The monk who traded his robes for skirts

The monk who traded his robes for skirts

indiatoday.intoday.in

It had been a difficult, yet transitional, year for Mariko. It all began with a video of her dancing at a friend's wedding, wearing a woman's wig and makeup, that had gone viral in the Tibetan community. People in Dharamsala, her hometown, bombarded her with insulting names and derogatory remarks.

She was rebuked for her "improper conduct", being a Tibetan Buddhist monk.

A year later, she found herself facing the same crowd. The difference? She was now dressed up for herself, and not for the world. Long gone was the monk in robes; this time she was wearing a sleeveless, white top with a long, green skirt and carried it effortlessly with high heels.

Picture Credit: Instagram/tenzin_mariko

Mariko came out of the closet, in the literal sense of the term, as she waited with bated breath to make her first public appearance at the 2015 Miss Tibet pageant in Dharamsala.

Before the grand appearance as a performer at the pageant, all sorts of fears hovered in her head, the primary being that she would be booed offstage. "I thought I was going to get hit with eggs and tomatoes," Mariko told Buzzfeed India. But she was up for a sweet surprise when she was welcomed on stage with a thundering applause and cheers. "Everyone was screaming 'once more' when my performance ended. I felt good that night. I felt relieved," she added.

Picture Credit: Instagram/tenzin_mariko

Mariko first revealed her true identity at the Miss Tibet beauty pageant in 2015. Since then, she has performed at several shows in Delhi, Dehradun and Karnataka.

Mariko was born as Tenzin Ugen, in Bir, a village in Himachal Pradesh. At the age of 16, she had left the Tergar Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she was sent for higher monastic studies, and returned to Dharamsala, to be with her parents.

She had subconsciously always been aware that she was a woman trapped in man's body. During her childhood, she recalls putting her mother's clothes and makeup quite often. Something that was not taken well in a conservative Tibetan household. Even as a monk, she used to apply lip balm and cheap powder on her face.

Picture Credit: Instagram/tenzin_mariko

Although her family had their own share of reservations, and were not in support of her transition initially, they eventually accepted Mariko the way she was.

Mariko told Buzzfeed India "Other monks used to call me 'ani' (the Tibetan word for nun). I didn't care. I loved makeup, and I used to come up with all sorts of silly excuses to justify wearing it."

Shortly after the video scandal, she officially gave up monk-hood in 2014.

Mariko has not only carved a space in the hearts of the youth, but prominent Tibetan organisations also hail her as their hero. Tsewang Dolma, information secretary at the Dharamsala-based Tibetan Youth Congress, is in awe of her courage. He calls her an inspiration, not only to the trans people in the community, but to all the Tibetans.

What came as a pleasant surprise was the positive reaction of religious leaders of the Tibetan community--that's what announced Mariko's arrival and acceptance as transgender in this deeply religious community.

In a conversation with Buzzfeed India, she says, "I feel blessed, truly blessed," via a video call from Kathmandu, where she has been invited to perform at a Tibetan show. "I recently had a chance to meet with Tsoknyi Rinpoche (Buddhist author), and he told me that I was doing good work and that he supported me."

Picture Credit: Instagram/tenzin_mariko

Even after going through everything that she has, Mariko does not hold any grudges against the monks who used to tease her about her appearance. She has taken all of it in the right spirit, as a learning experience that made her the strong person she is today.

"I learnt how to be a good person at the monastery," she says. "Had I not been a monk, I would not be the mature, sensible person I am today."

Being deeply passionate about dance, makeup and styling, she performs live shows across India, mostly in Tibetan settlements. She has also done a course at the Make-Up Designory (MUD) studio in New Delhi.

Mariko dreams of carving out a niche for herself in the fashion industry one day. Something that's very evident when you scroll down her Instagram page. In the bio, she refers to herself as a Makeup Artist and Dancer. There isn't a single photograph where she isn't well-dressed. One can very well see that this beauty is always well put-together, with her trademark luscious lips in focus.

Speaking of her transition, she denies taking any hormones, saying that she naturally has feminine features.

On being the first queer icon of Tibet, Mariko says, "It feels good to be known as the first Tibetan transgender. Not because it has turned me into some sort of celebrity amongst the Tibetan people, but because I have, in a small way, made it easier for other trans people to come forward."

Source indiatoday.intoday.in