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Pride Month Special: In conversation with Randy Scarhol, model, architect and drag queen

By Rebecca Edwin

Meet Randy Scarhol, a model, architect and drag queen. She is all of these things and so much more — more than a sum of her parts, as it were. She shares with us her beginnings, her struggles and how drag helped her find herself.

How do you identify?
I identify as a trans woman.

Tell us about yourself and your journey.
I was born in Kolkata to a very orthodox, conservative Brahmin family. It was a huge joint family, so I was surrounded by people all the time and it was a very loving childhood, in that sense. We moved to Bangalore when I was 5 or 6, and I’ve been here ever since. It’s my home.

Growing up, I always felt like there were parts of me that I couldn’t express to anyone. My first memory of me expressing my gender identity was when my grandmother used to dress me up in her saris and put a bindi on me, just because it was fun.

College has not been easy – I’m still finishing my degree, studying architecture in a college called GIT in Belgaum. To be openly homosexual there, it was very, very tough. I sank into a very bad mental and emotional state, and those four years were the toughest of my life, my lowest point. It got to a stage where I was self-harming and suicidal, so I was brought back home for a break to work on my mental health.

And that’s when I discovered drag. I met Xen, who is now my mentor – they are not a drag queen, they don’t identify with any gender. We are very similar people, and we wanted to create art. They sort of took me in, taught me about make-up, taught me everything. I came to realize that drag is not just a performance to me any more. This is who I am.

I should say, though, that while drag has been a catalyst in my trans journey, it hasn’t been the only factor.

When did you first realize you were trans?
I came out as gay when I was 16. But it wasn’t till 2017 when I was 22 that I started questioning my gender identity, and thought maybe I was gender non-conforming. It was a very complex journey, to the point where I had to look at myself in the mirror and say okay, there are parts of your body that you do not feel comfortable with. It’s been a year. When I came out, I was 23. I’m 24 now.

I know it’s clichéd to say that Lady Gaga helped me accept myself. It’s the most clichéd thing ever, but it is true. She helped me see that it was time to accept that part of myself. Because I’d been pretending to be something, someone, I wasn’t.

I’ve discovered a lot about being a woman. Being a woman is something you claim, right?! I just claimed it, I guess.

What did drag do for you?
I was back in Bangalore, away from college and trying to get my life together. And drag was a very good creative outlet for me. I got to do things I never thought I would. I owe that to Keshav Suri, CEO of the Keshav Suri foundation. I met him when I was 22 and we hit it off immediately. For someone like him to recognize that I have so much to offer, and just be there for me and support me… to just say – you know what, you want to do drag? Yes, you can do drag at my club. It was amazing.

That’s how it all started.

Photo by Shreya Chitre 

How has your family reacted?
They’ve had a very tough time trying to wrap their heads around it. I hadn’t told them about doing drag for the longest time. When I finally told them, they said okay, so this is what you do, but what’s next for you? We don’t understand what’s happening. First you told us you were gay. Now you tell us you want to be a woman. But you do drag which is just a character, a performance. 

And I had to explain to them that these things are all different, but are somehow linked to my gender identity. If I wasn’t put in drag, I don’t think I would have discovered that that is what I had really wanted. It was like the pieces finally fit together. My whole life, I always felt like there was something missing, or that there was something I was supposed to do but wasn’t doing. Or someone I was supposed to be but couldn’t be.

How different are things in college now?
I went back in October, full time. It is hard, though. There’s trauma associated with the place - I was sexually assaulted there by two men in 2017. I didn’t report it though, I wasn’t willing to put myself through that. When you look male and you go to the police station to report something like this, it isn’t received well.

When I went back I shaved my head, tried to stay under the radar, tried not to attract attention. It was very difficult. The faculty doesn’t want to associate with you any more after you’ve been away for so long. And I guess it’s hard for them to empathize? They don’t get how mental health or gender dysphoria or sexual assault or trauma works.

One of the things that still frustrates me is that my parents paid lakhs to an institution where the faculty was more worried about the color of my hair than about my mental health. The fact is that we don’t talk about mental health, something that affects so many of us. And I think India is the country with the worst mental health. No one addresses it. No one understands it. No one wants to understand it. And going to a therapist is so looked down upon. Why do you need one?! Are you crazy?! There’s a shame and stigma that comes with that, and there’s no real support system.

