As I scroll through Instagram before catching up with Sushant, or Rani, I observe the serotonin boost that their feed can be. It’s all growth, inspiration, so much fun, and also courageous. As one of India’s most prominent LGBTQ + personalities, Sushant Divgikr has come a long way.

Growing up in a Konkani family, Sushant Divgikr had a supportive home environment that encouraged sports and cultural activities, setting a certain tone for their teenage years and adulthood. “I first came out first to my friend, my best friend, in college. She told me she will support me irrespective of what my sexual orientation is, which was very beautiful for someone as young as 17 or 18 to say, because we were all young adults. She asked me to share this with my brother, and when I told my brother, he was a little perplexed. But then suddenly, after 15 minutes, he came and he cried. He apologized for his reaction,” they recall.

Sharing this information with their parents was a well-thought-out process. “My brother insinuated to my father that I attend gay parties and LGBT events. Eventually, one day, my father just asked me out of the blue, ‘Sushant, are you gay?’ So, I just looked at my dad and said, yes, Dad, I am. He was a little taken aback, but pleasantly surprised that I didn’t lie to him.” Their mother, on the other hand, always knew. “I was so taken aback and there was no drama of my coming out, but it was so beautiful that my parents didn’t make a fuss about it. They were just like, ‘yeah, so what’s the big deal? You’re our child.’ I was really happy and I was really lucky.”

When Sushant Divgikr turned 30 during the pandemic, they realised that they identify as a trans person. “It was quite tough growing up because as a kid, if I had known and if I gotten this perspective and people didn’t make fun of trans persons and gays, I probably would have come out of the closet as a trans person much earlier, and I would have been more confident. In school, I was a very sassy kid. I was above average in everything, but very good at sports and studies. I realised that kids are not completely wrong in making fun of queer people when they were growing up because kids don’t know anything. They’re impressionable. I actually blame cinema. In the films that we were showing, our audiences showed queer people in a very bad light. And that’s what the kids picked up on, because their parents didn’t know better. They we’re not taught better.”

“After a point,” they continue, “it didn’t affect me because I knew who I was, and I was comfortable with the fact that I was different, and I was not adhering to the heteronormative outlines. But through, all of these things, I used to see very strong female characters in international cinema. I also looked up to people like Oprah Winfrey, Indira Gandhi, my own mother, who has seen so much in her life, but has been the backbone of my family. I believe that the divine feminine energy is the energy that creates, that has the power to create humanity and life.”

They were one of the few openly LGBTQIA+ contestants on the reality show, Bigg Boss. “I went into Bigg Boss when I was really young. I was about 23. Looking back, I don’t think I should have participated when I was that young because I was very naive. I didn’t know how to play the game or know the politics and I didn’t know how to be politically correct. I was just being myself,” they share.

How did drag happen for them? “I always like drag, but I never dabbled in drag. Then this one time, I was invited to host a show, an international film festival, and I did it in drag because the client asked me to host it in drag. I hosted it along with RJ Malishka, and I hosted the same event for the next five years. I performed in front of Sonam Kapoor, Arjun Kapoor, Kunal Kapoor, and a lot of celebrated artists from our industry, as well as Hollywood. But that’s the first time I did drag, like full-blown drag,” they excitedly explain.

But why Rani KoHEnur as their name? What’s the story, I ask. Sushant Divgikr says it was born after Kitty Su’s Keshav Suri asked them to perform drag for his club’s anniversary celebrations. “Keshav is my drag mother. He gave me my first show as Rani. He created Rani KoHEnur. Rani is a boss bitch. Like Rani is the queen of heart. She will fight for the voiceless. She will sing like a queen. She’ll dance like she will break the stage. She will look gorgeous. And at the same time, if somebody messes with you, she will also protect you. And I think Sushant is getting where Rani is in my daily life. See, what you do in drag on stage is one thing, right? But I’m learning a lot from my stage persona, and I am becoming so much stronger.”

Their perspective on where India stands in terms of acceptance is food for thought. “Honestly, we are far better than what the international media makes us look like. We have never said that being gay is illegal in this country, which is what a lot of people have made it look like in India, and we’ve lost a lot of money making it look like we are homophobic and transphobic country. There have been researches that have proven that India has lost billions of dollars in revenue because a lot of people who are queer have been scared to even visit this country.”

Okay, we have evolved a lot in the last decade, but are we at a point where the community is free? Maybe not. “We don’t have as many provisions. We don’t have as many policies that safeguard us. We need equal opportunities. We need more opportunities. Even today, you see heterosexual actors, cis-gendered heterosexual actors, males playing the roles of transgender people, and women, especially women, playing transgender characters. Yes, we are not dissing the characters or the actors. My questions is, are you trying to tell me that the casting agency or the casting team or the director and producer have looked at enough transgender actors and artists and come to the conclusion that there is not even one transgender artist in one of the most populated countries in this world that is capable to play a transgender character that you’re creating? So, this is a question that we need to ask ourselves,” they say as they sign off.