Proud and how!

From working at a dhaba to being sold to the eunuch community to finally becoming the woman she wanted to be, Naaz’s journey speaks of determination and strength.

-By Veenu Singh

She owns the space she walks into. Honest, bold, and towering in height and stature, that is Naaz Joshi for you.

India’s first international trans beauty queen, a trans rights activist and a motivational speaker and our Pride Special cover girl. 

That’s not all. Naaz Joshi has won the Miss World Diversity beauty pageant three times in a row, is India’s first International trans cover model and is the world’s first trans woman to win an international beauty pageant with cisgender women.  

This is not a mean feat by any standard, and what makes it all the more special is the fact that Naaz has achieved all this after years of struggle, pain and humiliation, as even today, our society doesn’t accept people from the LGBTQIA+ community in the mainstream with ease.

“If a normal girl would have achieved all this, everyone, including the media as well as the showbiz industry would have gone crazy about her. Even brands would have been more than happy to sign her, but sadly, I have had to struggle to even get the media to acknowledge my presence,” says Naaz. 

The mirror 

Born in a middle class family to a Muslim mother and a Hindu father, Naaz, was born into a body that was assigned male. Her parents named her Chirag.

Unfortunately, Naaz’s mother died during child birth. After a few months of struggling with the newborn, her father married again. 

Growing up, Naaz felt ‘different’, could never relate to how boys would dress up, talk or even walk.

“I was actually a female trapped in a boy’s body. My parents tried to teach me the ‘so-called’ boy’s behaviour but I never got it,” recalls Naaz.

To add to the challenge, her stepmother, who was very loving initially, seemed to change after she had her own babies. And if that wasn’t challenging enough, things also started getting difficult for Naaz and the family as everyone started taunting them and suggested that they send Naaz to the hijra (eunuch) community. 

Naaz felt a deep identity crisis. She wasn’t a hijra, looked like a boy but felt completely like a girl inside and was skeptical about what to do next.

“Despite all this, my father wanted me to study and become something in life. To give me a safer environment, they decided to send me to my maternal uncle in Mumbai,” shares Naaz.

All of seven, confused, Naaz didn’t understand why she was sent away. All she did understand was feeling extremely sad and lonely. “I couldn’t eat, sleep or play properly. For weeks I asked God only one question – why was I sent so far.”

Naaz was keen to go to school, but was forced to work at a dhaba by her uncle. She was ill-treated and faced verbal abuse as well. And as there were only landlines back then, she could call her father only at his office number. This too stopped when her father switched jobs.

So, a young Naaz resigned to her fate and found happiness in work.

A turn for the worse

This happy attitude made Naaz notice things that were right. For example, the owner of the dhaba was very nice. “He spoke to me with love and didn’t want me to work. I saw my dad in him. Since the dhaba was in the film city, I often requested the owner to let me go to the shooting and serve tea as I was keen to see the Bollywood heroines. Since there were no vanity vans at that time, all stars would sit under a tree with a big umbrella. I used to like that Sridevi ma’am, Raveena Tandon ma’am and others treated me so well,” recalls Naaz.

Now that she was earning, Naaz took admission in St Joseph’s academy in Mumbai. The Sisters and Fathers always took action against anyone who bullied Naaz for her effeminate mannerisms.

“I felt comfortable but I never had a friend in school because I was the only one in class who always came alone,” remembers Naaz with a tinge of sadness. 

Unfortunately, Naaz’s school journey and happiness were short lived when she was 11. “One day, when I reached home from school, my uncle and aunt were not there. My two cousin brothers were drinking and partying with their friends. I was forced to take a laced drink and was assaulted by them. The next morning, when my uncle came to the hospital, little did I know that this was the last time I was seeing him. I had been sold to the hijra community, who didn’t even let me meet my uncle and said that I was their property now. Once again I went through loneliness and abandonment from my family,” recalls Naaz.  

“I got proper food, but they would dress me up as a woman and take me for begging. I hated that job to the core. Dancing and singing in front of so many people, sometimes on the streets and sometimes at people’s homes. I would come home and cry and started taking sleeping tablets from a chemist who thought I was born a hijra. One day, I locked myself inside the dera and threatened my guru ma that I will commit suicide if she doesn’t put me back in school and make me leave this job. She then took me to a dance bar and kept me there,” says Naaz.

Dancing queen

At the dance bar, luck seemed to be in Naaz’s favour. At the age of 12, she found another father figure in the form of the dance bar owner, called Anna by everyone. 

“Anna, whom I called Baba, loved me a lot and got me admitted in school again. He would often come to pick me up from school and gave me a place to stay in his home. He took me to different places in India during my summer holidays. One day I requested him that I want to dance, he got very angry, but then agreed thinking that I will do it maximum for a day or two. The first day I danced to a Sridevi number, it was raining money. I absolutely loved it and started dancing every day.”

But Baba was upset, he wanted Naaz to focus on her studies. As he hardly went to the dance bar, he asked a senior dancer Madhumita to keep an eye on Naaz at the bar. Unfortunately, that woman was nothing that Naaz needed in her life. 

“She hated the bond between me and the owner. Pretending to be my friend, she encouraged me to have physical relations with a man whom I was getting attracted to. But my first ever physical relationship brought back all the bad memories of the night when I was assaulted at my uncle’s home. I never saw this man again and I signed a deal with life that in exchange for all the luxuries in my life, I will continue to do what I was doing at the dance bar,” recalls Naaz. 

A ray of hope

“My cousin sister Viveka Babajee, a model, was my first ever mentor in life. She guided me towards the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Delhi and that changed my life. 

