Even in her original avatar as a man, Apsara Reddy never fought shy of her sexual identity. As Ajay Reddy and the features editor of a Chennai-based English daily she would use the women’s washroom. “She had no compunction in disclosing that she was a woman trapped in a man’s body and was yearning to break free. And she informed everyone openly before going to Bangkok for her sex change operation,” recalls a colleague. On returning as Apsara Reddy, she switched to politics and joined the Tamil Nadu BJP before migrating to the AIADMK. The Congress though gave her the much-needed political recognition when Rahul Gandhi appointed her as the all-India general secretary of the Mahila Congress—the first time a transgender has held a national position of a major political party.
Apsara, 35, however, refuses to agree that Rahul’s gesture was merely symbolic and aimed at giving the space for transgenders in his party. “I think he rewarded me more for my capabilities and his quest for women empowerment. There is no tokenism here,” she says. It also had a lot to do with the inclusive nature of the Congress, she adds. But Apsara’s first real break as a politician came in the AIADMK when former chief minister Jayalalitha admitted her in the party during a public meeting in October 2015. “Though her minions had given me strict instructions on how to stay two feet away from her, cover my mouth while talking to her and also touch her feet, I did not follow any of them. We actually had a casual chat and Amma welcomed me warmly and she was very unlike the distant, stern leader that she had been portrayed as,” Apsara says.