I have been dating for a while. This is a weird thing to start with, but anyone who knows me well enough has made fun of how I end up dating another person soon after a breakup. I called myself a serial dater for a while, but it didn’t catch on.
Now that I’ve started this article with an embarrassing fact I think this is the right time to segue into what it’s really about: ‘boyness’.
I do not identify as a woman. I never have, and I don’t think I will. ‘Woman-ness’ seems something completely out of reach for me. I used to aspire for it, emulate the women around me and on TV, until I realised I couldn’t. Nor did I enjoy it.
I have been using the same kajal stick for five years, simply because I barely use it. I own five dresses I haven’t worn in years. I never wax or shave anything or anywhere and I’ve never threaded anything on my face. I know being a woman is much more than these physical markers but these are the most ‘tangible’ ways in which I express my identity, because our society is always looking for ‘tangible’ ways to tell you what your gender is.
When I ask myself “what makes you gender non-binary?”, I don’t know how to answer except to just say – because I think I am. I work, or aspire to work, for women’s rights – but I don’t necessarily identify with the field all the time. Rather, I am passionate about assertions of bodily autonomy and choice. Coming from spaces where women I know are pushed into the roles of wife, mother and daughter without having a say in it (when and how), I want to undo this expectation that people assigned female at birth necessarily have to be the things we’ve told them to be for centuries.
Being born and brought up in Delhi, I am aware that I hold a lot of class and caste privileges. But watching my single working mother struggle for most of her life to get the respect she deserves, has taught me a lot of lessons about feminism and resilience. I started volunteering with The YP Foundation two years ago – and it was the first time I found a space to talk about sex, pleasure, desire, and identity. Though I am still shy about telling people how I personally navigate sex and physical desire, I do love writing and talking about gender – about discovering and knowing my gender more intimately, to be precise.
I am a non-binary female-assigned-at-birth, and I have dated some boys. The thing about dating boys, though, is this: they somehow always end up making me feel like a girl, and not always in a good way.
Dating is very gendered. Especially when we’ve grow up with movies, books, TV shows and everything else that is constantly trying to tell us what a ‘normal’ man-woman relationship looks like (and even in same-sex relationships, we somehow end up recognizing the ‘man’ and the ‘woman’). We inevitably learn to emulate these patterns in our relationships.
So, unless I drastically and consciously change my appearance or a part of my behaviour, anything I do is inevitably classified into some sort of gendered box, and I am seen as some ‘type’ of ‘girl’. While this is helpful for some people to figure out what their ‘type’ is, rarely am I asked about my own identity!
But I have found that when I am comfortable and intimate with someone – a friend or a partner – there is a certain ‘boyness’ that I like to embody. I have cross-dressed, switched pronouns and terms of endearment, or just changed my behaviour in these intimate spaces that allow me the safety and warmth to be myself or be a different version of myself.
I find I am most comfortable telling these closest people about my gender identity and how I navigate it, though I am easily able to ‘pass’ as a cisgender woman in most other spaces. I am still trying to figure out if ‘passing’ is a certain privilege or rather a painful censoring of my own identity. But while I am doing this, I do allow myself to be comfortably non-binary with other people who are also questioning the gender they have been assigned at birth.
With some friends who were feeling the same things, I also co-created Gender Pages Zine, and explored the opinions and art of other young people who didn’t want to be confined to certain identities, and were trying to embody something beyond the ‘male-female givens’.
With regard to love and relationships, I hope to enter the dating world someday as I am, rather than progressively ‘revealing’ these truths about myself to whoever likes me. I hope that my dating experiences in future will stop being so predicated on gendered stereotypes and rather become experiences of ‘playing’ around with identity and roles. Above all, while it can feel great to be someone’s ‘type’ of ‘girl’, I hope that dating heterosexual men or homosexual women someday will not inevitably require me to confine myself to a gendered box according to their needs.
Featured image used for representative purposes only.