“I used to think I was one of a kind.  I used to think that I am not a hijra, or a boy and I feel like a girl but didn’t have the body of one. But after coming to NIFT, I learnt that there are several in the world like me and we actually have a name – the LGBTQIA+ community.

“The eternal romantic that I am, I started looking for love. But at parties no one looked at me. I was pretty but I was too effeminate. It took me years to understand that gay men didn’t like me physically because I was a woman inside. It was straight men who would get attracted towards me. After NIFT,  I got a job with Ritu Kumar,” remembers Naaz. 

And when one feels a little settled, one finds things to unsettle oneself!

Naaz began looking for her dad.  “I remember where he worked because it was a very famous DDA building then. I finally found him. He was very emotional and took me home. I stayed there for one year but that one year was hell for me. My stepmother started forcing me to get married. She asked my dad to take me to a psychiatrist. I used to feel numb with those medications, my career started getting affected. I quit my job with Ritu Kumar and subsequently, with Ritu Beri too.”

In the meanwhile, Naaz became an independent designer, participated in the Chennai International Fashion Week, designed clothes for Agni Jewellery Fashion Show and began working with top models of the country. Her cousin Viveka used to get Naaz these shows. “I started making headlines and also had few celebrities as my clients,” says Naaz.

This good phase, however, didn’t last long. “In 2010, Viveka died by suicide. It only made my already vulnerable mental health weaker. I tried to commit suicide many times. When my father broke down about my life, I found a bride for myself who was undergoing the same pressure. She was elder to me and I married her. It was just a seven day contract between her and me. After our mutual divorce, I went off my medications and decided to run away from home. In early 2011, I left home and found a new home for myself in Malviya Nagar,” says Naaz.

Finding her wings

Living in a space of one’s own felt great. Naaz was jobless and quite unsure about what to do in life. 

And then it happened. One day at a gay party, Naaz saw a very beautiful girl. When Naaz asked her what was she doing at a gay party, the woman called Edna told Naaz that she was born into a male body and and had recently got sex change surgery. 

“This information gave me a new lease of life and I decided to finally let the woman in me take over. I found a gay massage parlour who agreed to fund my surgery. I met a famous fashion photographer Rishi Taneja there, who made a biopic on me, which became an instant hit,” says Naaz.

For three years Naaz was on hormone medicines. Unfortunately, staying on hormones, says Naaz, is very challenging as it leads to mood swings, suicidal tendencies and even aggression and there is hardly anyone to counsel you. “Thankfully, by then I had learnt the art of meditation, which helped me a lot in fighting depression and anxiety. I also moved towards spirituality and found solace by going to places like Mathura and Vrindavan where I would listen to Krishna bhajans. Today, I’m a huge devotee of Lord Krishna,” says Naaz. 

The year 2014 became a very important year in Naaz’s life. She was ‘reborn’ as a woman and that marked the beginning of a new life and career. 

“I was very excited and happy as finally I had my desired body. I decided to call myself Naaz – short form of Nazia as I was a big fan of the singer Nazia Hassan. Also Naaz means ‘to be proud of’, and I was absolutely proud of my achievements. I started modelling, became an entrepreneur and soon became India’s first international trans beauty queen. Since then there has been no looking back,” says Naaz with a hint of pride in her eyes. 

As a woman, the journey hasn’t been easy, but Naaz wouldn’t have it any other way. Despite winning such laurels for the country and making the LGBTQIA+ community proud, Naaz’s journey is still full of challenges and discrimination at various levels.

“Honestly, I have had to face all kinds of gender discrimination at various public places and was even refused a booking at a reputed hotel in Gurgaon. I am often not allowed to go to bars because they think I’m a sex worker and may give competition to their own sex workers. People of my community are also biased towards me and say that I have bought the media and other such things. I have never ever had support from the government or any NGO. Only once in 2022, I was awarded by Delhi Commission for Women and got an award of Rs 50,000 on women’s day. Initially I had no option but to cry about all this discrimination, but becoming a beauty queen and staying in the news since 2015 has empowered me. Today I fight for my rights and for the rights of others too,” says Naaz. 

“Unfortunately, unlike a regular beauty queen, when a trans woman goes for an international beauty pageant she has to arrange her entry fee, her audition tape, clothes, make up and even her flight tickets. And I’m not a millionaire. I have a small crowd funding project on Milaap that helps me in raising these funds for my beauty pageant preparations,” adds Naaz. 

In fact, unlike most beauty queens who forget most of the promises they had made on winning the crown, Naaz has fulfilled her promise of doing something for the girl child by adopting two abandoned girls and has recently adopted a three and a half-month old baby boy too, fulfilling her long cherished dream of becoming a mother. 

Naaz’s ultimate dream is to be very famous and use that fame to work towards empowering women. “I want to work with Ekta Kapoor in her serial Naagin in some meaty role and also enter her show Lock Up. I would also love to be on Bigg Boss one day. I want to use my fame for upliftment of my community. I want to tell the world that today we have progressed so much that we walk on international stages and have made our country proud. I want to inspire parents of trans people that they should not disown them, perhaps tomorrow their children can also make them proud as I did my father. 

“If families support their trans children they will not have to beg or do sex work and can actually make their parents proud. All they need is your love and support,” says an emotional Naaz before signing off.

BOX

Naaz on mental health 

“I would not be standing here if I was not mentally fit or stable. To be a successful human being and to be able to inspire others, we need to be emotionally stable. I would advise meditation, pick up a hobby like gardening and keep pets as they work as huge stress busters. If nothing else go for walks in a park, look at the greenery around, you will feel a lot better. Last but not the least, love yourself, you don’t need a partner to be in love, be your own partner and fall in love, pamper yourself, go out for window shopping, spend time in salons and just enjoy life!”

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