July 30, 2009

A Transgender Person Becomes a TV Star.....In India

There are a lot of places I would have guessed the first transgender TV star (that I've ever heard of, anyway) would appear before I reached India, but an article from the Toronto Globe and Mail chronicles the bumpy road that pioneer is taking. Here's an excerpt:

The neighbourhood is choked with rickshaws, bullock carts, spice stands, saree shops and bangle stalls. It's India from central casting.

The TV star, not so much. With a long stride and a curvy sashay that sends her chiffon dupatta fluttering around her, Rose Venkatesan emerges from the dust and the crowd, more than ready for her close-up – but with a somewhat anxious air that suggests she is a bit worried about just what that close-up may bring.

Rose is, as she mentions at least once in every conversation, India's first transgender television star. Once an engineer named Ramesh, she began to transition to female six years ago, to the horror of her conservative family.

Today she is a star, both in India and in the Tamil diaspora, including the large community in Canada. Her first TV talk show had an audience in the tens of millions. She has helped advance the political agenda of transgendered people, typically reviled but recently afforded a rare degree of accommodation by the government in Tamil Nadu. Her second show – which she is producing and directing and writing herself, as well as hosting – has just hit the air and early signs are that it's a hit too.

Yet Rose, 30, also lives in a strange world of half-acceptance – sharing a home with a family that still calls her Ramesh and forbids her to wear a saree in front of them; hitting the town with her queer friends to flirt and party but insisting on a dark and empty restaurant when she meets a journalist to tell her story. “Weakness is death, strength is life,” she signs every e-mail – but strength, it would seem, can be exhausting.

Click here to read the rest of this fascinating feature.

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