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Meet India’s first trans woman and celebrity hair stylist – Sylvie Rodgers

Meet India’s first trans woman and celebrity hair stylist – Sylvie Rodgers

Dr. SylvFSoG9_2ester Rodgers also known as Sylvie is a very well known celebrity hair stylist from the capital city of India, Delhi.

Of mixed parentage, a Dutch father and Anglo-Indian mother, Sylvie grew up in Kolkata. After finishing her senior Cambridge from St Paul's, Darjeeling, she was off to England to study medicine. Being one of India's leading hair stylists and make-up artists, Sylvie says she didn't know she would leave behind her six years as a general surgeon in London to become a hair stylist.

"Yes I was a doctor at St Luke's, London, delivering babies and all that. But, believe you me, I was the wildest doctor in the hospital -- I was the only doctor with purple hair!"

Six months of pending leave took Sylvie holidaying to Chicago. It was there that a hair dresser cousin at the American Institute of Aesthetics introduced her to hair styling. "First I killed time doing some odd modelling, etc. I modelled my beautiful hair, dyed with the permanent colours of a rainbow, for my cousin. For me it was a question of, what the hell, I could cut my hair and grow it again."

Amazed at how students at the institute treated hair like fabric, painting, beading or weaving it, she enrolled for a course. "They gave me an exam on the anatomy of the human body. They obviously didn't know I was a doctor," she chuckles, "and I secured cent per cent marks."

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During the 1980's, Sylvie came back to India. A job at a salon came along, then some teaching and another salon where "things really took off". She became popular and, two years later, opened her own salon. But things were not easy for a trans hairdresser who walked the streets in women's clothes and had little knowledge of Hindi. There was even more: She was homosexual, open and the first to move around as a transvestite in a sexually restricted atmosphere.  

"People called me names... Foreign chakka aa gaya, foreign chakka ja raha hai... hijra... g**** (The gay from abroad has come, there he goes... eunuch... b****). It was tough." Sylvie often returned home in tears. Frustrated with her life, even though she believed she wasn't doing anything wrong. With the notion that her sexuality was her own individuality, she tried confronting the surrounding hostility.

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Despite the difficulties, Sylvie liked India enough to give up the thought of returning to America. Her mother's support remained her anchor through troubled times. Obviously, she is someone she holds very close to her heart. A 15 minute prayer is devoted to her every morning. "She told me to live in dignity. Nothing is taboo, she stressed. Homosexuality had been in India since ancient times and would always be there," she recalls.

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Life has changed for the better since she came to India. She feels people have accepted her and her work. "Don't ask me how, but everything changed very fast and now, as you know, I'm a big celebrity."

On the personal front, Sylvie is now happily married and has two kids.

Social acceptability, Sylvie believes, can only come by being open and proud of who you are. "The LGBT community should have the courage to come out and speak against Section 377 of the IPC. We all have the right to live, love and be treated fairly and equally."