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Lipstick Men

Lipstick Men

Lives of five transgender dancers from the neigbourhood of Kadapara in Calcutta, documented over a period of four years.

In patriarchal Indian society, being a kothi (a derogatory term for effeminate man) is a matter of shame. Mainstream occupations are off limit. To earn a living, some kothi become launda dancers. For poor families from the interiors of UP and Bihar looking for a grand wedding, men in drag become a cheap substitute for dancing girls. A launda has to dance through the night. Many make extra money selling sex. They soon get used to being cut, bitten or burnt with cigarettes. Being brutalized or even gang-raped is usual. Resisting sex with groups of men may even result in death. Abuse is rampant but awareness is minimal. Added to that is the threat of disease. India has the world’s largest HIV caseload with an estimated 5.7 million sufferers. The dancers are a high-risk group. Charities and government projects tend to focus on women. No one cares about the launda. Even their parikh, whom a launda calls boyfriend, mostly shun them in public.

Excerpt from the book submitted as final dissertation for Diploma in Photojournalism [2012] at the Ateneo de Manila University's Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism

keywords: transgender, drag, dance, community, culture, India, book, reportage