This month, transgender Nepali model Anjali Lama is starring in an international advertising campaign for top brands like Calvin Klein and Levis.
Living in Mumbai, the 34-year-old has come a long way from a rural village in Nepal where she grew up.
Lama is the first transgender woman from South Asia to feature in international campaigns.
In 2017, Lama became the first transgender model to appear at an Indian fashion week event.
Lama told Gay Star News how it felt to make it big and the challenges she has faced to get there.
How does it feel to be involved in big international campaigns for brands like Levis and Calvin Klein?
This month, I feel like I have been celebrating, celebrating, celebrating. Being a transgender person coming from a farming family, I never thought I would do a Calvin Klein campaign. I am really excited. I am really proud of myself. This is the biggest excitement in my life.
I love every kind of modeling but I love most to walk the runway. I feel like a queen when I am on the runway. If I had the chance to walk in London or Paris or New York or Milan, that would be a dream come true.
How did you get where you are today?
When I started my career, it was very tough and very difficult. But, slowly I am getting success. Life is a little easier. People know me more. Because of my hard work, I am achieving my dreams.
It’s really hard for all LGBT people here. It is really hard when you disclose your identity. I also faced that. When I came out, I had no job, no family, no relatives. I was very lonely, very depressed. Now, everything is going smoothly and I feel good.
I came out in 2005. I have four brothers. One of my brothers called me and said he had heard I was transgender. I told him it is true. He told me never to come home. I said if I am no good for you, then I will never come home. So I went far away from my family. Despite that, my mother always used to call me.
Now it is better than before. After success and fame, my family is now supportive of me. And my old friends and my old relatives, they send me messages saying well done. This is an amazing feeling.
What difficulties have you faced as a transgender woman?
Whatever you are doing as a transgender woman, life is not easy. Everywhere you go you have to face discrimination and abuse. Mental and physical violence is everywhere. When I started my modeling career, it was not easy. From 2009 to 2011, I didn’t get any work. I was going to auditions, talking to people, but no one was ready to accept me because of my Identity.
I tried to work for Nepal fashion week three times. In 2012, 2013 and 2014. But, I had no luck. So I moved to Mumbai, India. I was unsuccessful for three years.
Some people in South Asia are still very conservative. They don’t give you good work. You have to always always always keep trying. I am the sort of person who keeps trying. So, here I am today. I am not from a rich family. But, now I am living in Mumbai alone.
Every kind of job, every industry, everywhere in South Asia is hard for transgender people. So is their family life, public spaces, and housing.
I have had problems with housing because my gender and name is still male on my passport. I have plans to have gender affirmation surgery and after that, I will change my documents to a female.
But, I am proud to say that I am a transgender woman. We have had to fight so hard, for so long.
How is life changing for trans people in South Asia?
Definitely, things are changing. When I came out in 2005, it was very very difficult. People didn’t know anything about. But, many things have changed and got better and better. The trans community has unity. If we have unity, then anything is possible. But, nothing can happen fast, it will take time.
Recently, we have had some changes in rights for LGBT people in India, for example. But, it doesn’t mean the public will understand as easily. Even now there is so much discrimination and violence. We trans people have to be very strong. We have to be united. I always believe in the theme of unity. If everyone is gathering together then nothing is impossible.
What advice do you have to other transgender or non-binary people in Nepal or India?
Be yourself and accept yourself. Love yourself. Whether you are transgender, gay lesbian, whatever. Do not be afraid. You are not doing anything wrong. It is not wrong to express your gender identity. No one has the right to blame you. You just have to be yourself.
What is next for you and your career?
I am just going to work hard. Let’s see what happens. I am just going to keep trying hard, and I believe life will give us unexpected things. Now I am in India. I want to go to the biggest fashion weeks in the world: London, Paris, Milan, New York. Let’s hope I can achieve these things. Today I am very happy. I am working with Feat Artist. This is one of the best agencies in India and they take LGBT people.