Jewellery to painting, salon services to pet care, the stalls sold a range of products and services

Sudeshna Banerjee | Published 04.03.24, 06:54 AM

Stalls put up by members of the transgender community on the lawns of the German consulate general

Pictures by Sudeshna Banerjee

A pop-up market for the transgender community was organised on the lawns of the German consulate general in what was a first-of-its-kind initiative for the diplomatic mission.

Jewellery to painting, salon services to pet care, the stalls sold a range of products and services. ADVERTISEMENT

Watching them decorate the space with multi-coloured paper triangles, representing the rainbow community, consul general Barbara Voss told The Telegraph: “We have frequent contacts with the social sector and felt the need to support LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs. It is difficult for them to find space as their gender identity becomes a barrier. But if you exclude a part of society then you are not really a democracy. Their situation is tough in Germany, too, as parts of the society do not like them. Since we have this beautiful garden, we thought of offering them a platform.”

The market, organised, was called Transmark. “It is a short form of market as also a mark of their talent and ability to leave a mark on the mind of whoever interacts with them,” said Bappaditya Mukherjee, the founder-director of Prantakatha, an organisation working for empowerment of youth from excluded communities, which curated the event.

He spoke of transphobia being present everywhere, “from the streets to corporate set-ups”.

“One of them had tried selling maize on the footpath but got targeted by other hawkers. They used his gender as an excuse to eliminate competition,” he said.

All 21 stalls at the fair were run by transmen and transwomen and such tales of exclusion and exploitation could be heard from almost all of them.

Debangshi Biswas, a transwoman from Madhyamgram, in North 24-Parganas, was selling jewellery under her brand name Hemer Saajghor.

“I have a master’s in Bengali. But when I look for a job, instead of my education, employers look at my gender, as if I am from Mars. So I started this business,” said Debangshi.

The going is tough for Debangshi even as an independent entrepreneur.

“Social media is a vital tool for promotion today. But if I do Facebook live sessions with my products, I am trolled on my own page. If I write about my struggle, I am told I am acting against nature,” said the transwoman, who was born Debjit and was turned out of the house in vest and shorts when she came out during the lockdown.

This was before her surgery. “My partner, a transman, has had a bigger struggle,” she added, pointing to him.

Joe Dutta, who had set up a tea stall, was happy with the response.

“We are thrilled that people of high status came in such numbers on a weekday. We were not charged a penny and were provided support instead. My current profession sustains me but is not enough to continue my treatment. So I want to start a food business on the side. This stall was my first step in that direction. But it is an uphill task as we are not taken seriously. Nor are we given loans. My family, too, does not support me,” said Joe, who started hormone therapy in 2014 and went under the knife in 2018.

“There are two surgeries left and the lifelong cost of hormone treatment to be borne,” said Joe.

Prantakatha’s Majumdar said the goal was to use the market for positive discrimination.

“If there can be a Sabala Mela or a Hastashilpa Mela, which are all curated pop-up events, why can’t there be one for transgenders, too? If we can open up this space, five years later, who knows, even mainstream fairs might include them,” he said.

The event has had a positive impact. A bank official, who attended the fair, has evinced interest to organise a similar market under the bank’s banner.

“We are trying to join the mainstream. If you deny us the chance, we will be forced to clap for alms at traffic signals forever,” said Debangshi.