Most celebrities and path breakers are known for their achievements. Achievements in their professional lives- goals met, deadlines secured, concepts and devices innovated, social causes uplifted. The truly ground-breaking journeys however, comprise those that require accepting one’s true self. How many of us can boast of such an unconditional love for ourselves? Surely, that will be the best accomplishment ever. Alizeh Khan, who previously identified as Swapnil, is a living, breathing version of such an attainment. And hats off to her for owning it, because it sure as hell wasn’t easy!
Alizeh is an enthusiastic performer, poet, open mic speaker, actor, writer, director and make-up artist. Applause and acknowledgement weren’t always in Alizeh’s basket though. Growing up, she was always effeminate and would enjoy dressing up and imitating her favorite actress, Madhuri Dixit. It did not bode well with her father, and Swapnil back then was forced into karate class in an attempt to make him more ‘manly’. To list the kind of abuse Alizeh had to then face over the years is an unthinkable feat. Being physically abused by the boys in his school, taunting remarks from relatives and friends caused Alizeh to become repressed, introverted, and develop suicidal tendencies. Having been ‘out’ as Gay since class eight in school, Alizeh had never been treated with the respect she deserved.
It was not until junior college that she really came into her own. She made friends that opened up to her Mumbai’s queer crowds through the Maheshwari Garden in Matunga – a community where she could feel protected, safe.
The loneliness of being queer changed into her developing self-confidence, figuring out her clothing style, and finally breathing with relief. She is known for documenting her harrowing struggles in her blog titled, ‘I am crushed by Patriarchy.’ She went on win the debut title at the Mx. Androgynous contest held by Gaurav CBO in 2018. That opened up many doors. She was invited to participate in the finale of the Kashish International Film Festival, performed her poetry at open mics, worked as a model with ‘Color Positive’, an organization that works on uplifting the LGBTQ community and directed and acted in his debut film, ‘Merak.’
When her father suffered financial loss, she officially joined the Hijra community and started begging to support her family. In his frustrations, her father struck her mother, who consequently suffered an eye injury. Adding to Alizeh’s struggles, the lockdown came into effect. She had to then survive two whole weeks on a mere thousand rupees. Despite all these obstacles, she successfully managed to facilitate her mother’s eye operation and sustained her father. Alizeh passionately talks about the limitations in the portrayal of the Hijra community in Bollywood on her blog. According to her, they can either be comics or stuck in a transitional fight of self-discovery. She wishes to star in Indian films and expand the scope of representation of the Trans community, especially by starring trans people in trans roles.
One can only imagine the hardships she’s been through. The torturous dilemma of not being allowed to be true to yourself is heart-breaking. Worse is being punished for it. To be able to rise above that and let go of how society paints you, day in and day out, is a painfully amazing lesson one can learn from her. You go girl! Never stop being you.