First openly transgender Tibetan and LGBT icon Tenzin Mariko on respecting yourself and walking with head held high


In her white sleeveless top, strappy silver sandals and long blue skirt, which is destined to be thrown off minutes into her set, dancer Tenzin Mariko stepped onto the stage tingling with nerves. She was convinced audience members would throw tomatoes at her, or worse, eggs and shoes. Mariko was just 17 at the time, and no ordinary dancer. She was about to reveal herself as a woman for the first time, rather than the boy she had been born as. Born in India but ethnically Tibetan, Mariko was nine when she was sent to live in a monastery in the hill town of Darjeeling, in India’s West Bengal state, to train for life as a Buddhist monk. “I’ve always felt like a girl,” she says. “My schoolmates would bully me, calling me words like chakka or hijra [eunuch or intersex], but I didn’t even know what that meant.” At the monastery, the monks jokingly called her “ani”, the Tibetan word for nun.

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