When Rose speaks, Tamil Nadu stops to listen. Perhaps it is the air of nonchalant confidence that she exudes, or it is her perceptive mind that dissects tangled and tricky issues, making them straight and simple. Rose’s reasoning works. And the fact that she is not afraid to delve into any issue, be it workplace harassment, divorce, premarital sex or even the benefits of legalising prostitution, helps.
For some time now, Rose has been discussing social issues, sex, sexuality and superstitions on a popular FM station and on TV. Her show in Tamil, ‘Rose Udan Pesungal’ (Rose Speaks To You) on 92.7 Big FM has hundreds tuning in; she is the world’s first transgender person to direct, produce and anchor a TV show – ‘Ithu Rose Neram’ (‘This Is Rose’s Time’) on Kalaignar TV; she is India’s first transgender talk-show host (‘Ippadikku Rose’ or ‘As Said By Rose’ on Vijay TV, 2008); she is an activist, and very soon will become a pop singer, music director, dancer and composer, too. Her album, Chocolate Rose – which she is producing simultaneously in English, Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam – will soon be out.
It’s already a long and impressive list of achievements, but Rose says emphatically, “I have just begun.” Of course, these days all she has on her mind is ‘Chocolate Rose’, which will give a voice to the issues that sexual minorities face. Rose has penned the lyrics for this one herself. “Would you like to hear them?” she says. Yes! ‘Chi poda (Get lost)’ is a song addressed to all men in society. Roughly translated this is how it goes: ‘I’ll dress the way I want, be the way I am, do the things I want. Who are you to question me? If you don’t like it, get lost…’ Explicit, simple and effective – very much like Rose herself.
But Rose came into her own after going through her share of troubles. “While growing up, I was always in despair. The suppression of my sexuality had a negative impact on me. Then there came a time when I decided that I didn’t want to live a lie of a life anymore,” she says. Rose was 22 then. “To just live my life honestly required courage and confidence. Society being so prejudiced against sexual minorities, I always had to defend myself. I had to fend for myself all the time. Every day emboldened me,” she muses.
Rose went through with a sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) only after undergoing the Real Life Test, where a person opting for a male-to-female sex change surgery is made to live like a woman before being given surgery. Today, she may look like a fabulous female model, but she has never attempted to hide her transgender identity.
Confidence apart, Rose attributes her never-say-die attitude to spirituality, which became a solace and an inspiration for her. “I discovered the meaning of life, which basically is that there is no meaning of life. It is about just living the moment and celebrating nature and existence,” she states candidly.
Her rise to stardom was, of course, entirely a matter of chance. After studying bio medical engineering at Louisiana University in the US, Rose came back to India and looked for a job. Her family threw her out. She was homeless for a while and sexually harassed by men. She eventually managed to find a roof over her head in the kitchen of an NGO.
“It was then that I started thinking: ‘Why should I live like this? I am educated, beautiful, and capable’,” Rose recalls. She decided that the media industry held the key to all her hopes. “The media industry can beam messages into thousands of homes. And there is a crying need for dissemination of the right information about transgendered persons. We have been maligned, ridiculed and ostracised for so long on the basis of misinformation and misconceptions,” she says.
A meeting with Latha Suresh, an influential Chennai-based social worker, helped Rose get started. Latha arranged a meeting between Rose and Vijay TV channel, and that’s how ‘Ippadikku Rose’ happened. “I sat with them explained the concept. The producers liked it and the show went on air. It attracted a lot of attention,” she recalls. In a sense, the transgender tag helped, “There was the draw of curiosity.”
She believes that western religious codes are the chief reason for society becoming patriarchal and heterosexist. “If you consider Thailand, it is a highly inclusive society that respects transgenders, probably because it never came under the invasion of western culture and religion,” she ponders, and adds, “These codes have split up humanity, established a patriarchal order, subjugated women and sexual minorities. Women are largely coming out of this subjugation. Now it is the turn of sexual minorities to achieve this freedom and equality. It will happen in time. The women’s movement started a century back, remember.”
But Rose has no intention of waiting for a century. And by simply being herself – an educated, articulate, sophisticated, sensitive, and confident transsexual person – she has broken some of the stigma associated with the transgender identity.
Following Rose’s media avatar, many of those who have seen and heard her, say they are starting to empathise a little more with transgender persons. “Living a luxurious life is not my goal. I have a job to do. And I intend to be a voice for transgenders around the world, and stand up for Gay rights,” Rose says.
What does she have to say to the parents of a transgender person? “The first thing is to remember that gender is not a strict code that can dictate a set way of life – that boys have to live and behave in a certain fashion and girls in another. Secondly, I would like to have people know that the transgender issue is an international one. Today, we don’t know it, but thousands and thousands of transgendered persons live in the male identity, and even marry and have children.”
Rose ends with some words of advice for everyone, “People just hush up this matter and beat up the child to make the child conform. But nothing is going to come out of that. We always harbour expectations about our children. Don’t enforce expectations that are not theirs.”
Today, Rose’s family has taken her back. The world may one day follow suit. (Connect with Rose on: www.youtube.com/loverosyrose or www.facebook.com/rosevenkatesan)