Anwesh: Femme is not a euphemism for indignity. Femme is beautiful, desirable, powerful and fierce. And so are you <3
Issue XVI Cover Feature Empower
Interviewed Spatika Sm
Anwesh is a Visual Designer, Technical and NFT Artist, the first Indian recipient of the Troy Perry Medal of Pride for compassionate Activism, the youngest winner of Mr. Gay World India and creator of 'The Effeminare'. With features in Vogue, Rolling Stones, Grazia, The Hindu and Lifestyle Asia as a breakthrough queer artist, he has taken on the stage of TEDx as a speaker asserting the need
to celebrate gender as a spectrum. He blogs and draws at The Effeminare, a parallel universe where he gets to illustrate the Utopian world he wants to be a part of. He looks at life as a thrilling mystery novel written by God and, since his novel has only started, he’d go with: ‘I am still evolving!’
When did you realize that you were part of the queer community, and what were your struggles with accepting it as a part of your identity?
Anwesh: I must’ve been 16/17 when I started really understanding and questioning the way I felt for men. Initially, it was instant denial and self-pity, so I would tell myself, I can’t be gay. Teenage is anyway a funny time, and most kids struggle to fit in. In the beginning I simply hated how different I was to everyone. I was unable to connect with most folx around me, and that made me an absolute loner. I hit my rock bottom when I started contemplating suicide every single night. As a 16 year old when you’re contemplating if it’s even worth living, there’s something seriously problematic. Somehow I knew something wasn’t right, I could tell that I was slipping into depression. And I believe the most important step here is to acknowledge there is an issue, and seek help. Queerness under the Indian lens is even more complex, because we look down on the idea of being different. And for a queer boy like me, it was way worse. On the brighter side, I started journaling, and started looking for answers within me. I came across “The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari”, and that’s when my entire perspective on life evolved. Till this day I strongly believe that we really can fix a lot of issues (if not all) by simply having a clearer, optimistic vision to our lives. Speak to yourself, be true to yourself, sometimes it’s okay to prioritize yourself. Always save your boat first before saving someone else’s.
Every story is unique, and yours is definitely one of a kind. How did you come to be where you are now? Was there a specific point in your life that made you choose to take this path?
Anwesh: I had a tough time dealing with being gay, but an equally difficult time convincing my parents I wanted to make a career in Design. Sometimes when I look back, I’m quite proud of my 18 year old self for putting up a fight, standing his ground, believing that his dreams must be fulfilled. I admire the courage I had then, because now as a 27 year old I look back and think, wow! You really had the nerve to do that in an even more homophobic world. When I came out in 2013, it was just me who believed it was okay to be gay. I fought every negative outlook that came my way with grace and courage and a lot of dignity. And that’s really something easier said than done, so yes, I am proud of having made it this far with the limited resources I had, and again my outlook to life, that the glass is always half full.
That one moment that changed everything? It was a bus ride back in school! We were on our way to a summer camp. I was treated horribly by my peers. That stuck with me. I used that hate as fodder to help me inspire me, and live a better life.
Support and encouragement really does matter in one’s life. Were your family and friends supportive when you came out to them? If they had given a different reaction, do you think your life would be what it is now?
Anwesh: My parents actually weren’t supportive at all in the beginning. Neither were my friends, or my extended family. It was really difficult. I still sometimes struggle having conversations with them. I do believe patience is key. The support I have today has been built over the years. I have earned every ounce of the respect I have today. It’s all hard work, perseverance and focus. I prioritized my work and financial independence back in those days. It also made me realize privilege is a real thing. I have fought twice as hard for visibility and my share of opportunities.
You seem to take an interest in Cyber Art and Fashion. From where do you take inspiration for your art?
Anwesh: It took me a long time to accept me as who I am, and once I did, I constantly became my reference point. If I need an answer, I look into myself. But, when in doubt, I ask myself, what would Freddie do? Freddie Mercury and his life and journey has hugely inspired me. Grace Jones, David Bowie, and more recently drag artist Charity Kase are some more of my greatest muses. My inspiration comes from everything I see around me, colors, patterns, packaging, shapes, fabrics, cars and the list goes on! Additionally, I love pop culture. I love consuming pop culture, it’s a mirror to our larger thought process, and I love having a little peek into why people love and follow a certain trend, why they love following a certain celebrity, why they consume a certain kind of news, what worked in a certain film etc.
