By Naimish Keswani
From the day a typical Indian teenage boy sprouts his first wisps of a moustache, he has this switch that clicks in his head constantly egging him on to show off his newly tapped testosterone reserve. The ones who get the better end of the deal with puberty, instantly become the jocks and climb up the social ladder. The rest of us kind of wallow in the bottom with our pre puberty femininity, because, well, someone has to.
As for me, I’ve never really been a part of the manly-boy crowd, and I’ve been bullied for it since middle school. I’ve been labelled as gay, bi, or any other word one can conjure up in their language to describe “effeminate.” And this was long before I knew what any of that meant. There are more words than that, especially in Hindi and Marathi, but to this day, I can’t speak them, let alone write them. These labels have haunted me for most of my school life, and on bad days, still continue to do so.
But if you saw me on a normal day today, you probably won’t be able to tell I used to be that kid. You will certainly be able to find traces of it, but growing up, I consciously and constantly made an attempt to hide away my femininity as much as I could. On top of that that, I was just starting to discover that I was bisexual, which made it even more scary and important in my head that I at least appear “manly.” No one has to call you queer for you to adjust your behaviour to avoid being called that. Especially when you know it’ll be in a derogatory way.
I would constantly overthink, overcompensate, and anticipate situations where I could be called out for being the way I was. So, I made sure I reigned my femininity in. I thought to myself, “if I didn’t talk much and minded my own business in a corner, maybe they wouldn’t notice.” But they did. Teenage bullies will do anything for a reaction. And most of the time, they got it too.
I almost threw a chair on someone once.
The first time I told someone I was (am!) bi, I was 17 years old, a couple of months into college; and surprisingly, (or unsurprisingly) it went well. I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by open-minded people, so I started telling more friends, and eventually my entire class.
But whether we recognise it or not, our bodies bring the closet with us everywhere we go. Michael Hobbes wrote that in a piece on The Huffington Post, and the truth within that statement struck me like lighting struck Chris Colfer in the movie Struck by Lighting.
Despite coming out, haven’t I been trying to keep a part of myself hidden? Stashing it away in a dark corner, where nobody can see it? And feeling ashamed when someone actually does?
You’d think that coming out would give me a certain license to embrace femininity because it’s such a prominent part of gay culture, but it’s only made me want to suppress it even more. It may be a big part of the culture, yes, but it’s still not accepted. You still find guys with dating profiles that say ‘no femmes pls.’ There’s marginalisation within an already marginalised community.
Is femininity so bad? Especially when it’s such an integral a part of all of us? To quote RuPaul here, “I‘m not talking frilly-laced pink things or Hello Kitty stuff. I’m talking about goddess energy, intuition and feelings. That [aspect of femininity] is still under attack, and it has gotten worse.”
And it’s not going to get better until and unless we bring about a change in our collective thought processes.