By Bala Sai:
“I have always felt I was a girl. There was never a doubt in my mind. It wasn’t so much of a challenge [to come to terms with it]. And when there were uncomfortable and rather intrusive questions posed and when people passed value judgments, I remained silent. The only people I was answerable to were my folks and myself. But I did realize in the process that if you stop living your reality, the world will not stand by you either. But when you’re honest and courageous, the society does come around.”
Society is Euclidean. It is made of perfect circles and squares and straight lines. It is afraid of anything that it doesn’t understand, that its little set of formulae can’t predict. These are shackles that bind us, blind us and constrain us. But once in a while, someone comes around, brave enough to shrug off whatever the society hurls at them, to show the world what it means to believe in oneself.
Meet Apsara Reddy, Editor, Broadcast Journalist, human rights activist, political lobbyist, brand ambassador and a proud transsexual woman based in Chennai. She has been one of the most prominent voices in the LGBT community, her successes lending hope and courage to people like herself, to rise up against discrimination and make their voices heard.
If you are a Chennaite, chances are that you already know who she is. She has become a household name in the city after the viral success of her chat-show, ‘Natpudan Apsara’, known for bringing Kollywood celebs up close and personal to their fans.
She has worked as the Chief Editor with Deccan Chronicle, and has lately launched her own tabloid, The Red Kite. Through her illustrious career as a journalist, she has interviewed the likes of Nicholas Cage, Michael Schumacher, AR Rahman, Amitabh Bachchan, Aishwarya Rai and former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Here, she answers questions about her life, career and her inspiring journey.
Why journalism? When did you realize your passion towards journalism?
I love telling stories. Stories that educate, inspire, provoke and entertain. I believe there is a story in every interaction and situation. So, after my 12th when I topped the Commerce stream, my parents forced me into a business degree. I enjoyed it but wanted to also combine it with something I like. Luckily, in Australia where I did my BA, I could do a double degree. I graduated with a BA in Business Marketing and Investigative Journalism from Monash University. Later on, I did my MA in Broadcasting and Developmental Economics in London.
How do you think your profession has influenced the way you think, and your beliefs?
Journalism made me realize myself too. Exploring stories from every angle forces you to think of possibilities, gain courage and also reason with your own self. In that sense, I discovered a lot of facets about myself. Also, the people you come into contact with help you explore possibilities and understand that there is a space for every kind of human being. My beliefs have always been non-rigid. I have certain principles but no hard and fast opinions on sex, gender, religion or politics. I am open to suggestions and changing my opinion too. But yes, I will put up a good argument to stand my ground too.
Have you ever faced, over the course of your career, difficulty or discrimination because of your sexual identity?
I refuse to let small minds discriminate me or deny my opportunities. Yes, there have been baseless, cruel and abusive comments and statements passed. I just don’t feel the need to dignify them with a response. I have only focused on being bloody damn good at my job and delivering for the organization I am with. Success has helped me a great deal, not just in silencing naysayers but also in standing up for many like me. After a point, I think your work and success become your reputation and not your sexual identity.
Was there any pressure on you (parental, societal or peer) when you decided to go ahead with your sex-change and how did you deal with it?
I was 16 when I had the conversation with my parents. It was emotional and there was a lot of fear in their minds. But not once did they tell me to not follow my heart. We evaluated all the medical procedures and got the best advice. My mother is my hero and I owe my independence to her.
But people spread such malicious rumors about me while I was away in Bangkok. It hurt a lot because I was embarking on the most important phase of my life and people were gossiping in parties about what I was there for. I heard stuff from liposuction to treatment for depression. I refuse to respond to such talk because these folk don’t occupy any space in my life or head. I am glad in a way, that I am so important to form their dinner table discussions.
After the sex-change, how much of a change could you sense in the way people perceived you as a person?
Those who mattered always treated me as a woman and even people who came into contact with me were warm and understanding. So, I felt no drastic change. People still respect me and give me the dignity I deserve as a woman.
There is a lot of prejudice about transsexuals in our society. What do you think are the reasons behind that, and according to you, what part does the society and the transsexual community have to play to correct this skewed perception?
I feel the community is to blame for it too. If we want respect, then we must conduct ourselves in a manner that is worthy of emulation and respect. If we are going to clap our hands, curse people and suffer from the victim syndrome, we can never mainstream ourselves. It’s essential to educate yourself, apply for jobs, have meaningful relationships, be loyal to people who have stood up for you and keep home well. So, the attitudes prevalent against transgendered woman are not all misplaced. It’s the community that needs to change.
Doctors must stop prescribing hormones and conducting surgeries on every male wanting to be a female. There must be a thorough analysis of their mental makeup and evaluation to see if they can think, live and love like a woman.
Do you think men will be courageous enough to marry a trans-woman?
I am a believer. So, yes I believe men want partners who are caring, will keep them happy and are stimulating both physically and mentally. Also, the connect between two individuals cannot just be about gender, right? Any forward thinking man with sensitivity will be capable of standing up for his love.
Some men love trans-women but marry safe. Yet in a few years, they rekindle their past romance. Families too these days are okay with choices their kids make as long as they are financially, emotionally and socially secure. And lastly, I must say marriages have to be about the synergy of families and minds and not just the wedding, which is one big show for society.
What is the one advice you would give to somebody who is still struggling to ‘come out of the closet’?
Just be honest. No one should deny you inner peace and dignity. If people are going to change because of your honesty, you don’t need them in your life. Parents who love you will support you for your honesty and being brave rather than settling in sham marriages or putting up a façade. If they don’t, you need to make them see sense in your transition.
Tell us a bit about The Red Kite. And what does it bring to the typical reading experience, as far as news is concerned?
We are a fresh tabloid, which focuses on fearless journalism. Good language, great design and access to the powerful distinguish us. Our headlines are shocking and often thought provoking. I aim to make The Red Kite a weekend addiction for the city.
What was your inspiration behind it?
I wanted to do a publication that is not just purple prose and too serious. Also, one that is not just filled with yellow journalism and splashing socialites all over the pages. Red Kite maintains a good balance.
So far, how has the journey been? How has it been received?
The response is overwhelming. We have great advertisers on board. Our virtual hits and social media analytics are very good. I am overall very happy with the city’s response to it. A big thank you to our advertisers and stocking partners who have encouraged us and become a part of the Red Kite family.
We are witnessing a change, slowly but surely, in people’s perceptions. Prejudice and discrimination are quietly crumbling, making way for tolerance and understanding – building blocks for the dream of a truly inclusive society; a society where there is a place for everyone, for every idea, for every belief, for every orientation; a society that believes in its people, in freedom, and in life itself. Apsara Reddy is an inspiration to all, and we need more people like her to succeed, to show the world what can be achieved through strength and belief, to rewrite the laws we all live by.