India’s transgender Oprah

The nation's first male-soon-to-be-female talk show host will soon hit the small screen.

Topics: Broadsheet, Oprah Winfrey, India, LGBT, Love and Sex,

It sounds like the opening scene of a promising Indian indie: 40 family members gather to agree on a suitable bride for an eligible son. As it turns out, says the son, there’s no suitable bride for me; I’m not interested in women at all. (Women’s clothing, yes. But not women.)

That son — who was kicked out of the house that day — has now come back to live with that family as their daughter Rose, though her mother still hides her dresses and jewelry when she gets the chance. At the end of the day, though, there’s really no hiding at all anymore: Rose (just Rose) is now India’s first transgender talk show host. Her show, “Ippadikku Rose” (“Yours, Rose”), will be broadcast to up to 64 million people in the southern state of Tamil Nadu later this month. It is, according to the New York Times, “expected to cause a sensation.”

Men who dress or live as women (known as hijras and often considered a third sex) have played positive roles in Indian mythology; modern culture has been less kind. According to Rose, transsexuals (and/or transgender people? Unclear) in Indian movies are ridiculed at best, villainous at worst. In real life, many are shunned by family and workplace alike — Rose herself was let go from a calling center when she began dressing as a woman — and driven to begging or sex work as a last resort.

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Rose (who has a master’s in biochemical engineering) spent time at Louisiana Tech University, which she also did not find to be an oasis of tolerance. While the channel she now works for was “not searching for controversy,” the Times says, producers found that her “screen presence and determination to fight prejudice” blew away her lack of TV experience.

Rose’s show, in contrast to big-screen portrayals, will swing more Oprah Winfrey, less Dame Edna. It will take on sex and sexuality, divorce and sexual harassment, not to mention calling-center romance, all of which are hush-hush topics; the channel’s really not sure how this will all go over. In any regard, Rose feels the best strategy — given how radical her presence is to begin with — is to swing less in your face, more “girl next door.” It’s interesting to see, in that context, which cows appear to be more sacred than others. Rose will talk about her hormone therapy and upcoming sex change operation, she says, but she will not air her true thoughts about marriage. “If you were to ask me, I would say that marriage is unnatural and causes most of the problems in married people’s lives,” she told the Times. “But marriage is such an established concept in Indian life, I won’t be able to question it. I don’t want to frighten people away. I want to reach out to them.”

Note: the title of this post has been changed since publication. See comments.

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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