Seeing all three of them walking at the Manish Malhotra X Lakme LFW Finale Show is one of my most cherished experiences at LFW. At par with what it felt like to see Saisha Shinde’s – the first transgender fashion designer to have a show at Lakme Fashion Week 2023.
This was the first fashion week I had attended since 2020, the first one I was attending as someone who identified as transgender non-binary. In the time between these editions of LFW the impact of seeing other transgender/non-binary folks be visible, and occupy spaces that weren’t traditionally accessible to transgender folks had a massive effect on me. Seeing queer and transgender folk ‘living’ made living my transgender reality a possibility to me.
Although Gaia, Luna and Anjali have all walked the ramp at LFW before, this time all three were official Lakme Fashion Week models. Anjali Lama is the first transgender model to have ever walked at LFW (2017). She finally made it through the tryouts after two earlier failed attempts in 2016.
They are each successful models who work with designers and brands throughout the year. Paving the way for so many Indian transgender and non-binary models. That is not a hypothetical statement!
Although far too less for this writer’s satisfaction – there has been an increase in transgender/ non-binary actors in TV and Films and models working with the fashion and beauty industry. A result of the decades of hard work by activists, writers, and legal professionals alongside the trailblazing work done by queer artists, Drag performers, models, actors and content creators.
At the end of the day modeling is a profession, and like any other profession, you have a place of work and colleagues to work with.
What was it like backstage at LFW?
“No one has any bad spirits or energy, backstage” Anjali replied, remarking on just how supportive the experienced models had been to her. Anjali currently lives in New York and hails from Nepal, an international model who has worked with Calvin Klein and walked at New York Fashion Week 2022.
“I had a great experience overall and found considerable acceptance and understanding from my colleagues backstage. In my experience at LFW I haven’t experienced any direct transphobia or discrimination the likes of which trans folks often experience in schools/ colleges.”
Anjali added, “Just like others everywhere else you get along with some folks and maybe not that well with others, but overall you could say it’s like a sisterhood/community”. Both Luna and Gaia testified to this sisterhood-like feeling when speaking about their experiences with cisgender models backstage
Luna said, “Oh yea, yea, these models are quite lovely. There were some really successful models in my pool, and they are really nice! I absolutely loved working with all of them. They are very kind and generous. Rachel Bayros actually gave me medicine once because I had a sore throat. So yea, there is a sisterhood there for sure! Yas, because there are so many women there no, they know how to work in a community.”
Gaia, who studied engineering, dropped out and has studied fashion. She had already walked a few editions of LFW for designers and previously said “It’s always nice for me being there, the models are welcoming and warm-hearted. The makeup artists, models, and backstage crew tend to be sincere and accepting.
One pickle that Glorious Luna (an enby drag performer and Makeup artist themselves) repeatedly found themselves in was during makeup. Makeup Artists often work as per the binary for shows. Do this for ‘male’ models and this for ‘female’ models. This habit carried over to this edition of LFW. Although there were a lot of gender-neutral/fluid models and fashion. Luna gave us an example, “One time I had a prolonged discussion with this one makeup artist, she insisted on doing the masc makeup, I was like no you are supposed to do eye-makeup as well cause I am wearing women’s clothing” – Luna walked mostly in femme or gender fluid or gender neutral outfits this season.
Are there any challenges you face at work that maybe your cisgender-identifying colleagues do not understand?
“The requirements are the same for all, as a model I believe. The process during fittings and backstage is the same as for all. Whether someone is of a different gender or color, the profession is the same right? Everyone is doing the same work. So no, there aren’t any such challenges” Anjali replied, sounding confused by the question.
“For me the process and work is very smooth. For example there are only two changing rooms at the venue, I of course use the woman’s one, and everyone is cooperating and on board with it. Trans women are women, there are no specific requirements” Gaia said, reinforcing Anjali’s experience as well.
Luna, who has been featured in Vogue, Grazia, and Femina remarked, “Honestly other than the makeup thing there really isn’t anything else. For example when I tell them, no you have to color correct my beard area, they usually say that isn’t what they have been briefed. So then I need to tell them, I was born a man, so you have to color correct the beard. I don’t want my five o’clock shadow showing. Following which they shall get confirmation from their directors and then only continue makeup.” Exclaimed Glorious Luna with ample shade.
But other than this issue with the femme vs masc makeup – which is tiring admittedly – but also one that Luna is able to navigate with considerable ease. There aren’t really any differences, requirements, challenges, hiccups or roadblocks that keep transgender/ non-binary models from walking the ramp at LFW or the world over.
*Well other than systemic transgender and gender non-conforming phobia that is woven into the fabric of the industry*
Why is it important for trans/ enby folks to be their own representation and why is it important that folks like you are given the same opportunities that others get in these spaces?
Anjali said “I think it’s important that we represent minorities like black models, plus-size, short, older etc that conventionally did not have access to these spaces. For us transgender folks it’s not only important in fashion but all other industries where we have the skills and talents to be a part of. Yet for the most part we are discriminated against and not given access to these spaces.”
