“I wanted to win people’s hearts. Winning the crown was secondary,” says Naaz Joshi, who recently won a pageant crown in Dubai. Emerging as the winner of the Ms World Diversity 2018 pageant against 22 participants from across the globe, Joshi became the first Indian transsexual model to win the title, marking yet another giant leap for the Indian trans community. However, she says she never expected to win, having only been a professional model since 2013, post her gender reassignment surgery.
Joshi had signed up for Ms World Diversity 2018 last year and didn’t take long to dazzle the pageant director, who chose her as the face to promote the event across the world. Even Joshi’s fellow contestants were impacted by her, who voted her ‘Ms Congeniality’ and ‘Ms Personality’.
“The happiest moment for me was that my parents stood by my side and told me how proud they were,” she says. However, unlike today, she didn’t always have the approval of her parents, who sent her to a relative’s home in Mumbai at the age of seven, owing to the shame attached to Joshi’s “feminine behaviour”. Having faced sexual abuse at the hands of a relative at age 11, Joshi learnt really soon that she needed to look after herself.
No Smooth Sailing
After a point, she financed her own education, attaining degrees in Fashion Design from NIFT and MBA in Marketing from IMT (Ghaziabad). She even completed an air hostess training module from Frankfinn Institute of Air Hostess Training. She went on to work for prominent fashion labels Ritu Kumar and Ritu Beri. But throughout her journey, she struggled with the acceptance she never received, and the lecherous men she could never evade. She quit her job to start her own venture, which didn’t take-off either.
Eventually, she landed a job at a massage parlour as a manager. “When I joined, I wasn’t told that I also had to be a masseur. Being a masseur… you know what all kinds of jobs you need to do. In India, spas are just spas for namesake.”
It wasn’t until the Supreme Court recognised the third gender, did Joshi find the strength to pursue modelling — her true calling. “I always had this dream of having a big crown over my head and walking an international ramp,” she says. She walked for the Rajasthan Fashion Festival in Jaipur in 2013, followed by a slew of modelling assignments and magazine covers, both national and international.
Now a well-established model, Joshi devotes part of her time to activism, when she’s not at home playing with her three pets — two Lhasa Apsos and one Pekingese.
Speaking about the ongoing discourse on IPC Section 377, which criminalises homosexuality, Joshi says, “If 377 is abolished, it will save the LGBTQ+ from the harassment they face at the hands of those criminals who encounter them in discos and then take them to deserted places nearby to loot them.” She adds that if the law is scrapped, “at least people will have the courage to go to the police station and report the issue.”
Expressing how she has “had enough” of pageants for now, Joshi says she also travels to rural areas across India to advocate gender equality and rid the trans community of the stigmatisation and prejudice. She says, “Until now, we have been projected as objects of mockery in the media. I want to glamourize the image of transsexual women in India.”