The Travel Trunk (T3): Congratulations on your success at the Garnier Fashion Show. But first, tell us a little about yourself.
Sandra Nandeibam (SN): When I was in school, there were no options of Transgender (TG) in the column of sex, besides male or female. I was forced to choose a sex which I couldn’t identify with. So, I often had a dilemma to choose my sex. The Supreme Court judgement recognising TG as third gender gave me a new birth and an identify of my true gender identity. I become the first student who opted the transgender column with one’s head held high in the entire northeastern region.
T3: You are also the first transgender student in Manipur University. How would you describe your life as a student?
SN: On the first day of my college, I was wondering what would be the reaction of other students towards my TG identity. Transwomen are seen in female clothing across the town. However, I was the first one who was going to an educational institution with full female clothing. Meanwhile, I also had the dilemma about which toilet to use, as I didn’t have a good knowledge of the college environment. I thought, if people stared and laughed at me while entering the ladies toilet, it would dishearten me. Eventually, I found my college mates very friendly. I go to college in full female clothing. I sit on the girl’s side and am gradually making friends with everyone.
T3: What kind of hurdles have you found as a transgender student?
SN: Social ostracism and exclusion were a part of my life since childhood due to my gender identity. Even during my school days, boys and few teachers ridiculed me and condemned me for being TG. As a TG, I was always afraid of the society’s rejection. I often asked myself why I prefer femininity instead of masculinity. But, after a lot of struggle to believe in self, today, I got my answers – my mind, my soul and my heart doesn’t correspond with the sex assigned to me at birth. The derogatory word ‘homo’, which means Transgender and the humiliation from the society made me hide my own identity. “How can you – a feminized man, become a female?” were the words that still haunts me and makes me sad. Sometimes, on my way from home to college, people mock and ridicule me. Parking my fears, I still go to attend my class regularly.
T3: Who/what inspired you into pursuing your higher studies?
SN: The literacy rate of our community has been decreasing tremendously. School dropouts among the gender nonconforming children became the order of the day because of the stigma, discrimination, exclusion and prejudice. And then, the community started seeking a safe and convenient space. As a result, beauty parlours run by transgenders were introduced in every nook and corner of Manipur. Due to low literacy level, we are not aware of our basic rights, and become underprivileged and marginalized group of society. Beauty parlours as the only source of livelihood and lifestyle, limits us from achieving much more than what we can. I’m afraid that limiting self to only this aspiration and way of life can lead the community to lag far behind from others across various development processes and be confined in a small community space with narrow, divisive and exclusive ideas.
T3: How do you plan to handle your growing modeling career with your education? How have you managed it so far?
SN: It is possible to do everything if we have the courage, willingness and dedication. I do believe I can become success in whatever I do if I believe in self. I gave more emphasis on my studies. I believe with education I can come out with flying colours in whatever I dream to become.
T3: When and how did you first get into the modeling industry?
SN: It was in 2013 that I entered the modeling world. My first photo shoot was with Sushil Tenz photography. He introduced me to this industry. One day, I went for Thabal-chongba Thabal chongba or dance by moonlight, where men and women join hands in a circle. This is a popular Manipuri folk dance associated with the festival of yaoshang (holi). Fortunately, a Manipur-based fashion photographer saw me dancing, and said that he wanted to do a photoshoot very soon. I agreed, although at moment I was surprised and couldn’t believe it for a very long time, as it felt like a dream. Following this, I participated in a few ramp shows, along with the male and female models. Recently, I was the brand ambassador of a fashion event titled ‘Sanagee Likphang’ a mega fashion event to promote the rights of transgender in Manipur. I have met a celebrated makeup artist, Rava Kh1angembam, and did a shoot of her makeup.
T3: What are the kind of problems and hurdles in this industry?
SN: Obviously, it is really challenging for a gender nonconforming model like me to thrust up in a profession like modeling, where even other aspiring models (male and female) could not successfully fulfill their dreams of becoming professional models. I can’t say I’m a successful TG model by just walking the ramp of a few designers. I have a dream where India’s biggest fashion events, such as the Lakme Fashion Week embraces trans model, without prejudice. Though it takes time to be a successful model, I won’t give up. I did modeling with a cause and do it with confidence, determination and dedication.
T3: Given a chance, what life would you prefer: a sociologist or a model?
SN: Modeling is just my passion. So, I would choose to be a sociologist as I want to observe how, why and when we are marginalized and out casted community. I want to serve for the betterment of the community and society at large. I would love to dedicate my whole life for the community.
T3: What are your views regarding the recent Transgender Bill that has been passed?
SN: The Transgender Protection of Rights Bill 2016 fails to include the diverse cultural identities of TG that exist across different parts of India. It fails to follow the directives of the hon’ble Supreme Court of India’s NALSA judgement. Even the definition of transgender is not applicable at all. I request the government to reconsider Trichusiva’s bill. Not all transgenders are hijira.
T3: India is seeing a protest against it, what do you think can be the reason there being no movement in the Northeast?
SN: Yes, there were no movements in Northeast India because the visibility level of the community is really very less. But now, I can see that the momentum of LGBT movement in northeast has been increasing tremendously. Different organisations, NGOs and individuals have started involving actively on the issues. And lastly, my best wishes for the upcoming Guwahati queer pride.
T3: You have become a role model for many. Tell us about life as a transgender or how as a society we should work for inclusion or anything at all?
SN: There was a time, when we were a hidden population and lived very miserable lives. As time flew and changes took place, we’ve got recognition and have become a part of this society. However, there are many gender nonconforming children, who could not come out of the closet due to social pressure and stigma. It requires understanding and support from parents of transgender. It is impossible to get acceptance from the society until parents and family accepts the transgender identity of their children.
I want young TGs to get proper education so that through the light of education they are aware of their rights and take their role in building up the nation.
I’ve a dream where all boys and girls in the school would treat transgender as their own brothers and sisters. I dream for an academic environment where all TGs can participate without prejudice. To make this dream real, authorities like schools, colleges and universities, and parents and guardians have to proactively help uproot the transphobia.