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Her house, situated on a quiet, shady lane a 10-minute rickshaw ride from Tuticorin’s harbor, is a cross between a family home and a boarding house. Rangeela’s monthly salary at Alliance, a nonprofit focused on reducing the spread of HIV/AIDS, is 5,000 rupees, or .
The rest of the rent, along with the cost of groceries, water and fuel for her scooter, is paid by the women who stay with her.
The women are taught to “cheat” whenever possible by taking advantage of the poor lighting — the sex work occurs mainly at night, with moonlight the only illumination — and, using a combination of lubrication and careful positioning, use their clenched thighs or cupped hands as points of penetration. The castration process here is a middle ground between Western-style sexual-reassignment surgery, in which a vagina is constructed from the flesh of the removed penis, and a traditional Tamil procedure called thaiyamma, in which an elder transgender woman uses constricting wire, a knife and, finally, burning-hot oil to cauterize the wound.
According to Indian superstition, a blessing from a transgender woman is auspicious and a curse is dangerous, making shop owners prime targets for collection.
In Tuticorin, where residents know each other, people readily relinquish coins or small notes to avoid catching the evil eye.
Rangeela has attended the festival for the past seven years, first as a transitioning cross-dresser who dabbled in sex work and now as a fully transitioned woman and guru to younger girls from her neighborhood.
Reena, tall and voluptuous with a loud personality, transitioned in 2006 at the age of 15.