“My mum was shocked at first. She’s a born Christian. Her first reaction was to pray over me. So I let her. The next morning, she came to pray over me again, and I asked her not to because nothing was going to change the way I am, and I am happy.” says Justine Rae Mellocastro, 25, a freelance celebrity hairstylist and entrepreneur, who is based in Mumbai.
Justine is bisexual, and this is her story of acceptance, love, and entrepreneurship.
As a child, Justine loved swimming and spent a lot of time training in the pool.
“I have fond memories of singing underwater as I swam.” she says.
Her family went on long holidays every summer, and that boosted her curiosity to see the rest of the world.
She bagged her first job at a salon about eight years ago while she was still in college. She loved it so much that she decided not to go to college anymore because it was taking away from her job. She started freelancing after working for four years and acquiring all the skill she would need. Today, she is a successful celebrity hairstylist having worked with the likes of Kalki Koechlin, Shraddha Kapoor, Lisa Haydon, Monica Dogra, Prateik Babbar, Yami Gautam, and for publications like Vogue, Elle, Femina, and Cosmopolitan.
She met her business partner Ria Ana Sejpal when the latter had come to Mumbai from Kenya on an internship. They stayed in touch when Ria went back ,and by the time she was back a year later, the duo had already started working on AnaRae, a handmade accessories brand based in Kenya and India. AnaRae retails accessories made by local artisans and tribesman from both countries, who use ancient crafting techniques to make jewellery.
Eschewing the factory model, Justine and Ria prefer to combine their individual design aesthetics with that of the artisans so that the latter’s craft is in the spotlight.
This bespoke minimalistic model is a big hit in the fashion world and AnaRae’s collection has been featured on the covers of Vogue and Filmfare being worn by the likes of Katrina Kaif and Parineeti Chopra!
When Justine started AnaRae with Ria, she was also dating someone she loved very dearly. They separated after living together briefly.
Needless to say, this phase was difficult for Justine, but the love she had for the person and the enterprise she started with one of her closest friends, keeps her going.
AnaRae has also seen its fair share of troubles. It took Justine and her co-founder about a year to register and set up the company. The wait was frustrating, but Justine as always, looked at the bright side of things.
“You have to think of it as the universe’s way of telling you it wasn’t the right time.”
And it is this very attitude that has seen her through the most difficult times.
While her mother was taken aback at first, she understood and adjusted with time as it was her daughter’s happiness that mattered to her.
“I was in a beautiful relationship that ended recently. When we started to date, my mum was actually the first one to ask me about our relationship. When I told her, she was so happy!”
Her mother also let Justine’s girlfriend live in her house until they could find their own place. She not only came to terms with her daughter’s sexuality, but also loved her girlfriend to bits, and felt the pain when the relationship ended.
“My mother is an amazing woman, and I couldn’t have wished for a better role model.” she gushes.
Justine has never been uncomfortable with herself and has always thought of people as just people, and not based on their genders. It’s a view that her friends and the rest of her family share.
“My sister was super excited when I introduced her to my first girlfriend. She had been waiting for me to tell her. My dad was completely okay as he had friends he loved in the airline in which he worked who were gay.”
Justine was fortunate enough to have a supportive family that respects and values her way of life, but not everyone’s as lucky. A little yes from family can go a long way in encouraging the LGBT community to celebrate and love who they are instead of brooding in self-doubt and fear. But did growing up in an urban setting work to Justine’s advantage?
“Honestly, with the little that I’ve traveled around the country, I can say that people from most little villages to the bigger cities are very open minded and accepting of the LGBT community. Almost every single person I’ve spoken to says that we should allow anyone to live the life they want to as long it doesn’t harm society. They say that God has put us on this earth equally, and so everyone should have the right to live happily in the way they chose to.”
Justine feels that she, along with other women, face worse issues than the LGBT community, and that the government and other religious groups have an issue with accepting and adjusting to change as opposed to family.
“Families react negatively when something is unfamiliar to them. So we have to be understanding too. It may take years for some, but, at the end of the day, they realise that you and your happiness are important to the family.”
The LGBT community had cheered when in 2009, the New Delhi High Court declared Section 377 of the Penal Code unconstitutional. But four years later, the judgement was overturned when India’s Supreme Court decided that amending or repealing Section 377 should be a matter left to Parliament and not the judiciary. But can the law do anything to change people’s attitudes?
“Laws can change things and the attitude of the people is very important, but, in this country, it’s more about the lack of sense of responsibility of the enforcers of the law.” Justine feels.
And as she goes about building her brand, and reaching greater heights in her career as a hairstylist, she has a message for all the young people out there, who are afraid to live life their own way.
“Love is the most beautiful thing in the world. Allow yourself to love and be loved unconditionally, and you can be whoever you want to be after that.”