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 used to get beaten up in childhood by my elder sister, a lot. The situation would even turn bloody at times. I could never protest, only cry till my mother would come to my rescue. She would sometimes wonder aloud – why would I always get beaten up? Why can’t I save myself? I never replied. I would carry those marks on my body to school.
Most boys there jeered at me too; mocked and ridiculed me for not being “a boy”. I was referred to as “half-ladies” by them. As I started growing up, the epithets and addresses changed – from “half-ladies” to “full-ladies” to “ladies” and eventually “hijra”. I did protest. Sometimes I did.
I got admission in a big boys’ school in the third standard. It was a huge campus, with many boys from different places. Soon the experience turned bitter. My docile nature invited ragging. My body language and gestures soon made me the target of ridicule. My use of language and my non-use of slangs invited mockery of all sorts. I was never a ‘man’ in their view. I never had any ‘masculine’ traits as per societal norms. I only had the body of a man, everything else was ‘womanly’. Though I used to be silent at first, I later used to protest which inevitably led to being beaten up. I could hardly match up to them. Moreover, I was never in favour of physical assault.
Despite being good in studies and being the class captain a couple of times, I was humiliated and scorned. Many times I asked, “Why do you all call me ‘girl’ every time?” But they never cared. I have tried questioning myself multiple times if the trouble was with me. Was I out of the mould? Never into sports, was always spending time reading, speaking softly, not behaving like any other average boy of my age. Is it true that I wasn’t a boy?
I used to think a lot and amidst all these thoughts I finished school to enter college. Studying in a co-education college, I made quite a few female friends. We made strong bonds and always hung out together. This is not to say that I did not make male friends; I did, but could not interact with most of them for the kind of language they used and thoughts they nurtured. Coupled with all this, there was mockery and taunting, and I earned a title in college – ‘Apu’ (Sister).
Some said I was a playboy, others said I was a snob for always and only making female friends, while still others said that isn’t it obvious that I would befriend girls, after all, birds of the same feather always flock together? My college life too was ruined. I hardly went to college thereafter. There was no means by which I could face the reality, digest those venomous slurs. I started questioning myself, why is it that I feel bad upon being called ‘a girl’? Is it because I am male? Is it alright for a girl to behave like a man but the reverse is always a trouble? I used to get anxious and depressed. Even some of the girls inquired, “are you a girl?”
The distinction that society has forged between feminine behavior and masculine behavior seems quite frivolous to me. Can we really ascribe behavior to gender? Just because a considerable number of men behave in a certain way, do others have to follow too? The same goes for women. If I behave like myself, why would gender be a part of it anyway? I know sexuality is a matter of consent, but whom do I explain that to? How do I explain it? Those who do not care about society and flow with the mainstream, do I explain them? Earlier I used to think this way, but not now!
Once, in order to prove my masculinity, I lit a cigarette in front of a group of boys. I soon started coughing and could hear that they were making fun of me. They broke into laughter, saying “Even women can puff cigarettes these days, and look at him!”
My physical appearance has also been the grounds of ridicule many times; my skinny frame invited taunts and also benevolent mockery. I have been advised to put on weight and walk like a man, shoulders straight and not drooping. My gestures, way of walking, and dressing generated a visible discomfort and revulsion among people.
Why do I behave like this? Not only my school and college mates, even my family members are vexed with me. Nothing about me is ‘manly’. Some say they are not ‘feminine’ either. This is when some people started saying I am like the Hijras. Is it so that the confusion is in them rather than me?
But nevertheless, I am satisfied with my predicament after long years. I am not intimidated like I was before. I don’t feel the need to prove my masculinity any longer. I do not feel the necessity to vindicate my gender or sexual orientation to the world and society. I am myself. I am not like anybody else.
I had uploaded a picture of mine wearing a flower band on my head. Many jeered and mocked but they do not affect me any more. And there are people who praise my gestures. I have made many friends who themselves are gender non-conforming.
However, it has taken quite some time to get there. For a long time, I have loathed and cursed myself. I wasn’t even hesitant to put the blame on The Almighty! I have tried many times to ‘be like a man’. At the end of the day, I realized that I only discovered a false self; there was no respite.
I found an existence within my writings. To unfold my emotions and burden, writing proved to be miraculous. I did what I wanted to do, and I stopped paying heed to my surroundings; perhaps that is the only remedy!
There was a time when I couldn’t cast myself into any mould; I thought myself inhuman. But now I can do it because I have realized my own mould now.
However, no matter how exciting these words may sound, the situation is still quite deviant. Even today I have to face questions about my ways of being. Trying to avoid it may not always succeed. People expect to find out why I am “like this”; sometimes I think I should reply but don’t. I don’t feel like.
When will people stop throwing their inquisitions towards me? How long will this continue?
Things will stop someday. At some point in the future, people will forego problematic politics and accept people the way they are. I spend my days looking forward to such a future. A societal change cannot happen overnight; sometimes it takes years, millennia! If we do not remain persistent, there cannot be a societal alternative.
I should be able to dwell in my own mould. After all,every person should be able to live like themselves .