This article appears in today's edition of More, weekend supplement of the Leicester Mercury. It isn’t included on the paper's website, but I thought it well worth posting here.
Born a boy but beautiful Shinata is a lady in waiting
Sometimes it's hard to be a woman. Especially when you're a good Punjabi boy from Leicester. Adam Wakelin reports
Shinata Sangha is a work in progress. His breasts are terrific. He's just shown them to me over the pub table.
A softened jaw line, nose contour and new vagina are to follow. "I'm probably the most popular South Asian transgender person in the world," he says immodestly. "And that's before the surgery."
We meet at lunchtime, in a cavernous, nearly-empty townie boozer, with Shinata (his girl name) in man mode. After a fashion.
He's wearing culottes, designer shoes sans socks and a trench coat that muffles, but not entirely silences his "hello boys!" cleavage.Not surprisingly, we get a few sideways glances.
Shinata, a flamboyant, very gay guy, who describes himself as a pre-op transsexual, does diva feminine better that most organically-grown women.
You can see that from the photographs. He’s a remarkable looking lady, blessed with a face and body that brings admiring stares from unsuspecting red-blooded males and a flicker of the green-eyed monster out in their wives and girlfriends.
In the eyes of Britain’s Transliving International magazine he is the “world’s most beautiful transsexual 2011-12”, able to earn more as a model, performer and nightclub hostess than most doctors or lawyers.
From bullied misfit trapped in the wrong body to self-made woman with 1.6 million hits on You Tube, propositions from film producers and a glamorous, jet-set lifestyle. It’s been quite a journey.Yet all Shinata, 23, really wants to be, aches to be, is the girl next door.
He is self-prescribing female hormone tablets bought in Dubai (hence the breasts) and hopes to undergo a full gender realignment and facial feminisation surgery soon.
“I want to get married,” he says. I want to settle down with a nice man, buy a house and adopt a little girl. I know I’m going to have to go through a lot of pain to get there.”
Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.
Shinata, a good Punjabi boy from Leicester, always loved Christmas more than Diwali. It was his favourite time because of the crackers the family pulled over the dinner table.
“They always had paper crowns inside,” he says. “I used to put mine on and pretend to be Miss World.”
Shinata was four years old when the TV beauty pageant first cast its spell. After that, he was always raiding his grandmother’s material box for scraps of cloth.
He used to make himself skimpy bikinis, he says, and sashay through the living room like a catwalk model.
His mum brought him a toy car home form a McDonald’s happy Meal once. Shinata collapsed on the carpet in floods of tears. He cried so much she had to take it back and swap it for a doll.
Not surprisingly, mum and dad soon worked out their son was not like other little boys. However hard that might have been for them, they accepted him.
“I came out to my parents when I was about 12. I think they always knew. My dad has passed away but my mum supports me 120 per cent. She says if I was a real girl, I would be the prettiest out of all my sisters.“She lets all my gay friends come round. The all love my mum. She speaks to them on the phone and cooks for them.”
He was lucky, he says. Being gay in the Asian community, let alone dressing as a woman, can be enough to get you killed.
That’s why Shinata only uses his girl name and doesn’t want a picture of himself as a guy published.
“There is pressure from the community,” he says. “They would rather their son went to prison for killing or raping someone rather than say their son was gay.
“I’ve had friends who have committed suicide because of the pressure. I’ve got friends who have run away, friends who have been forced into arranged marriages in India and Pakistan, forced to get married and have kids.
“A lot of married Asian men have encounters with transsexuals. It’s a way of exploring their sexuality.
“I’m very open but for my family’s sake I have to keep it low key.”His school years were hellish.
“I was bullied at primary school, high school and college. I was called every single name in the book. Disgusting, humiliating names.
“I had to go through counselling. I used to feel very suicidal. I was on anti-depressants because of the bullies.
“I’ve let these people befriend me on Facebook, just to show them what I am, and that they’ve not won.”
Shinata was “born” in 2006 when a friend at a transgender nightclub told him one of the performers had called in sick.
“Why don’t you take her place?” he said.
It was the opportunity Shinata had been waiting for.
He wiggled his way into a black boob tube, hot pants and blond wig, and danced the catcalls and insults into the dust. He was, he thought, finally who he wanted to be.
He gave up his job on a make-up counter in Leicester to become a showgirl and climb aboard the beauty pageant carousel.
He won Miss Glamour UK and Miss Gay India among others, attracting a growing legion of “admirers”.
Then came the offer to appear in a Bollywood movie alongside actress Celina Jaitley.
Shinata turned down the role of the beautiful but comically scheming female – a crass concoction of homophobic stereotypes – but it did wonders for his profile.
“I was in Delhi visiting my aunt and there I was on the front page of the Hindustan Times,” he proclaims with a diva-ish flourish that draws more curious stares from the pub’s clientele.
Others soon jumped on the story.
The fact that a young British transsexual was even in talks to appear in a mainstream Bollywood film was huge news in a country where such people – known as “hires” – are shunned and feared for their mystical powers, forced to live on the margins as beggars, prostitutes and dancers.
Nothing, in India, is worse than a hijra’s curse.
Publicity stunt on the film-producer’s part or not, Shinata rode the press and TV furore for all it was worth.
Other film roles, career-wrecking bad, most of them, came his way, for him to make a great show of turning down.
Already a star in his own mind, he was more in demand than ever and well on the way to genuine, cross-over fame.
Yet here he is, three years later, about to turn his back on the limelight to undergo a brutal series of operations – the removal of his Adam’s apple, brow and nose contouring, laser hair removal and genital reconstruction – that will transform him into a fully-fledged woman.
He first went to see his GP about it at the age of 16, he says, “but got kind of scared.”
When he had another consultation a few years later, the doctor didn’t take him seriously because he had backed out that first time.This time, insists he is serious.
He started self-prescribing Diane-35 female hormone tablets – the same ones Thai lady-boys use – in 2010.
They’ve made my breasts grow, made the hair on my forehead grow longer. Made my face softer and given me girly hops,” he says, jiggling about in his seat to demonstrate.
“That’s the good side of the tablets. They also make me feel terrible.
“Your downstairs stop working and you get these horrible mood swings, like you’re on your period 24 hours a day.”
Shinata’s had NHS consultations and gone through the endless psychiatric assessments needed before you can be considered for surgery.
Now all he’s waiting for is a date. If it doesn’t arrive soon, he’ll consider going private.
It will take £50,000 to turn him into the woman he wants to be. It’s not beyond his means.
He can earn that in a year, he says, but there is the year off work while he heals to think about, too.
He’s not sure, after going through all that, whether he’ll want to go back to the life he has now.
“I might, for a couple of years, try to win Thailand’s Miss International Queen, which is, like, the ultimate.
“Maybe I could go and work in Vegas for a bit. I don’t know,” he says. “I don’t want to get to 30 and be a sad old queen.”
Shinata likes to tell you he can conquer the world but there are times when he looks absurdly young and vulnerable, a damaged orchid left out in the cold.
He has just come out of a relationship: “He was married with three kids and another one on the way. I didn’t know about them when I started seeing him. They were his little secrets.
“Move on,” he sniffs, blinking back tears. “I don’t want to talk about him.”
What Shinata wants, more than anything, is to meet Mr Right, get married and settle down with a family.
“I want to live as a normal woman,” he says. “I’ve always wanted to adopt a little girl. She’ll be my little princess.”
“I want a daughter and I want to hear her call me ‘mum’ not ‘dad’. You want to know my dream. That’s my dream.”