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‘During my teens, fashion was a place where I found comfort’: Miss Trans Queen India 2020

Shaine Soni, who was crowned on 19 December, will represent India on the world stage in May. She discusses her transition journey, the lack of representation in Bollywood and fashion world, and her plans

Shaine Soni after winning her crown on 19 December in Delhi
Shaine Soni after winning her crown on 19 December in Delhi (Miss Trans Queen India 2020)

As a child, Shaine Soni used to love making crowns out of paper and “act like a beauty queen”. On the evening of 19 December, she was crowned the Miss Trans Queen India 2020 in Delhi. “I am, of course, very excited. More so, because I want to go to Thailand (for the Miss International Queen 2021 competition) and bring home recognition for Indian transwomen,” says Soni.

In the past 10 years, Soni, 33, who used to make clothes for her Barbie dolls using her mother’s discarded clothes, has made a career as a successful celebrity stylist, travel blogger and fashion designer.

In a phone interview, she talks about her journey and the work she wants to do to raise more awareness about the trans community. Edited excerpts:

You have never hidden your identity from anyone, then why the official coming out to the world during the competition?

I was going through a lot of coming out stories lately. And these stories gave me a lot of motivation to speak about myself. So, I believe that if I have to ever talk about myself, Miss Trans Queen India is the right platform for it. If it can change the reality of just one trans kid somewhere who wants to get this transformation, or just anyone who needs the strength to stand up for themselves, this will all be absolutely worth it. It’s high time we change how we perceive transwomen in India. They are not people you look down upon or have sympathy for. We are no different. All the previous Miss India, Miss World, Miss Universe winners were women with a purpose, and so am I.

What was your family’s reaction when you first came out?

I’ll share something I really want to address: A trans child always goes through this phase in life where they’re confused to be gay because you’re feminine and you act a certain way. Physical transformation comes later but there’s a lot of mental transformation that happens within you.

I also went through the phase where my mom thought I was gay (Soni was born male). She was okay with the idea of me being gay but the transformation was something that freaked her out. She would speak to me indirectly about her concerns regarding my career or whether people will accept me. And there was always this notion of “I know, you know, so let’s not talk about it”. But I did not have to speak to her about it, eventually. What I did was I called them for one of the pageants I was associated with, about three years back. It was my mom’s birthday. It was the first time she saw a fully glamorised version of me.

She saw how people were respecting me for my work. In fact, one of the contestants walked up to my dad and said, “I want a daughter like that”. That brought tears to my dad’s eyes and he said, “I am so proud of her. She is my shadow.” That was my coming out to them. I didn’t say anything; I just made them see everything.

Did your relationship with fashion change with your transition?

My experience of fashion as an art form has not changed with my transformation but as a business, it definitely has. As an art form, there is freedom of expression and you can express yourself the way you want to. My graduating collection at NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) was very androgynous. But when you talk about commercialising this very collection, people would not want to buy such androgynous clothing. I would have to narrow my clientele down to probably a few people who would appreciate and relate with it. So the commercial channel became very narrow for me.

Any major hurdles you faced in your career?

Yes, definitely there have been quite a few such instances. I have seen that there’s some kind of comfort people have if you’re gay, but with transowmen, people tend to get a little insecure. I worked for a brand which had two partners. I hadn’t talked about myself to them; I didn’t lie but I also didn’t reveal my identity. But the moment they got to know, while one of them was quite accepting of me, the other’s behaviour completely changed which created an uncomfortable environment for me to work in. I eventually had to quit the job. If I’m doing my job right, does it really matter that I am a transwoman?

You are a designer, a blogger and a stylist. How do you manage time?

I always have done what I wanted to do and that which I enjoy doing from within. In my final year, I won a reality show and got an internship with (trend forecasting company) WGSN in Hong Kong. Then I came back and started my own label, Nude, which made leather lingerie. After that, I felt that I am not one of the people who can be settled in one zone. Designing was too much of a commitment to one place. So even though I had my own studio in Shahpur Jat (in Delhi), I got into styling which gave me the opportunity to travel for my work. For the past two years, I have travelled a lot and I believe it has changed me as a person. So I started blogging about my journeys while also styling and working worldwide. For me, my journey is about every decision I have taken, even exploring more than one career option.

You always wanted to work in the fashion industry?

Absolutely. I come from a creative background, so I have always had a strong inclination for art and craft. Also, during the whole turmoil I had in myself during my teens, fashion was a place where I found comfort, where I knew I would be more accepted.

You have previously styled contestants for Miss Trans Queen India. Is it difficult to source clothes from popular Indian designers for the pageant?

Definitely. Everybody talks about trans women on the surface. People say that we’re there with them, but that’s just talk. When you try and get some designer clothes, sometimes you have to really request or use your stylist card, but there’s always this little hick they have, saying, “No, this is made for a woman’s body.”

If you’re sourcing clothes for Miss India, they’re more than ready to give because she’ll probably ultimately make her way to Bollywood. So designers have this foresightedness of marketing their clothes through them. But if you talk about transwomen, we do not have any representation in Bollywood in the first place.

Has the status quo has changed for the LGBTQIA community after Section 377 was read down by the Supreme Court?

Yes, definitely. That was a historical judgement. But I won’t say the status quo has completely changed because if you come to the ground level, people are yet to accept the community whole-heartedly. There are also many people in the LGBTQ+ community who are unaware of their rights. A gay child brought up in a rural area might still think that he is wrong, he is abnormal because of the thoughts that have been hammered into his head. But it surely has given a lot of comfort and hope for the future. But just an amendment won’t help. The LGBTQ community needs to be educated of their rights and what they deserve so that they can live without fear.

What are your thoughts on the portrayal of the transgender community in the entertainment industry?

Even though the portrayal of transwomen has changed a lot over time, they are yet to get their dues. For example, a character like Cuckoo in Sacred Games, which was a very different portrayal of a transwoman, was played by a woman. That’s my problem. If a woman can play a transwoman, why can’t a transwoman play a woman? Even though I always take Bollywood movies lightly as just entertainment, I am not with the mockery and the wrong presentation of transwomen characters.

What are your plans for the Miss International Queen?

My basic preparation starts with my wardrobe, my walk, my talk and my communication skills for the different interviews. Of course, there I won’t just be Shaine Soni, I will be representing the country’s transwomen. I want to be a voice for the community and portray trans women in the best way possible, as opposed to what they read and know about Indian transwomen. I want to show them a contemporary Indian transwoman who is educated, working and leading her life on her own terms.

What will we see Miss Trans Queen 2020 wearing during her crowning?

I am designing and making my own outfit.

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