While she’s still trying to get the hang of walking in her brand new pair of six-inch stilettos or adjusting her bodice, Swapnil Shinde, reborn at age 39 as Saisha Shinde, appears ready to upstage all the fashionistas that she has been dressing for the past two decades.
Transgender visibility in the country reached new heights after Shinde—a fashion designer known for dressing Bollywood actors such as Deepika Padukone, Katrina Kaif, Kareena Kapoor and Sunny Leone—came out to the world on Tuesday with a new name and a new face as a transwoman, becoming one of the first to break grounds with her trans identity in India’s pop culture sphere. With a picture of her freshly minted porcelain skin with perfectly arched brows and a delicate glance, a far cry from the heavy stubble and pompadour haircut that previously defined the Wadala-based designer, she shared a long note on social media where she spoke of her struggles with gender identity that led to “loneliness, aches and pressures” since childhood.
“All through school and college, while the boys outside tormented me because I was different, the internal pain was far worse. I felt suffocated living a reality that I knew wasn’t mine, yet one that I had to stage every day because of societal expectations and norms. It was only in my early 20s at NIFT where I found the courage to accept my truth; I truly bloomed,” Shinde wrote, adding she spent the next few years “believing that I was attracted to men because I was gay, but it was only six years ago that I finally accepted to myself, and today that I accept to you. I’m not a gay man. I am a Transwoman.”
However, shedding apprehensions and transitioning to her dreams of an appearance to match her identity as a woman was “never black and white”, she underlines. “I’d been toying with the idea for about six years but because of the profession I’m in and the adulation that Swapnil Shinde has always got, many of my friends in the industry out of concern for me felt that I could live my life as a man, and behind closed doors, dress up as a woman to avoid trolling,” says Shinde who has the pandemic-induced isolation to thank for driving her to be her authentic self. “One morning after a chat with my therapist I decided to go with my decision to live as a woman in full swing,” she gushes.
The shot at finding her authentic self was important for Shinde, not just to break barriers for herself but for others in the transgender community for whom coming out publicly remains a struggle, even as the scenario looks more upbeat for gay men. “If someone like me who is privileged is battling so much, I don’t know what people who don’t must be going through. And that was one of the main reasons for me to come out the way I have. When browsing social media, there’s no one from India that I found who I could look up to with a successful, happy life with a great set of friends,” says Shinde who sees herself engaging with the LGBTQ community about issues impacting the transgender community. “Just like being gay is as good as normal now, I want to be more involved in making people comfortable with the idea of a transgender person being normal too and not a caricaturish image.”
Even as Shinde guards her privacy when it comes to the question of sex reassignment surgery, she admits that “40 percent of my transition is done and as soon as the coronavirus is sorted I will get to the next step of surgeries.”
While Shinde has received an overwhelming outpouring of praise and applause from friends in the industry such as actors Parineeti Chopra, Aditi Rao Hydari and Shruti Hassan to stylist Anahita Adajania Shroff and model Diandra Soare, the support of her mother who helped her choose the name ‘Saisha’ which means ‘meaningful life’.