By Snigdha Bansal
In India, we tend to view those different from us through extremely restrictive viewpoints, classifying them into watertight categories and exclusive classifications. But then come along certain people who make you sit up and adopt a more inclusive, broad minded approach and question everything you’ve previously known. Model Kean Alvares happens to be just one of those people.
I recently had the opportunity to interview him exclusively, in a conversation that served as an eye opener for me. A make-up artiste and a model, Kean has been in the make-up industry for about 8-9 years, and has been modelling for around the same time. The first shoot he did as an androgynous model was with Vikram Bawa- a nude shoot that won the first prize at the international photography festival in Germany and was featured in the August 2010 issue of Better Photography magazine.
“I was in college when I met Vikram through a mutual friend. He walked in and said, ‘If I’m shooting you, I’m shooting you nude’, and that’s how my foray into modelling began. I had always been stricken by spreads in all these glossy magazines, pictures of models on the runway, posing in lavish outfits, but when it came to posing nude, I had my apprehensions at first. I did it for fun then, and was shocked when he actually submitted those pictures and won. That shoot, I think, subjected me to a lot of recognition. From famous people to regular people, people began to recognise me. Even now, I’m approached by people who want to cover me, solely based on that shoot”, he says, recounting his first brush with modelling.
Since then, there has been no looking back for Kean. He prides himself on being one of the few people to pursue modelling of this kind. “I look at modelling as more of an art- a lot of nude and semi-nude pictures that are highly intriguing, I don’t see too many people doing the same thing, I can probably count them on my fingers. Most people are too apprehensive; they find these pictures very sexual or porn- like. However, if someone wishes to view it in a derogatory way, that’s their choice.”
As a homosexual male, Kean is one of the rare people who realises that Section 377 doesn’t criminalise homosexuality per se. “The law bans carnal sex practices, which sadly affects the homosexual community at large since we have only certain options when it comes to sexual intercourse. What most people don’t realise is that it doesn’t just affect homosexual people, but also straight people.”
When asked if his family and friends know about and support his sexuality and unconventional career choice, he minces no words and says, “As for me, I have never given anyone the chance to say whether they need me in their life based on my sexuality or given myself the option to adjust my sexuality for them. If my parents can deal with it-which has taken them a lot time, mind you-then anyone can. Anyway, I’ve seen that most parents aren’t able to completely accept their children, they tolerate them, which is the category I think even my parents come under. There have always been people who said what they wanted to say, including people I considered very close. I now feel like if you can get through that, you can take on anything and grow to be the person you want to be. If you can survive knowing that the one person you wanted to hear nice things from has said mean things about you, nothing can really affect you”
Usually, people from the LGBTQIA community, especially in India, are subjected to a highly negative environment in their early years, with a lot of bullying and harassment. I ask Kean whether he faced similar struggles growing up, and he laughs, saying,
“I think the process of growing up gay was always very au natural for me. I never came to a point where I was confused or questioned myself why I was so feminine. I always had a feminine body language and was attracted by feminine antics, trying lipstick on and even trying to fit into my mother’s clothes at times. Being in an all-boys school, I was surrounded by a lot of boys I felt a very strong attraction towards, but I never had to sit myself down and introspect. I knew I was a guy who had feminine preferences and I was always comfortable with it”
When asked about the biggest issue faced by the LGBTQIA community in India today, Kean feels that it is more of an internal issue than an external one.
“I believe negativity always depends on your own perspective. Personally, I don’t get offended by someone calling me “gay” or “pansy” for I don’t find them derogatory. It is very subjective, how you choose to interpret people’s behaviour. You come across people on the street who try to tease or provoke you. Most of them are actually bicurious or homophobes, who actually wouldn’t mind unzipping their pants and getting intimate with you in seclusion, but choose to channel their inability by trying to provoke you. I would actually blame LGBTQIA people here, because so many of us try to typecast ourselves into a certain mould. I have seen a lot of effeminate men who try to rub their sexuality in other people’s faces. They’ll be in a public place and start acting ten times more feminine as soon as an attractive man enters. They talk loudly and gesticulate wildly, which actually repels people rather than making them accept you. You should know that just because someone is nice to you, it doesn’t mean they accept you. They’re probably just tolerating you and being all in-their-face about your sexuality won’t help change it. In fact, there is so much widespread judgement and groupism within the LGBTQIA community itself, which acts as a barrier to our progress. There is so much transphobia, biphobia, judgement towards gay men who behave in a certain way. That, I feel, is the biggest issue we face”.
Every word Kean says is a revelation to me, a viewpoint that I didn’t know it was possible for one to have. For my concluding question, I ask him what it’s like to be an androgynous model and how different it is from mainstream modelling and he sets the record straight by saying,
“There is no brand of modelling known as androgynous modelling. It’s just modelling that I do, although personally I don’t like using my profession to promote myself and choose to be a very exclusive person. I believe it’s more about promoting the skill than the person. While mainstream modelling is a lucrative career only until you have beauty and youth, there are various branches of modelling for people of all backgrounds. My kind of modelling is where I don’t do a lot of commercial stuff for commercial campaigns or clothing brands. My work is showcased in art galleries and there is a separate market and audience for it. I don’t try to push my way and get everything to work for me. Instead, I stick to a certain style that is only now coming up in India. The Indian modelling industry is slowly evolving and trying to match up to international standards, and hopefully we will see a lot more people taking up modelling of this sort”