhi, she is a native of West Bengal and knows seven dance forms.

They have come to Chandigarh for their first drag performance for the Halloween party at Kitty Su, The Lalit Chandigarh.

Rovin has now been associated with The Lalit group for a long time. He talks about LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer, questioning) rights at gender sensitivity and inclusivity workshops for the hospitality group.

Nude lips, long red nails, trendy bangs and casual striped shirt and denims – Rovin is a picture of calm sophistication. He loves dressing like a woman, but doesn’t identify as one. He was working for IBM when he started “blooming”.

Inspired by actor Raveena Tandon, Roveena Tampon performed on ‘Tip tip barsa paani’ at the event. ( Sant Arora )

“I was changing. People around me started noticing. And that’s when the discrimination started. Little things, you know; snide comments, jibes from my manager. So, I went to the HR and told them that if this was a woman you would take action. But all my manager got was a warning letter.”

He resigned and went on to join American Express and CVent. But it was the same story everywhere. By now, he had changed his persona and was dressing “like a queen”.

Arandeep has toiled to get where she is now. Identifying as a bisexual in the beginning, Arandeep was married to a woman who belonged to a scheduled caste; the couple was not accepted by Arandeep’s family.

She says, “I identified as a man back then and my wife knew everything about me. However, things did not work out and we separated. I was starting to get attracted to men. After a failed relationship with a man for two years in Delhi, I took to drugs and was out of the circuit for two years. I am a dancer, but too much competition and disdain towards my identity pushed me over the edge. Then I got a call from Keshav Suri to come and perform here.”

Keshav Suri, the scion of the Lalit hospitality chain, has pioneered a change in the hotel industry’s outlook towards the LGBTIQ community. Mayamma, India’s first drag queen, performs at the Kitty Su in Mumbai. He asked Rovina and Arandeep to be the “queens” of the Kitty Su in Chandigarh.

“Keshav is the maharani of the drag empire and we are all his queens. He is a diva. He encouraged us to perform; and has inspired me to fight for my rights,” says Rovin.

Arandeep displays the outfits that she will wear for the evening’s performance, a heavily beaded corset among them. Rovin will wear a yellow chiffon sari with an on-trend ruffle-sleeved blouse. The duo will perform on ‘Tip tip barsa paani’.

Arandeep (left) and Rovin (right) were in Chandigarh for their first drag performance for a Halloween party. ( Sant Arora )

Arandeep says, “When it comes to rituals and festivals, everything is okay in this country. Drag has been around for centuries in India. Take Kathakali for example or even the tradition of Ramlila. Men have dressed like women throughout our history. But when it comes to identity and personal choices, we refuse to give others a space.”

Drag is an art form. In western countires, drag artists are respected for their craft and accepted as entertainers. Reality shows such as RuPaul’s Drag Race, hosted by American drag queen RuPaul Andre Charles, have a great viewership. RuPaul has received two Primetime Emmys for the show in 2016 and 2017.

Rovin says, “Indians are hypocrites; our people are hypocrites, government is a hypocrite and even our parents are hypocrites. First, we put women on a pedestal by separating them. Now, you have something like me. What are you going to do about it? We don’t understand that gender and sex are completely different. Gender is what you identify as, but sex is what you are born with. Your gender can change with what you identify as.”

Change is a difficult process as both Rovina and Arandeep would know, but it’s worth it in the end.

Arandeep says, “India, please change. It’s time to understand that ‘being different’ is not a bad thing. As a child, I was often asked why I was so ‘girlish’. But, I’m comfortable with my identity now. All that matters to me is my devotion to my craft. I want to show others how a ‘man’ can be graceful and expressive through art.”

First Published: Nov 02, 2017 20:01 IST