Alex Mathew as told to Tinder:
This is who I am, and this is what I’m going to do for myself irrespective of what the construct of masculinity and femininity is.
Before I turned 23, I was still a confused boy. My only association with gender and identity was to identify as a straight boy. I thought I’d have to marry a woman, fulfill my parents’ wishes and live my life how I’m meant to, or how society ordained it. But theatre changed everything. I had spent my life making everyone else happy, and theatre taught me to focus on myself, and just do what makes me happy and find my authentic self.
I started getting to know myself better and how I would identify. I didn’t know anything about gender and sexuality. Everyone kept saying you’re feminine, but what does that really mean and who defines femininity? As I started getting to know and loving myself, I defined myself as a cis man. But sexuality wise the question remained, who was I attracted to? I was so scared and confused, I was convinced I was attracted to both men and women and therefore was bisexual. After a few months, I realized I was only sleeping with men, so the bisexuality went out the window. The last week of October 2014, I came out as and there I was, a cis gay man.
I’ve always been a performer and dabbled in theatre a lot. But I felt like my growth as a performer was stagnating. I wanted to test my limits and go beyond what I was doing in theatre. This is when I revisited Mrs. Doubtfire, and saw it from an artist’s perspective- if Robin Williams can do drag, so can I. And Maya was born. You know how people are with their misconceptions and labels, I was a man in a sari on stage, so immediately got labelled a transgender. Society loves putting each other in boxes, and I reached a point where I said look I’m queer, and I don’t want to be part of any box. I think gender and sexuality is fluid and what really matters is that we are happy with ourselves. I consistently fought people putting me in boxes, what’s most important is that I know myself. I’m a queer man, and if you ask me to be more specific, I’m a cis gay man.
When I started drag, I went on stage in my mother’s sari, half an inch heels and a 600 rupee wig. This was September 2014, and my debut was at Humming Tree in Bangalore.
I used to perform for fun and I reached a point where I was giving a voice to femininity and those who identify as feminine irrespective of their gender. There were people who felt suppressed because they were feminine, but yet could identify as woman, man, trans woman or trans man. I was standing up for gender equality, femininity and individualism. This to me is what is missing from society: individualism, we’re all human beings and everyone deserves to be loved and heard. Stop asking me what I feel comfortable as, ask me what makes me feel authentic.
A drag by definition is an adult shapeshifting, so this could include exaggerated masculinity and femininity by either men or women. Drag is open to everyone, and it does not define your sexuality. It is an inclusive performance art and that is what matters to me the most. Everyone keeps telling me, you can only be gay, you can’t be queer. And I want to say, you won’t tell me what to be. I don’t want to be part of any box.
My parents were not receptive in the beginning, but we’ve come a long way and my mom now packs my suitcase and tells me which lipstick matches my skin tone. My grandmother on the other hand saw me in the newspaper dressed as Maya and proclaimed “He’s a lesbian”, at this point I think I’ve identified/ been identified on the whole spectrum of LGBTQIA+.”
I matched with a guy on Tinder, and after chatting a bit he shared that he had a slight hearing disability. This meant he couldn’t hear me properly, but would understand me by watching my mouth while I spoke. We met and went for a walk in Indiranagar, all the while talking casually and getting to know each other. Although nothing serious materialised, I made a new friend that day. What it also did was open up my world view and perspective on life. It felt like I got to know someone on the basis of humanity, judgement free. Our interaction was free of his challenges, and I only got to know him for him. I think there’s something human about that, and you only realise these things by interacting with other people.