From the moment we are born, each one of us is assigned to one of the two boxes comprising the gender binary – male and female – depending, solely on what’s between our legs. These boxes are governed by certain societal norms that dictate every aspect of our lives ranging from our clothes, our toys, our choice of career, our ideologies to the very way we behave in public. Every time one attempts to break out of this binary, they are pushed right back in by incidents of violence- which may be verbal, psychological and often physical with life threatening consequences. And then there is the ideal body type- in other words, unrealistic standards- for the two boxes defined by the mainstream media. We often internalise these standards which leads us to punish ourselves and others around us when they seem unachievable.
Gender is a performance that changes based on the spaces we occupy and the people we are surrounded by. Very rarely do we truly perform our identity in a manner that is congruent to how we feel in a particular place at any given point of time. In the Indian context most people are without a safe environment to truly explore their identity and performances. These regulations and restrictions are the reason why we decided to work on a project that showcases a personal story of transgression, where we seek to explore our identities and corresponding performances by circumventing societal regulations and restrictions.
If we told you that you had seven days where there were no rules with regards to your gender, no rules to tell you how a person belonging to your gender should or should not behave, what would you do? What clothes would you wear? Which places would you visit? Would the way you talk, walk, and sit- change?
This is exactly what we did. It began with my desire to incorporate more masculine ensembles in my daily gender performances and the realisation of how difficult it is in reality to express my true gender in most spaces that I occupy. This formed the base of our project whose aim initially was for me to wear whatever I wished to for a week while my friend and The YP Foundation fellow, Vanika captured these looks.
As we proceeded with our shoots, the idea evolved into something bigger than what we had originally planned. We paid close attention to not just the clothing but also to the space that we were occupying in those clothes, the activities that we were indulging in and the way we were carrying ourselves. It became about breaking free from the several shackles that the patriarchal society uses to regulate not just the clothes that we dress our bodies in but also the way we behave and the various spaces that we are permitted to occupy based on our gender.
The project evolved into a series of seven photo shoots each of which is done at different public places in Delhi with me wearing attires that may not usually be associated with that particular space. This we believe adds another dimension to our project, of taking a step towards normalising and creating acceptance for “queer” gender performances. It is an attempt to put a body that makes people uncomfortable out there in order to warm up the recipients/audience to the diversity and subsequently make them comfortable with the multiple ways of existing and performing one’s gender. It is also creating a space for people to comfortably and without threats of violence, be able to express their “queerness”.
Our project dives head first into expressions and identities that truly define us regardless of what gender society thinks these performances belong to and to be able to unabashedly perform our identities all the while smashing patriarchal ideas of right and wrong.
In November, our photo series along with the anecdotes was displayed at an art show that took place in Bangalore during the Bangalore Pride. The first person who went through the entire exhibit had tears in her eyes. This scene repeated itself over and over again during the opening night. A beautiful thing that was happening was that people were sharing with us similar experiences from their own lives. People that we had never met before were opening up about sensitive content from their life histories. One person was clicking photos of the write ups that they wanted to share with their mother. In these moments, we felt that we were successful in building a safe space where a mutual healing process was taking place.
This week, we have been publishing these photos along with their accompanying write-ups on the Gender Pages Facebook page and Tumblr blog. Once again we had friends and strangers messaging us to share their own very personal experiences and vent about their frustration with the society and its norms. What followed were some very lovely conversations which were nothing less than cathartic.
We had seven sets of photos’ worth of badassery and did not want what we had started to terminate at the end of the week. We also wanted to move a step ahead and inspire other people to take these conversations forward by joining us in queering and reclaiming bodies and spaces. Therefore, we are running a campaign on social media where we encourage our audience to transgress and embrace their true gender performance by wearing what they would have had there been no regulation and explore the different spaces they would occupy in those clothes. We are inviting everyone to then capture these moments and send us the photos along with descriptions of their experience. The photos that we receive will be published on the blog right after the week ends and we run out of our photos to post, which is a matter of saying because we won’t really be running out of photos at all!
This project became an excuse for us and has helped us to not only perform our true identity but also to embrace it. We hope that it now leads to many different people coming out of their shells and taking small steps in the way they dress or behave, to make this world a more queer place. We hope that we bump into each other more often in public spaces as we embark on our endeavour to break the rules, stereotypes and norms that have been suffocating us for so long and discover who we truly are.