ProudlyMe: Embracing self-love & unapologetic authenticity.

As a part of our series that celebrates inclusivity, self-love and authenticity, this Pride Month, we got a chance to speak to one extraordinary soul who refuses to play by society’s outdated rules. Buckle up, as we let you in and introduce you to a true trailblazer, tearing down regressive barriers – Anwesh Sahoo

Anwesh is the youngest winner of Mr Gay World India (2016), an illustrator and creator of The Effeminare, a model, a dancer, a voracious writer and a TEDx speaker. Through sheer grit and a heart that beats to its own fabulous rhythm, he has managed to achieve all of this and is on his way to leaving a lasting impression in the world which proves our reason for making him our first creator On Our Radar.

Get ready to be inspired, educated and entertained as we share excerpts from our insightful and absolutely fun interview. 

Anwesh Sahoo

N: What has your journey been like since winning the title in 2016 till now, in 2023?

A: The biggest change that has happened since 2016 is that we are legal now! When I won in 2016, I remember it was so difficult to even get sponsorship for our collaborations. We faced a lot more rejection than what we do right now. 

I remember when someone would win the title of Mr India or Ms India, newspapers would carry pictures of the winner wearing the crown, but none of that happened to me and that was my wake-up call. I realized that I will have to work doubly hard to live the life I had envisioned for myself. 

Speaking of the current situation, of course, things have become much better. We are legal now which is a big plus. Organized spaces and brands have realized how queer people can bring the visibility that they deserve.

N: What gave you the confidence to come out openly and cope with society’s barriers?

A:  Honestly, the confidence came from severe rejection and all the negativity that surrounded me. I realized this was the only way I could create work for myself. Over time, when you realise that the world is not built for you but built against the way you were built by a force above us, you become more aware of how the world operates.

If I wanted to create a space for myself, I had to go out there with a lot of confidence. And I believe, someone has rightly said ‘Something that doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’, so I developed a thick skin and moved on.  

Every time I receive an opportunity, I know how much it has taken for me to even receive that opportunity. So now if I have got it, I am going to make every bit of it, give my 100% and make sure I win this goddamn race. 

Anwesh Sahoo

N: Who helped you in your journey of being unapologetically authentic?

A: Back then, my friend gifted me a hard disk that had some 100 queer films, documentaries, and shows and I have watched every single one of them. These films gave me a lot of context in understanding the journey of queer culture. Back then, there was a lot of ostracization of queer people. All this content helped me understand that my journey wasn’t going to be easy. 

Of course, then I have some amazing people who have helped me, one of them being Sushant Divgikr who is fondly known as Rani KoHEnur. She has had an incredible influence on my life. She saw something in me when absolutely no one did. 

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N: Where do you think we are still lacking in terms of the LGBTQIA+ community acceptance?

A: To be very honest, we aren’t even halfway through. While some incredible activists have done some great things, we need to look at last-mile connectivity. We should look at the villages in our countries, what is their status regarding being queer, and where are they getting their fair share of queer education? 

Moreover, our education does not have any sort of history with regard to queer culture, so how are we going to have any point of reference for those who don’t have access to the internet or who don’t understand English. 

Even today, we still don’t have a popular film in our country which shows the entire queer culture across the spectrum. We still believe that if we give an opportunity to a gay man to play a gay man, the business won’t do well. 

That is the most skewed thought process. We have probably just taken ten steps in the right direction and have miles to go.

Anwesh Sahoo

N: How do you think parents of queer children must react when their children come out to them?

A: Honestly, there is no way to get ready for that. Because queerness is in some ways also complex. No matter how educated you are, if you are not from the community, you will never be able to empathize. But of course, you can be a little prepared by being more aware of what’s happening in pop culture and being more open towards it. Personally, I went to my parents with all the knowledge about queer culture so that I could have a more informed conversation with them. I would request all parents 

  • Not to judge their kids
  • Do not blame themselves for being a parent to a queer child 
  • Empower themselves with the right knowledge
  • Be patient

N: What’s your advice to those who are still afraid or not too confident to come out of the closet?

A: I want to start with a statutory warning that it is definitely not going to be a bed of roses. I wish when I was coming out someone would have told me this.

I think optimism is a great way to go about it and you need to absolutely, madly be in love with yourself because it needs to start with you.

Be hopeful, hope is your superpower. Be more aware of your surroundings. Look for those unfair advantages that you might have in life. Your dreams are valid, your aspirations are valid and you have all my love. 

Even though Anwesh’s journey hasn’t been easy, he is working hard to break the barriers set by society and bring about a change in the way people think about the LGBTQIA+ community. 

Stay tuned as we talk to many such creators and brands who celebrate inclusivity and are unafraid to embrace themselves authentically.