Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
I love fashion. Be it sarees or skirts, bold or modest, jhumkas or heels, the very idea of trying something chic lifts my spirits. And oh, I’m a guy.
It was at the age of 12 that I had my first brush with femininity when I stepped into a beautiful pair of heels, out of sheer curiosity. That exhilarating experience made me aware that trying out what’s considered ‘girly stuff’ really amused me. It’s been 16 years since that day, but the rush I get from trying women’s fashion lives on. Dressing up evokes a plethora of feelings and I revel in them, I enjoy them. I own them.
Be it discreetly trying tops in a mall’s trial room or my gal pals decking me up elaborately in their stuff, indulging in it feels joyous and exciting. More importantly, it feels cathartic and liberating. It feels emotional and empowering to be able to acknowledge an inner, forbidden desire.
When I put on a pair of skinny jeans and look at the mirror in awe, or when my girl-friends give me a makeover and I’m trying to get used to the chunky earrings, I feel smug. Maybe it’s because dressing up gives expression to the feminine side of my persona. Not having to deny this part of who I am has some strange satisfaction that I can’t put my finger on. Not that I’d be glum or incomplete if I don’t get to do it (I hardly indulge in it once in a blue moon), but doing it makes me so happy!
Many people—including some of my friends in whom I’ve confided about my dress-up secret—think you’re gay if you like wearing women’s stuff. Or that you are a woman trapped in a man’s body. That’s a broad generalisation arising out of ignorance. I’m a straight guy, and happy being a guy. I don’t wish I were born a woman. I just happen to enjoy dressing up as one. There are endless articles on the net explaining how a large portion of crossdressing men are straight, with no gender dysphoria.
But mostly I discuss these things with my girl-friends who I think are fun and/or broad-minded. While many are outright excited and demand to know all the details and ask to see the photographs, some get downright scandalised. Four have told me it’s weird, with two of them suggesting earnestly that I should see a psychologist. One concluded, after a Google search, that it’s a disease. Another was concerned how sad it would be for my ‘future’ kids to learn about this; she dissuades me from it as if it’s damaging, like excessive drinking.
To me, my well-meaning friend’s outlandish ‘concern’ seems to be a manifestation of her ignorance and/or disapproval of my fondness for women’s clothing. I also asked another friend why our chats reduced to monosyllables from her side whenever I brought up my affinity for dressing-up. The awkwardness my question triggered became apparent as she tried to wriggle out of the topic. Conversations with such friends—all sweet, good people—make it evident to me that they find crossdressing weird. Why? Just because.
Women can and do wear men’s clothing through and through and nobody bats an eyelid, but if I want to wear women’s stuff, it suddenly becomes ‘abnormal’ and ‘weird’. I never get this rationale, or lack of it. Women have ‘boyfriend jeans’. Fashion bloggers keep offering tips on how girls can wear sweaters or shirts made for men. If women do it, they are called fashionable. If guys do it, they are called freaks!
Fortunately, some of my gal pals don’t endorse this double standard. One in fact often consults me on which saree to wear for which occasion! A shout-out goes to my these cool friends, one of whom is my cousin. She merrily decked me up in her clothes a month before my 25th birthday! From low-rise jeans and off-shoulder tops to even a tube top (she’s evil, enjoyed teasing me for my ‘modest assets’), and full makeup and accessories ( even wearing an exquisite anarkali suit), it was a day laced with feminine experiences. My cousin was more excited than I was and her endless giggles and hooting made my nervousness vanish and set me free to enjoy the femininity engulfing me. I felt absolutely wonderful. Until that day, such an experience was mere wishful thinking for me. Now that it was finally happening, I was thoroughly enjoying the moment. It was particularly due to being accepted with open arms as I was exploring my feminine self. That acceptance, the accompanying contentment, was uniquely satisfying.
I narrated this experience to a couple of school friends later, ruing how we couldn’t try a saree as we ran out of time. Before I knew it, one friend excitedly got me her net saree, arranged a lehenga, jeans-top, skirt and what not, and gave me a full makeover! We all marveled at her makeup skills and, ummm, my figure! I’m so very grateful that I have such sporting, open-minded buddies. This acceptance helps me embrace all of me unabashedly, unapologetically. No desire suppressed. Simply put, it makes me happy!
Of course I’m aware that there are people who don’t get it and perhaps won’t ever get it. People who’ll call it sick or strange, needless and even abnormal. I wish they took the trouble to educate themselves before passing such a judgement. All of us are born different. To each his own. It would be wonderful if instead of slapping labels like ‘weird’ and ‘queer’, we develop an understanding and realise that some things just are. Why not replace that frown with a smile? Why not replace disapproval with acceptance? If it’s too much to wrap our head around, let’s not judge what we don’t understand. Live and let live.
But at the end of the day, to me, their disapproval doesn’t matter. I have so many items yet to tick off my list. So many experiences yet to experience, like an outing en femme! The last time I was draped in a saree (which was also my first time in a saree), I could walk only in baby-steps, with extreme caution. Couldn’t walk freely even in the lehenga. That I need to fix! I also wonder how a chiffon saree feels. My gal pals often tease/tempt me, sharing how beautiful it feels to wear one. A halter-neck dress, a frilly skirt. So much to do! Can’t and won’t curb my desire just because “log kya kehenge“.