Samyukhta, born as Santosh, one of three boys, had a passion for dancing. Being from an orthodox lower-middle-class family in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, where her father was a tailor and mother a homemaker, her undertaking Bharatanatyam lessons meant stiff resistance and criticism from their relatives and constant teasing, catcalling, and bullying. However, her parent's steadfast love and support for her choices and identity have made all the difference in her world. It has given Samyukhta the confidence to navigate life and become the proud woman she is now. She achieved excellent grades and graduated second in her class from PSG, College of Technology, Coimbatore, and went ahead to join Amazon in the United States. After that, she started her own entrepreneurial venture through a fashion boutique. She worked with Swiggy as a Principal Technical Program Manager and is now planning her next move with South Korean e-commerce giant, Coupang. Having embraced herself and broken many glass ceilings, Samyukhta has become the poster child of a loving and supportive childhood.
Samyukhta realizes that she is a rare example. Thousands of transgender people across the world are forced to migrate and suffer from estrangement and abandonment issues because their biological families couldn't accept who they are. For Samyukhta, the support she had, removed a mental block and enabled her to entirely focus on gaining the skills required for a successful career. However, for someone who has had to face acceptance issues and ostracization from their families and peers, relocating and finding a safe space takes precedence over climbing corporate ladders. "I knew all along I was a girl, but I did not act on it (the transition) until I had the necessary financial security and social set up." This is something she got when she left India and joined Amazon US. Smayukhta's journey highlighted the difference in support between Western society and Indian society when it came to transgender rights and protection. Amazon US provided her with security and insurances, which helped her with her transition process. But Samyukhta was aware that this was a relatively smoother process because she had accumulated the resources necessary to leave the country.
The transition was a cakewalk. On a Friday, I went in as Santosh, and on Monday, I came out as Samyukhta. It was as if I had been Samyukhta all along. People were supportive; they used female pronouns; I was allowed to use the female restroom.
Recognizing the privilege she had been awarded, Samyukhta decided to use it to contribute to her community's welfare. Wanting to channel her passion for fashion towards the cause of giving back to her community, she left Amazon to pursue her entrepreneurial calling and set up a retail startup, Toute Studio. It was a "made to rent" fashion boutique in Bangalore, which hired transwomen to design and stitch clothes and gave them the necessary skills to cater to customers who wanted to rent affordable upcycled wedding apparel. Although the boutique could not keep up with the competition in the market, it still stands strong and works towards skilling the transgender community.
For Samyukhta, this is the main issue that transgender people face. She believes that diversity and inclusion in the corporate world today applies to only those who have somehow managed to break through and reach them. However, most transgender people face drop out issues, skilling issues and hence cannot cross the initial stages of examination to be hired by the corporates. Samyukhta, therefore, has been pivotal in bridging these gaps by encouraging and implementing programs at Amazon, Swiggy, and nonprofits like PerriFerry. These interventions have manifested as internships or skilling workshops for the transgender community, after which corporate employers can absorb them. Samyukhta's indignation towards the treatment of her community also came through when she told us about the sudden spike in the inclusiveness narratives that took place only after the removal of Section 377, even though they had been facing much harsher realities regarding employment and educational opportunities, unlike their other LGB counterparts from much earlier.
As an avid cinephile, Samyukhta enjoys movies of all genres which span multiple nationalities. Her adventurous side also came through when she told us about her itch to keep moving to new places and immerse herself in entirely new and different cultures. After experiencing Europe and North America, her next target is Eastern Asia. With almost childish excitement, Samyukhta also told us how she is in advanced talks to pen a script for a Tamil feature where the protagonist is transgender. She has also continued to enjoy her passion for dancing while working on fashion-related side projects.
Some people still call me Santosh. They don't mean anything bad. I am not offended when I am mistaken for a boy because of my voice. (It) doesn't matter. I am very confident. In my mind, I am a girl. Whether people see me as such or not doesn't matter much.
As a person who was always confident of her identity, delaying the transition process was a luxury she consciously chose. Samyuktha's confidence in herself as a woman also meant that she did not necessarily conform to the conventional sense of what a woman is supposed to be. Although she did try a few vocal classes for voice modulation, ultimately, her love for herself as she is, overtook everything else. For her, "there are different forms of varieties and textures to womanhood, and honestly, we should be able to embrace them."