Photo by Shreya Chitre

Tell us about the communities you have chosen to be a part of.
Your queer friends are your family. In a lot of ways, we grew up being traumatized from being misunderstood by our own families. And that’s where you find it easy to connect with someone. Every queer person needs another queer person in their life to guide them. You definitely need that. My best friends who are dating, are a lovely lesbian couple who have done beautiful things for me in my life. They are my family. 

What do you think is society’s biggest misconception about the trans community?
Discrimination is prevalent equally, among both the educated and the uneducated. It’s just that the educated have less of an excuse. But all discrimination in India stems from the patriarchy. And that has led to rape culture, to anti-queer laws. Because queerness is seen as an illness, our culture’s dirty secret. That’s what really offends me.

When I tell people I’m a woman, it’s like they need to be sure? Sometimes they ask really personal and offensive questions like “When are you getting surgery?” Well, I don’t want surgery. Just respect a trans person and their space. What I want to do with my body shouldn’t matter. Whether you use the ‘she’ pronoun to describe me shouldn’t depend on how ‘female’ I look that day.

What’s your take on some of the initiatives around the trans community?
I think this is a good time to address the Trans Bill 2018. I believe that to pass that bill would be a heinous act against the trans people of this country. What it says is that we will have a committee of so many members who will decide whether you get to be trans or not. We will decide if your dysphoria is valid or not. It takes away your right to self-identify. If you say you’re trans, you’re trans. If you say you’re a woman, you’re a woman. If you say you’re a man, you’re a man.

Then, it takes away your agency. So many trans women have not been brought up with the privilege I have. Caste plays a crucial role here, because so many do not have the access to educate themselves about their own bodies, their own dysphoria. So many are thrown out of their homes and their only options are sex work or begging. That’s the reality for many, many trans women. And sex work is illegal in this country, plus the bill would make begging illegal too.

I think we need reservations for trans people. Because to be able to be trans and be employed has to do with how able you are to pass at being cis gendered. I know there’s no law which says you cannot hire a trans person, but the stigma makes it difficult for any trans person who doesn’t pass as cis to be hired. It happens again and again.

Women need to have the agency to say it’s my body, and it’s my choice what I do with it. I know there’s the issue of exploitation, and that should definitely be addressed. But give us our own agency. Let us fend for ourselves, doing sex work or otherwise. I’ve noticed that this is something people do not want to talk about. We need to talk about sex work!

Photo by Shreya Chitre

How do you think we can/should generate awareness about the trans community?
We can start with sex education in school. Let’s talk about gender in school, let’s talk about rape culture. Let’s talk about consent. Let’s talk about caste.

Tell us about your drag persona.
I’ve grown up being very inspired by icons like Grace Jones and of course Lady Gaga. I have a thing for blondes. Donatella Versace. Marilyn Monroe. The high fashion of it all. As someone who’s always loved fashion so much and always found a kind of peace in fashion and found an acceptance within fashion, my drag persona has evolved in that way. My drag persona is blonde all the time, which is why people thought I looked like Lady Gaga and that’s when I did a tour – ‘A night of a thousand Lady Gagas’. They called me India’s #1 Lady Gaga impersonator. I didn’t claim it, but it just happened.

Veronique – my stage name – was actually given to me by Keshav. He said to me, “You’re French”. It was lovely. And I’m not letting go of that. She’ll probably make appearances on stage. She’s a fun character to play around with and reinvent. There’s a lot of sentimental value attached to her. And I’m still very attached to her. 

However, as my own identity, I don’t think I want to be known as Veronique. I have my own name. My name is Randy Scarhol. I’ve felt like it’s important for me that I come out as someone who does drag, and I’ve discovered that I don’t need a cover any more.

What would be your advice to young people or those who haven’t been able to come out just yet.
To those looking to come out - take your time. It’s not easy. It’s your journey. We don’t have to compare ourselves to one another. Everyone is on their own journey of self-discovery. Look for a support system. Be one to someone else if you can. 

If I could have advised my younger self, it would be: “Don’t be so hard on yourself. Things will fall into place.” I was very critical of myself when I was younger. To the point where I have screwed up more because I was so scared of screwing up.

If you could describe your journey in one word - what would it be? 
A mess. It’s been a mess! But a fun mess.

View more of Randy's work here

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