“Being transgender is still considered taboo for some people and tends to come with stereotypical beliefs of what we do. These people need to know that this community exists and that we are able to have fulfilling lives. What they assume isn’t always correct and we need to show them that” stated Gaia, elaborating on why she feels positive representation of the transgender community is key in dealing with transphobia and hate.
Very often we transgender folks ourselves don’t believe it is possible for us to occupy spaces, to which traditionally we have not been allowed access. The stigma, misrepresentation and invisibility of transgender folks in many industries has a lot of us convinced we do not belong in these spaces.
Anjali believes that they have gotten to this point in their career through hard work and developing the required skills for the job. Similarly, there are many transgender people out there that are qualified for specific jobs, but due to stigma and misrepresentation of the community, these positions are often denied to transgender people. This is why it is important to have more minority representation to work through this stigma and misinformation.
Gender roles are socially constructed. The way women should act and dress, as well as how men should behave, was established long ago and fashion happens to be one of the biggest ways of assigning gender. Glorious Luna explained how this has put queer folk whether they are the famous Gay fashion designers in India or the world over, or transgender and non-binary folks at the forefront of fashion explorations. It is now obvious to all, just how much queer culture has influenced the mainstream from the days of William Shakespeare to Madonna and Voguing.
“Why do I put on makeup?” Luna asked me rhetorically, “Just so that I feel feminine, right? It’s a way for me to engage and express gender. Queer people are using fashion and beauty as a language, so it’s only fair for these spaces to include us, because we are often the pioneers of these spaces. From famous gay designers like Halston to numerous trends have been begun by queer people and the current makeup trends being influenced by drag culture.
Even in Fashion 2008, queer folk have been shown all flamboyant, shown holding a little diary and managing things backstage. But we are never in the front of the stage, there it’s just very pretty and skinny cisgender girls. So when we have been behind the scenes for so long, it’s about time we should be given opportunities in front of the camera – it’s only fair.”
“When I was growing up, I didn’t see anyone at all! What I saw in mainstream representation, was usually cisgender gay boys, and then too they were the comic relief. I always had dreams of walking the ramp, but then reality hits you – oh you can’t do it because there is nobody.
I remember hanging out with queer friends in Mumbai, like whenever gay people from Mumbai’s fashion world get together, we would all do a “runway show” and emulate all the supermodels, Elton would say ‘Luna just walk like Naomi, show us how Naomi walks.’ And I would strut. I never did think I would be living this fantasy!” Luna said with glee.
What do you think it means for queer folks when they see you at LFW.
Me: Has anyone ever come up to you IRL or online and told you that you had impacted their life in any way?
Luna: Oh Yea, you are one of them! Hahahaha
They continued, “So many queer folks use fashion as a language to justify their ‘queerness’, so yea a lot of them do reach out to me to say how seeing me in these spaces has impacted them. So much so that there are some super cute kids who do sketches of me! It is such an amazing sensation of feeling for a bit that you can actually be an inspiration to others before my imposter syndrome kicks in. I hear them say ‘You slay on the runway’ and I realize that it is also a part of their fantasy like it had been of mine when I strutted as Naomi Campbell in friend’s homes.”
“I get a lot of appreciation from folks, who feel good when they see me here” Gaia recalled fondly, “I also get queries from queer folks who also want to model. They ask me how they should go about it, and I absolutely love to take time out and respond to them as much as I can. Because I want them to be here as well. I would be the happiest when others also make it here.”
Gaia also advised aspirational models, “Everyone is blessed with some or the other quality, so we have to work hard and develop our skills. Believe in yourself, manifest and work hard and you will achieve what you want to.”
“I completed five years in this industry. If it was just a fad or trend, or I was being hired because I am trans, my runway career would have ended already. But it isn’t so. It’s because I have skills and talents that I have worked hard on and developed over the years. I would advise that all those seeking a career in modeling understand this.” advised Anjali Lama.
She recalled, “In 2017, when I was the first transgender model at LFW, but now when I see there are significantly more, this time there were three in the pool models itself, Gaia, Luna, me. Even outside of LFW there are more names that are upcoming, I am so happy and grateful. We are getting opportunities and progressing.”
“When I hear, ‘yaas hunney you are serving the fantastyy’ I realize that is literally what we are doing as transgender/non-binary models walking at LFW. I am hoping that it gives way for a lot more queer folks to have this fantasy and work towards living it as well.” Glorious Luna said in conclusion.
Writers observation outside of interviews;
Show Directors though. Amongst them, there seems to be a fairly discernible yet not universal trepidation to working with transgender/ non-binary models. Just like all of society today, the fashion industry too is polarised. One end attempting to maintain the status quo and the other trying to lift the often oppressive and arbitrary rules of who gets to be seen and who doesn’t – who gets to wear what. You know breaking the binary(s) stuff. While this LFW edition had plus-size models, age inclusive representation and non-binary representation – there was also some pushback. Some of that was from show directors, some from media