Bhima Jewellery, a Kochi-based jewellery brand recently put out an advertisement called ‘Pure As Love’ featuring a trans woman. Meera Singhania, a 22-year-old trans rights activist and student from Ambedkar University, Delhi, stars in the ad with utmost grace and authenticity. The campaign has received a lot of praise online even as it also found itself at the receiving end of some harsh criticism from a few cis feminists.
The ad depicts the life of Meera who is transitioning. At every meaningful juncture of her transition, her parents and family members are shown giving her a piece of jewellery and finally at the end, we see her on her wedding day wearing beautiful adornments. The one minute forty seconds advertisement managed to generate many feelings and thoughts in me. I found myself constantly questioning and scrutinising, however my feelings were ultimately nothing but sheer joy.
The question here is, is the ad perfect? Is it the ultimate goal of trans* representation on screen? Is this all we deserve? The answer to all of the above is absolutely, and in bold letters, NO. And I am going to explain why, but before doing so, I will pour my heart out to celebrate this initiative and the success of Meera, for her success is my success, her representation is my representation because in a world which continues to constantly try and erase us, we must celebrate each one of us, stand in solidarity and support when any of us shines, for what I realise is that her spotlight will give us all the hope to chase our dreams, to believe in ourselves in a world which constantly tells us otherwise.
When I saw the Bhima jewellery advertisement for the first time, I was thrilled. Nothing like this existed when I was growing up: I was afraid to talk about my dysphoria or even recognise it. Shame was a constant feeling. Which is why my heart swells with pride to see Meera being celebrated in and through the Bhima jewellery ad, for that is all I wanted in my life: to be accepted, to be validated. Every time I wanted to relate to someone on screen, it has always been an actress or a heroine. I wanted to be like them, but very soon, would realise that they were not like me. They will never represent my struggle, my life. I will never see someone like me on screen, I’d think.
Yet, as much as I feel elated with all of this, there are certain things that I also cannot ignore. Queer-trans* representation on screen has considerably increased from the last decade and there has been undoubtedly a shift for the better in how trans* folks are shown on screen. The journey from being ridiculed to be able to claim the spotlight has been massive, yet there still lies a problem. In most stories where we see trans* folks, it ends up being about their transition and that too, in a very unidimensional manner. It is always about how the masculine changes to feminine or vice versa. Most of these stories perpetuate heteronormativity, or at least, upholds gender norms. They only celebrate a certain way of being a particular gender, and in the case of the Bhima jewellery ad, a woman. The stories which receive praise by the larger cis-het world are the ones made again and again to endlessly serve the cis-het gaze.
But whose fault is this? Should we then shun Meera and the Bhima jewellery ad? Who shall we call out? Once again, before answering these questions, there is one more very important question that needs to be answered first. Who is at a place to call out the Bhima ad? And this is the one I would choose to answer first. We all are free to criticise the ad and suggest what is needed more, but what is not done is, especially cis feminists, calling the Bhima ad redundant.
Trans* folks cannot be put on a pedestal for wanting to be a part of something that they believe in: they must do whatever they want, however they want, to survive and thrive in a cis-het world. We have not created gender norms, so it is not our responsibility to question them either. We would if we want to, but that is never an expectation that the world must have from us.
Though the Bhima jewellery advertisement was undoubtedly heartfelt and a much needed addition to the discourse, we still do require more nuanced stories, stories that does not just show trans* people in their transition, stories that does not just show binary trans* people, stories that are written by queer-trans* folks, reeking of queerness, filled with queer imagination, and where the cis-het world and its gaze dissolves into the background.
Featured image source: New Indian Express