Concealing the stigma, highlighting the struggles: Make-up artiste Yesuraja shares his journey
Building a respectable career was the first step Yesuraja took.
When Yesuraja came out as a gay man in 2014 to their family, it was their responsibility to educate them about the LGBTQIA+ community. Building a career in the make-up industry and making a space of their own then became a priority. After almost nine years of hard work, they continue to create awareness among people. After founding Magizhvan Foundation, a city-based community welfare organisation in 2019, they have extended their helping hands to others from the community. Interacting with CE this pride month they affirm that even though there is a lot of change in mentality towards the community, there is still a need to be vocal about the problems and achievements for acceptance. “I identify myself as genderqueer now. It is not that we should fit into one specific gender or identity. Only if we start exploring, will we understand who we truly are,” says Yesuraja.
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A career to concentrate
Building a respectable career was the first step Yesuraja took. He dropped out of MA Development Management at Madras School of Social Work intending to apply the academic knowledge in real life. As he was always interested in art, he joined a diploma course in Hair and Beauty at Nature’s Academy to step into the make-up industry. Everything was a big ‘how’ during that phase of his life. “I wanted to work as a freelance make-up artist and there was no money to set up a studio or salon. During the initial days, I used to do free collaborations. There were no travel expenses given and I couldn’t manage to save money. To do what I love, I had to go for event management jobs and save money to buy make-up products,” he says.
On top of the struggle as a budding make-up artist, the issues of being a queer person in the industry also started to bother him. “People used to discriminate against me and not give me work because of my gender and sexual orientation. But, clients used to tell me that they love the vibe they get from me. I concentrated on that and sometimes wasn’t vocal about my identity,” he says. From doing make-up and hairstyling for weddings, and fashion photoshoots to music videos and movies, he has expanded his portfolio.
“Around 2017, I did make-up for a feature film titled Unfateful. It was a great experience for me as I also got to do special effects make-up,” they say. In 2021, for the hit song Enjoy Enjaami, Yesuraja did the hairstyling for singer Dhee. “Working with Dhee was a great experience. She had a clear idea about what she wanted. Paavana Mohan, who is also my inspiration, was the make-up artist for the song. We had rehearsals before the video and everything went well. At that time, we didn’t think that it would be a huge hit,” they share.
Speaking about fitting into the make-up industry, he says, “The industry has become a good space for the people from the community. Even though there is not much inclusion in the south, because we do face a lot of judgments for dressing up or being a certain way, in north India, I feel like the situation is slightly better.”
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Working for the people
Even though Yesuraja is a full-time make-up artist, he also prioritises time for being a social worker. He says, “When I started as a volunteer with Chennai Dost, an organisation for gay, lesbian and bisexual people in Chennai and other parts of Tamil Nadu, I could work more for the community. I used to help out with organising events and promoting the organisation. I was also a social work student and always wanted to work for people.”
With an understanding of issues at a deeper level, he focussed on the mental health of the members who reached out for help at Magizhvan Foundation. “There were a lot of organisations for the trans community but there weren’t many for other people from the spectrum. Through our foundation we wanted to welcome everyone no matter what their gender identity or sexual orientation was,” he says. Over the years, the 15-member organisation has grown to be a community with more than 1,000 volunteers. From personal counseling, crisis intervention, dealing with sexual harassment and forceful marriages, the organisation managed to reach the right people in times of need. “During the pandemic, we helped more than 150 families by giving them food and other necessary items. We also renovated an orphanage for the elderly and children at Sholinganallur,” they add.
Though after 2021 he paused working with Magizhvan Foundation to concentrate on his personal and professional life, he continues to help out people. Volunteering activities and events during pride month are in the cards. He is also collaborating with Swetha Sudhakar, founder of the Born2Win organisation for creating awareness of HIV. No matter how busy his professional life gets, his efforts to empower people from the community reveal that educating people will never be on the pause list for him.