Aparajita Ghosh is a 25-year-old trans woman based in the Indian city of Kolkata. Ghosh spent more than a year working in the corporate world as a Human Resources executive before she found her calling as a sugar baby. She told VICE about what it’s like to be one of India’s few trans sugar babies, and how she uses her conversation skills and relationships with sugar daddies to uplift her community.
I didn’t fully start transitioning until I was in the 8th grade. But, I think I always knew I was meant to be a woman, despite being assigned a different sex at birth. And it’s not because I enjoyed playing with kitchen sets or dolls as a kid. It’s because a voice within you just tells you it feels right.
Of course, society doesn’t echo this voice. Growing up in a patriarchal society in the Indian city of Siliguri, what the larger society considered taboo was always imposed on me. The only time transgender people were referenced was through terms like hijra or chakka which were said in a way that was insulting. So naturally, growing up the only thing I didn’t want was to be one of them. Dictated by the environment I grew up in, I was made to believe that people in the transgender community either had to beg for a living or become sex workers. Still, it didn’t stop me from making a deal with my parents that involved them giving me makeup every time I scored well in school.
When I started transitioning around the age of 10, my family was my utmost support system. But because they couldn’t understand why I was the way I was, they constantly discriminated against me. They taunted me and repeatedly told me how my choices were impacting their reputation. My cousin was allowed to leave our city for college, but I didn’t get the same liberty. They made me feel like I was dumb shit, not capable of anything, though I was a straight-A student.
I still remember an incident that occurred when I applied to a university in Sikkim for my MBA. I managed to ace the entrance test and was really excited to start life afresh at a beautiful campus surrounded by mountains and nature. I felt even more excited when I saw the cosy dorms with a breathtaking view of rolling hills. I had already informed the institute that as a trans woman, I would only be comfortable living alone, and was told it wouldn’t be a problem. But when we actually got there, I found out that wasn’t possible since the hostels couldn’t deprive another student of accommodation. So there I was, uncomfortable sharing a room with a boy when I was just getting my boobs done, but still denied permission to live with the girls.
I’ve missed out on many opportunities in my life, but at the same time, also seized many as well. I moved to the city of Kolkata to pursue my MBA, got a job as an HR executive in a corporate office, and threw myself into my work. This is also around the time I decided to start dating, since I was away from my family and living by myself. I wasn’t too sure how to navigate the scene, but luckily, I had an older friend from school in a similar situation who showed me a bunch of dating apps. But that’s when I realised how difficult and different dating is when you’re not heteronormative.
I tried apps like Grindr, but the issue on these gay-specific dating apps was that I was a trans woman who wanted to be with a man, which limited my matches. On the other hand, on heteronormative dating apps, I was constantly judged. It was heartbreaking to realise that despite all my attempts at sexting and trying to find a meaningful connection, dating apps just weren’t doing it for me.
One day about four years ago, while watching random YouTube videos, I came across one that stood out. It was an interview with a sugar baby, where a young girl was gushing about how she had a sugar daddy who bankrolled her lifestyle. Watching the video, I realised that to be a sugar baby, it didn’t matter what you looked like or identified as. So I decided to try it out for myself and found myself signing up on this sugar dating website called Seeking Arrangements.
Here, I had access to more than 20 million men who I felt I could be totally transparent with. I put up my best picture as a display, wrote about my job experiences, and mentioned subjects I enjoyed conversing about. Of course, I was apprehensive at first about revealing my trans identity, but I decided that I had to be totally straightforward to be all in. And to my surprise, I got so many matches! I suddenly found myself in a space free of all judgement, where my personality was the only thing that appealed to men.
There are all kinds of sugar babies, but I was always clear on one thing: I was here to offer conversations and my time, not my body. I’ve met so many wise, mature, older men, the kind I would otherwise need to take an appointment with their secretaries just to meet. My sugar daddies are often married men, who come into town for business meetings and want to meet someone to show them around or have sparkling conversations with.
There are certainly many perks to it: I am showered with perfumes worth lakhs of rupees, gold pendants, fancy dinners and even cheques to manage my monthly expenses. This one time, my sugar daddy booked an entire ballroom just for me, and danced with me all night.
But for me, it was never just about the money or gifts. As a sugar baby, I felt a sort of mental rejuvenation, like my soul had been empowered. For me, being a sugar baby was a means to educate influential businessmen, who had the power, ability and interest, about my trans identity.
Many of these men who I would go on dates with had been exposed to others like me: who wanted more than their birth gender could give them. But they still couldn’t quite understand them. That’s where I came in.
Once, I met a businessman who mentioned how I reminded him of a boy he was attracted to in his boarding school days, who knew early on that he wanted to be a girl. Unfortunately, this person passed away while they were transitioning. Speaking to me helped this particular man understand his childhood crush, and what they went through. The thing about the trans community is that even though we may not know each other, we feel each other’s grief. We all know what it’s like to feel like we don’t belong.
So, I realised that if I could give knowledge about my trans identity to my sugar daddy, if I could inspire just one businessman and sensitise them about how sexual orientation differs from identity, it would make all the difference.
The biggest advantage of being one of the few trans sugar babies in India is that I could use my understanding of my identity to fight for my community. Unemployment is a major problem for transgender people, so I try to use my power as a sugar baby to help people from my community find jobs.
I’ve managed to sensitise about 15 of my sugar daddies so far, most of them who sit on boards of large corporations and make powerful decisions. The trickle-down effect is that once I make them aware of the issues and discrimination the trans community goes through, they can inspire effective change in the thoughts of 10 other businessmen who are board members in their company. So far, my efforts have resulted in about 50 people from the transgender community getting gainful, salaried employment. It’s come to a point where my sugar daddies will ask me what they can get for me, and my main request is always to help someone from my community who is struggling to find a job.
Even though society doesn’t accept us for who we want to be, it’s reassuring to think that one day, maybe someone else who doesn’t identify with their birth sex will live in a better world. I think that’s the best gift any sugar daddy can give.
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