Discover more from FEMINIST GIANT
Global Roundup: India Trans-Owned Beauty Parlours, Iran Actresses Protest, Hungary LGBTQ+ Photos in Exhibition, Black Trans Activist Memoir, Asian Feminist Collectives
Curated by FG Contributor Samiha Hossain
A composite image showing Bobbii Laishram, 35, a transgender woman who runs a beauty parlour in Manipur, India, posing for a selfie in an undated photograph and her beuaty parlour in Manipur, India, in an undated photograph. Bobbii Laishram/Handout via Thomson Reuters Foundation
Bobbii Laishram, 35, has been running the professional salon Bobbii Hair Art Studio since 2012. Laishram is also the winner of the 2010 trans beauty pageant, Indian Super Queen. Her salon is chic, with bright lights, tasteful decor, giant mirrors and all the kit needed for a thriving beauty business. She normally treats five to 10 clients a day, but since early summer, the studio has stayed mostly shuttered due to a wave of violent ethnic strife that has erupted statewide.
The violence began when the Kuki tribal group clashed with a non-tribal group, the ethnic majority Meitei, in a fight over state economic benefits, such as work and education quotas.
The trouble was initially quelled after New Delhi rushed thousands of paramilitary and army troops to the state of 3.2 million people in May, but normal life has yet to fully resume.
About half of the dozens of beauty salons that operate in Manipur are owned and run by trans women, who are known in the state as "Nupi Manbi" or "looks like a girl" in the local language Meiteilon. Work options are limited for trans women, and the salons had promised solid earnings and a safe haven from discrimination. Many salon owners had to shut up shop due to the violence, resulting in economic troubles for owners and employees.
Trans women in Manipur are stereotyped with entertainment, which is why we can be found in the beauty industry. -Santa Khurai, a trans activist
One trans female beautician, who asked not to be named due to concerns over her safety, is currently in a resettlement camp in Akampat, in east Manipur, after her house was burned down during the violent clashes.
I used to run a beauty parlour from my home. (Now) all of it is gone. Almost everyone from my village has run. - trans female beautician, 22
From Taraneh Alidoosti.
Iranian actresses who defy Iran's so-called morality police and go out in public without a headscarf have been banned from working. Many remain defiant even as locals pay an increasingly high price for protest.
In late October, Iran's Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance published a list of actresses barred from their profession for appearing in public without a headscarf. The list currently contains some 20 names, including world-famous artists like Taraneh Alidoosti. Now 39, she starred in the internationally acclaimed drama "The Salesman" in 2016. The film won director Asghar Farhadi an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2017.
Alidoosti used to wear a headscarf in public even when she was abroad. But that changed in November 2022 as Iran was rocked by protests following the death of Jina Mahsa Amini. On Instagram, Alidoosti posted a picture of herself without a headscarf to her 8 million followers. The image shows her holding a slip of paper that reads "women, life, freedom” to show support for the Iranian women's rights movement and anti-government protests.
Shortly after posting the image, Alidoosti was arrested and only released two weeks later after friends and family posted bail. On social media, she responded to her employment ban: "I will not comply with your headscarf that is still dripping with the blood of my sisters."
We risk our lives every day because we are outside without our headscarves. It is sad to see that many actresses still wear one. -Iranian student from the capital Tehran
In October, Iranian director Dariush Mehrjui and his wife, screenwriter Vahideh Mohammadifar were found dead in their home with knife wounds. The movie industry and wider public was shocked to learn of the couple's murder. Authorities spoke of a robbery at the hands of a former gardener. But many remained skeptical. Like many other filmmakers in Iran, Mehrjui was often at loggerheads with state authorities. In March 2022, when his last film "La Minor" was censored, the 83-year-old posted an angry message to the Iran culture ministry on social media, stating: "Kill me, do whatever you want with me … destroy me, but I want my rights." At the burial, many noteworthy actresses wore headscarves. The only woman to defy the obligatory hijab mandate was 16-year-old Mona Mehrjui, the murdered couple's daughter.
I know that right now the price of resistance in Iran is very high. If you don't want to vanish out of sight, you must reluctantly wear a headscarf…Those in power can never undo what happened last year in Iran. They are now facing a young and courageous generation of women who know what they want: Freedom and the end of oppression. -Shole Pakravan, stage actress and author
Members of the Golden Gays group decompressing at home after a recent show. Photograph by Hannah Reyes Morales
Laszlo L. Simon was accused of breaking Hungary’s 2021 Child Protection Act, which made it illegal to show depictions of LGBTQ+ content to minors. This restriction applies to any media or educational content “portraying homosexuality or sex reassignment.” Earlier this year, 15 countries in the European Union joined a legal case against the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.
