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A Transgender TV Debut

Rose visits a popular city mall called Spencer Plaza, and all the women at the cosmetic counter surround her and greet her enthusiastically. Everytime she visits them, they give her free makeovers. Rose will be the first transgender TV show host in India, to be aired from the end of December.
Rose visits a popular city mall called Spencer Plaza, and all the women at the cosmetic counter surround her and greet her enthusiastically. Everytime she visits them, they give her free makeovers. Rose will be the first transgender TV show host in India, to be aired from the end of December. (Rama Lakshmi - Rama Lakshmi - The Washington Post)

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On "Yours, Rose," guests, experts and a studio audience will discuss marriage, divorce, drugs and sexuality. During a recent brainstorming session, the Star Vijay team and Rose struggled to determine the show's tenuous limits. Rose wanted to express her radical views on marriage, faith and sexuality, but channel officials urged her to go slowly.

"We have to be cautious. We can push the envelope but cannot afford to bang the door down. We don't want angry demonstrators outside our office," Peter explained. "We will debate sexuality, but not in the first couple of weeks. At the end of the day, my father and my mother should be able to accept the show and its host."

The channel's communications director advised Rose not to be too candid about her personal life in interviews with journalists, because he was trying to give her a "classy image."

Rose said her journey has never been easy. She endured merciless taunting from classmates at school because she was different. She went to college at Louisiana Tech University, where she studied biomedical engineering, but said she found the United States to be "too homophobic and trans-phobic."

Eventually, Rose said, she found herself teaching Indian call center employees to speak English the way Americans do. But when she came out three years ago, her contract was not renewed.

Her family threw her out in embarrassment, later taking her back grudgingly. Her mother tells her not to wear saris or makeup and not to be overtly feminine at home or in the neighborhood. As a result, Rose leaves home every day hiding her jewelry and makeup in her purse and carrying a change of women's clothes.

But living with her parents also wards off unwanted attention from drunk men at night. She says a social stereotype of transgender people as sex workers leads employers to deny them jobs and landlords to refuse them housing.

"A transgender or a gay person cannot walk anywhere without the usual catcalling, sniggering and name-calling," said Sunil Menon, who works with sexual minorities and runs a support organization called Sahodaran. "Rose gives us hope because she demonstrates that you can overcome social stigma."

Menon said that the transgender community enjoyed social acceptance in the cultural traditions of Hinduism and Islam in India, but that British rule imposed "Victorian morality."

Rose and her friend Priya Babu, a transgender activist, are working on a book about the transgender community. They also regularly conduct awareness programs for police officers in Tamil Nadu. Meanwhile, Rose has begun educating upper-class women.

On a recent afternoon, she spent five hours having makeup applied and posing for a photo shoot for Society, an upscale magazine. She wore a designer sari with matching bracelets and chandelier earrings.

As the city's best-known fashion photographer clicked away, a popular 1980s song by Foreigner played in the background -- "I've been waiting for a girl like you."


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