New Face: Transgender Model Anjali Lama Will Walk The Ramp At Lakme Fashion Week
Anjali Lama is hanger-thin, tall and has the sort of promontory-like cheekbones and razor-edged jaw that a lot of women covet. Her answers are slightly rehearsed though she’s good-natured enough to go over the same ground she has with many a reporter without seeming bored. The reason for all the attention is that she’s the first transgender model to be part of a major fashion show in the country. Lama will be walking the ramp at Lakme Fashion Week Summer/Resort 2017, which will take place at Bandra Kurla Complex from Wednesday, February 1 to Sunday, February 5.
At 32, Lama, a Nepali living in Kathmandu, is about a decade older than many of her peers at Lakme Fashion Week (LFW). The youthful-looking model was one of five debutantes to make it through an audition held by LFW in December 2016. She had auditioned for both editions of LFW last year (Summer/Resort and Winter/Festive) but didn’t make the cut. Because the organisers have always known she’s transgender, Lama believes she’s been picked on merit, not just for a bit of publicity. “I worked quite hard,” she said. “The first time I was quite nervous. The second time, even I didn’t like my expressions and dress. This time I did a lot of research and I was prepared.”
Born Nabin Wabia in Nuwakot village in Nepal, Lama acknowledged that she was trans in 2005. At the time she was living in Kathmandu at her brother’s home. The moment she knew for certain arrived when Lama and her neighbours saw a TV show on transgenders. “That’s when I realised I was trans,” she said. “Then I met some trans people and I said, ‘Take me with you.’” They took her to the Blue Diamond Society, an LGBT rights organisation in Kathmandu. One of them was Mamata Khan, who Lama calls her “trans mummy”, a respectful title given to transgenders who bring their counterparts into the fold. It was Khan who gave Lama her current name.
Lama dressed as a woman for the first time 2005, in a salwar-kameez and make-up given to her by a friend. “I can’t express what I felt,” she said. “It’s like finally getting something [for which] you’ve been waiting for so long.” Lama said that after she came out, her brother evicted her from his house and back in Nuwakot, her father cut off ties with her. Her mother and two sisters were more accepting; Lama speaks to them over the phone now and then. However returning to Nuwakot was out of the question for her because she feared being ostracised by the conservative community in the village. Instead Lama found comfort at Blue Diamond Society, where she worked as an educator and programme officer for ten years. It was only in 2009 that she began modelling part time. A year later, she underwent partial sex reassignment surgery.
Lama’s recruitment is significant for a couple of reasons. She has been allowed entry into the fashion industry, which is notorious the world over for perpetuating a regressive idea of beauty – stick-thin, light-skinned, gender-normative – by excluding those who fall outside accepted categories. The lack of racial diversity has been frequently debated in recent years as the American and European runaways are predominantly white. Perhaps the most scathing, and sublime, critique of racial partiality was American fashion designer Rick Owens’s 2013 show in Paris with mostly black women of healthy proportions fiercely step dancing. While models are often presented in an androgynous fashion in photo shoots, it’s only in recent years that androgynous models have been seriously celebrated, acknowledging the fluidity of gender. Australia’s Andrej Pejic, a stunning, feminine-looking male model was all the rage some years ago until he underwent sex reassignment in 2014. In another effort to be inclusive, LFW has recruited Czech male model Petr Nitka, who identifies himself as ‘gender neutral’.
Lama’s achievement also follows a series of advances in the transgender rights movement that have taken place in recent years. In 2014, the Supreme Court ruled that transgenders must be recognised as a third gender. No state has been more proactive in supporting the community than Tamil Nadu, where transgenders have been allowed to join the police force since 2016. Two years ago, Manabi Bandyopadhyay made news for becoming the first transgender college principal. She was appointed as head of the Krishnanagar Women’s College in Bengal, a post she said last month she was forced to quit. Nepal too is gradually adopting a more progressive outlook. Since 2007, Nepalese citizens have been able to identify themselves as a third gender in official documents. These changes give Lama hope that her LFW debut will launch her into a full-fledged modelling career.