The supposedly contentious content in this year’s World Press Photo exhibition consists of five photographs by Filipina photojournalist Hannah Reyes Morales entitled “Home for the Golden Gays” which depict elderly queer Filipinos who are served by a nonprofit of the same name. In October, Hungary’s far-right Mi Hazank party filed a government inquiry into the matter, effectively forcing the museum to stop admitting minors to the exhibit and add a public notice to the exhibit noting that only adults could view it.
Joumana El Zein Khoury, the executive director of the World Press Photo Foundation condemned the censorship of Morales’ “so positive, so inclusive” photographs.
The fact that there is limited access for a certain type of audience is something that shocked us terribly. It’s mind-boggling that it’s this specific image, this specific story, and it’s mind-boggling that it’s happening in Europe. -Joumana El Zein Khour
FEMINIST GIANT is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Raquel Willis. Photo: Texas Isaiah
Raquel Willis details her life story and her ceaseless passion for advocacy in a candid new memoir, “The Risk It Takes to Bloom.” Raised Catholic in a Black Southern family, Willis explains how the death of her father when she was 19 contributed to years of grief, and ultimately, epiphanies about what she was meant to do with her life — how she began to truly bloom as a whole person.
Willis worked as a journalist during the early part of the Black Lives Matter movement, hiding her identity while working as a news reporter. Over time, she would publicly come out as transgender and become a powerful advocate. She writes about the reality of working in “lofty” positions as a Black trans woman — experiences she says cast light on how progressive spaces can still contain systems of oppression. Willis is currently an executive producer for iHeartMedia’s LGBTQ+ Outspoken Podcast Network. The activist sat down with Pride Source recently to discuss the new book, her continued advocacy and her thoughts about the current state of trans discrimination.
We're living in a time of anti-trans discrimination, where being known makes us a target. I think many in the trans community want to be seen, but I think at this time, it's also at what cost? What are we willing to give up? What kind of risk, speaking to the title of the book, are we willing to take to be seen or to be heard? -Raquel Willis
Willis discusses how there aren’t many stories where Black trans women talk about their experience with their career and navigating the workplace. She counters the misconception that being queer is about internal discomfort, but rather it is external discomfort that takes up her energy.
My hope is that whatever space I enter, I am carving out a container for the next folks to not have to check off as many boxes. My hope is to make it smoother for the next people. -Raquel Willis
Willis created the Trans Obituaries project when working for Out magazine. She shares that her purpose was to talk about the lives the trans people had lived before they were taken.
I think we all kind of carry the lives of folks who have been taken, whether we were related to them, whether they were just in our community, or whether they shared some element of our identity or our experience. And I do feel like we have the opportunity to not just wallow in the grief and the mourning but to actually use whatever lane we're in to try and make things better so that doesn't happen again. -Raquel Willis
ILLUSTRATION : ACIA YANG
For over a year, Mélanie Cao has been posting portraits of Asian artists and activists on her platform Asiofeminism Now!, which she built to highlight Asian identities that are usually lacking in mainstream media. The project slowly morphed into the Belgian podcast Here I Talk About Something that Doesn’t Exist (or Je vous parle ici de ce qui n'existe pas in French), a show about the white gaze, gender, decolonisation, the diasporas and dreams of the future. The goal of Cao’s show is to create an archive of minority representation.
Searching for these stories is a solitary quest. We sometimes think we're the only ones going through things because there are very few similar stories, experiences and faces reflected back to us. But that doesn't mean they don't exist. -Mélanie Cao
In collaboration with Cao, VICE has published some of the testimonials shared in her podcast. A few of those stories will be included here.
Lotus, 21, student and co-founder of Untold Asian Stories (UAS), a collective focusing primarily on anti-Asian racism, talks about being adopted into a half-white family and growing up in a very white and fairly conservative town. She believes that a lot of people experience loneliness growing up, and coming together as a collective can really change that.
I think creating connection and intimacy is at the heart of what we do. And that's what makes it all so difficult, because we stir up people's emotions. It's as if we were in a collective healing process. We really need these spaces to share our experiences, to start gaining confidence in talking about them and to ensure that the racism we've been through is named. And then we can even start talking about it with non-Asians. It's a whole process. -Lotus
Ann, 40 is the other co-founder of UAS. Ann mentions being the first Chinese person to be directly elected to the city council in the Flemish Belgian city of Leuven. She read a newspaper article that featured an interview with Lotus talking about being 18 during the pandemic. Hearing about Lotus’ experiences with the lack of Asian representation in Belgium and her desire to work on it, initiated UAS.
It's only because UAS exists – through creating these spaces and this language together – that I feel like I'm allowed to feel all my feelings for the first time. -Ann
Samiha Hossain (she/her) is an aspiring urban planner studying at Toronto Metropolitan University. Throughout the years, she has worked in nonprofits with survivors of sexual violence and youth. Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She loves learning about the diverse forms of feminist resistance around the world.