You are an Indian artist, blogger, writer, model, actor and a TEDx speaker. You were crowned Mr Gay World India at the young age of 20. Did you feel a constant need to keep working and achieving more? How did you deal with the pressure?
Anwesh: I do believe growing up as a severely bullied kid, I always wanted to overcompensate for all the bad experiences with good scores, good work, winning awards, creating more art. It was my coping mechanism. So winning Mr Gay India was exactly how I had envisioned my life. Though, the entire period of preparing for the final competition was extremely strenuous. It’s a lot of physical and mental work, and I did everything I could with the very very little resources I had. I believe what helped me through and through, was of course my family, the Mr Gay India team, especially Sushant Divgikr, I had support from actress Celina Jaitly as well. When there’s a lot of pressure, the best thing to do is to do your work, little by little it all adds up and it gets better overtime.
How does it feel to be a man, a Gay man nonetheless, in the fashion industry that is dominated by women? Do you get a lot of criticism and hate for being interested in something that is typically considered ‘girly?’ How do you react?
Anwesh: I’ve never seen myself under a gendered lens to begin with. At least since the time I’ve been an adult man, and been in my senses, I’ve never thought I couldn’t do this or that because of what my gender is or what my sexuality is. I read somewhere how, “if someone has done it, you can do it too. If someone hasn’t done it yet, then you must definitely do it.” That being said, in most Indian households there is an initial resistance to pursuing fashion, or design, mostly because there’s not much understanding to what these careers eventually entail. I understand their apprehensions now. It’s a tough business to crack when you’re coming from nothing. It’s the mindset that needs to evolve, and more importantly if you want to pursue fashion, then do it, but be very VERY resilient. Be open to criticism, you will receive a lot of it. Be aware of how it might take you sometime until you make a profitable business out of it. It’s true perseverance, and being open to new ideas, all of which is easier said than done.
RAPID FIRE ROUND WITH ANWESH
Describe yourself in three words.
A word of advice to 12- year old Anwesh.
Your daily mantra.
The last line you would write in your autobiography.
Your biggest accomplishment till date.
Your happiest memory.
One person you can always count on to have your back.
One motto that you’ll live by for the rest of your life.
Fab, sass and a whole lot of class.
It gets better! And eyes on the prize!
“No matter what storm brews in my life, I can wake up, go to work and shut the world outside”
“This is only the beginning of dawning of the age of Effeminare”
That I’m a survivor!
This might sound really nerdy, but getting 95% in my 12th boards was easily the happiest day of my life, not only because I did well academically, but prepping for my boards was doubly difficult because of my struggle with my sexuality. And there’s an innocence I had back then, which goes away as an adult.
“You hold such infinite potential in the fortress of your mind, dare to tap into your greatness, it is your birthright.”
Do you express your sexuality through your fashion sense? Which do you think was influenced by the other?
Anwesh: Maybe when I was in my late teens, fashion was all about making a statement, so my sexuality had a huge role to play. Now it’s all about whatever catches my eye. I enjoy fashion, I enjoy consuming fashion references, I enjoy working on my personal style. Sexuality was a big deal when I was in my teens, I was a rebel but with a cause. Now I’ve toned down a lot, and all of my fashion is just an extension of my art, and my art is heavily inspired by experience as a queer person in India. I like mixing patterns, weaves, textures, and then there are times when I’d go very normcore, haha!
If there’s one line of support you can write to someone who is unsure about coming out about their sexuality, what would it be?
Anwesh: I do believe that one shouldn’t hasten the process of coming out, however, I came out at 16 to myself, and later at 18 to my parents, and those were some of my best decisions ever. Because I was finally free, and could now focus on more important milestones in my life. So take your time, but remember, it’s a way WAYYY better life waiting for you on the other side of the closet!