The world is not a fair stage for everyone to play in. Yes, everyone has their own set of struggles, but we also know that a lot of us have it easier than others. On the same planet, some people constantly fight for their rights and the discrimination against them for no fault of theirs. These Bravehearts take everyday challenges as a task, yet come out as beautiful and empathetic as ever. One such warrior is Anwesh Kumar Sahoo from Odisha, who is a master of all trades, who is juggling between multiple job profiles.
He is a technical artist, illustrator, model, and activist, who is working constantly to make a difference with his presence. Now, as he says, he is working on a new facet, where he is trying to merge art and psychology. Sahoo is also into NFTs and working on building that part of his life. However, his focus lies in the dignified and gorgeous representation of the LGBTQ community, and he takes great pride in it. Read the endearing conversation below.

Q. You juggle between different worlds of art. How did the inclination start?

When I was back in college, a friend of mine wanted to have her photoshoot done and she wanted me to do the designing for that. So, after that, the pictures came out well, and I also enjoyed that process. Then, I also did fashion courses. Then, I went for Mr. Gay India and Mr. Gay World. Coming back from that opened quite a few opportunities for me and gave me a lot of resources. Slowly, things started falling in place and modeling opportunities came my way. I managed classes and this together. This happened as a plus one, and I still get a lot of collaborations so do both my job and this together.

Q. Your venture Effeminare is interesting, tell us how it came into existence.

This happened when I was selected for Mr. Gay World. During that time, I received a lot of hatred from the community. I don’t know why, there were comments on how I don’t fit the criterion, I guess it was out of jealousy. But, although I never value my external self the most, it did affect me a little. I have always believed that it is important to work internally. You may not feel beautiful even if you are the most gorgeous person outside if you don’t have that love inside. This way, I became more confident. At that time, I took some of the pictures that I had used for Mr. Gay World and started playing with its editing. As I am into this, it was fun. Then, I realized that Melanin and everything added a great touch. So, I started doing more of this.
I took all my pictures and planned to create beautiful outfits. I went all out and created all these beautiful outfits. Then when I shared it on Instagram and it picked off. To me, even my face is a canvas, and I utilized it. And, it led to the world of NFTS. This way, I could even tell my stories. I could tell stories about myself.

Q. You have spoken quite about NFTs, do you have some of them?

Ans. Yes, I have created many NFTs now. It gave me access and it just seemed like a place where I can archive my work. I am just having fun. With this, I also bring in the representation of the community and culture I come from. Like, Pattachitra art from Odisha, is kind of getting non-existent. Now, I am also working on doing a decent digitized version of that. But, I try to do relevant stories from modern India. I made a modern take with something called, Kissing doesn’t kill, myth will, it is ideally a story of a gay couple.

Q. How hard was it to know and accept yourself?

When I was around 15, that was when I felt this feeling was not going to go away. And, I was not comfortable with that. The world is ideally, heteronormative and you are taught that since childhood. You are asked to be the man of the house. So, I was not comfortable being attracted to men. I always wanted to keep this a secret. But I was also very visibly very feminine, so it was even harder for me. I was bullied as well for this. People would call me gay, and that would make me feel really bad when I was not okay with it. It almost felt like a garbage bin to which anybody could say anything. The first two years were very difficult. That was the worst phase I might say. But later I picked myself up, thanks to the many people on the internet. The actresses and people I came across. The documentaries I watched, who made me feel empowered with their struggles. I started picking those little pieces and rebuilding myself. When I was 18, I came out to myself finally. I told myself, I am done with crying and I want to live my life freely. Thanks to those people, the internet, the knowledge that told me I was not alone. This gave me the courage that I can take over the world. I believed in myself and everything worked out and fell into place.

Q. In an inherently homophobic world, what are the everyday struggles you come across?

It is hard, and there are a lot of things I can’t do. Like, I love androgynous fashion. But, that is not accepted in the world at all. Recently, I was dressing up for an event, and when I put my look together, my mom told me not to put on a liner and said this won’t look good. So, I asked her, why are you putting them? When you can, I can too. How is it that you get to do it and I don’t because I am a man?
This is something that keeps on happening. It is annoying when people keep nagging you. I am glad that it has changed over the years. 10 years back, when I wore some skinny jeans my mom told me not to wear them because they looked bad. And, it got etched in my mind that I don’t look good. However, now I have found a balance between what I can do and what I cannot. Sometimes, I do think that if I was a girl at least I would have had it easy to wear what I want.
At some level, I feel if it was an equal world, I might not be going through what I do. Even in Delhi, while I was studying, I used to carry my heels in my bag. I wanted to wear them but chose not to because I knew it was not safe. You cannot be yourself outside because of safety concerns. It is not easy like everyone thinks it is. When someone comes up saying, you should do what you want, I tell those people, you do this for one day, be in my shoes and you will understand how unsafe it is.
Gay men get assaulted frequently, but they are not spoken about at all. Even the conditions of transwomen are the same. Recently a trans activist passed away because of medical negligence. And, no media covered her story. There was no TV media coverage. People don’t care. How sad it is that someone had to die because they were not given medical care.

Q. How do you think the government should step up?

They can do so much. There are so many resources that we don’t have access to. Like education for them, proper healthcare, and more. They should recognise that we are also marginalized in a way. We require reservations. So many trans and gay wanted people to drop out of school because of bullying. They do not get an education, they often don’t have families to take care of them as well. Is there a check on how many states help them on the ground properly?
People don’t get it. They don’t understand their privilege. We had to acknowledge we are marginalized, they need to give us equal opportunities. It is not going to take away the opportunities from these people but will help others to at least have a better life. When section 377 happened, it made me happy. We started getting opportunities and that made so much sense. When I won, Mr. Gay India, I did not get the coverage as Miss World or Mr. World would get. I had to fight my way through it. Sushant, the director of Mr. Gay India also had to write so many emails, I wrote emails to cover my story. But, after 377, we got a lot of opportunities. We need a lot more now. The judiciary should wake up and give us judicial laws that will protect our rights.
In the future, Anwesh wishes to keep doing what he does, make more NFTs, and do better designs. He also wishes to give back to the community and the mentors who have led him to where he is now. He would like to help those who might not have access to the internet and the other privileges he has had. He says, he speaks English and had the access to the internet at the right time, but for those who cannot, he wants to make this feasible. He also urges the queer people out there to get financially independent and believes makes the problems fewer. He signs off by saying, accept yourself and work on yourself.