Pink bridal dress. Green silk saree.
For over a year now, nothing has captivated my imagination as these two outfits from my mother’s bridal trousseau. I keep thinking of trying them out but the sheer volume and richness of the fabrics wants me to wait for another day. I have contented myself with lighter fabrics from my mother’s wardrobe for now.
The satisfaction and happiness that I derive from being able to adorn my mother’s sarees hasn’t come easily though.
I remember being forced to mould my tastes and attitudes as per gender socialisation norms throughout my childhood and adolescent years. It wasn’t just casual degrading remarks about my choice of toys, games or cartoons, but even the food I enjoyed. I have faced constant rebuke at the hands of neighbours, cousins and others for smacking my lips to the taste of tamarind. I was shamed for wanting to treat myself to it along with the other women of the household. The existing heteronormative notions of identity and socialising always ensured to ring the alarm bells of some fundamental wrong-doing I wanted to indulge in.
Leaving school somehow assured me that maybe I longer needed to brush my own identity under the carpet. The world and opportunities that my few older queer friends presented began to give me hope. The safe space and comfort they provide shall always be the foremost reason for my liberation from the chains of gender conformity.
I had always known that the most important aspect of my gender identity is to somehow fashion myself after my mother. Growing up, I watched her draping sarees each day. To satiate my desire to be her look-alike, I used to cover myself in her sarees in secrecy. It continued until puberty hit and the innocence of my acts made way for shame and guilt. I soon gave up those few minutes of peace and satisfaction of being in my mother’s sarees. It accompanied a slow withdrawal from most acts that questioned the heteronormativity around. Escapism and indifference became my companions to suppress myself until the pandemic hit.
During the COVID-19 enforced lockdowns, I began to reflect and engage with my past. I have now started to be less escapist and more engaging with my gender and sexuality. I paint my nails with less panic, wear jewellery traditionally associated with women, and work with other markers of gender expression that challenge the binary narrative of gender.
Though the part of hiding it all away from the gaze of my parents still lingers. That panic – of being revealed – has reduced but is still the guiding spirit of my actions.
Only a few months ago, I began to adorn my mother’s sarees once again. I checked myself out in the bathroom mirror for days initially. On social media, my pictures received lots of love and affection. Friends and strangers never felt so dear.
But the same feeling of being caught while sneaking in those sarees in the washroom crept up on me again. The thought of being made to answer questions over why I am and who I am – questions that I don’t fully know the answers to – makes me scared.
Over the years, the guilt and shame of the past have turned to a layered sense of regret and sadness. The regret of one day disappointing my mother for choosing to be her. The regret of wanting to imbibe her sense of beauty and world. This regret only continues to fuel a sadness of never standing up to be my mother’s child. A child she had wished and hoped for. A child she thinks she has raised.
Increasingly, when I now exert my queer gender identity, sexually and otherwise publicly, the usual expected gaze and confusion follow. Public washrooms and security checks are nothing short of passage through hell. The constant pulling down of masks to ensure not being whisked away to the facilities meant for the other gender. The protest that one has to register for the right to use washrooms meant for a particular gender. The helpless feeling of being perceived as an item of social mockery and discussion.
This burden of always being on the street to fight for yourself isn’t felt anywhere more than in one’s own home. The fight that one has to wage and ultimately lose in one’s parents’ eyes. The silence that follows and need to understand them for not understanding you. To accept the fact that your inheritance shall always be deemed immoral in your parents’ judgement. To dream of your parents sending you away from their home happily but realising that you weren’t welcome in their home for a start.
I wish more of our parents tried to fully understand childhoods and children. They could make little less of the sacrifices they make and maybe a little more of the right ones. Ones that don’t force their delicate, coloured pristine glass children to turn into opaque hard mirrors.
Ishant Sharma is a second year student at RGNUL and is more interested in things other than law.
Featured image credit: representative image/Unsplash