To successfully distance yourself from the prevalent norms of society, that with every passing breath from childhood aspires to instil in you every single grain of prejudice possible, is a herculean task that cannot be accomplished without support.
Being born in a middle-class Rajput family was not a choice I made. As a child in his own innocent blissful world, I enjoyed basking in the glorious orbs of my Ma’s jewellery and sarees. Unlike boys my age, speeding and force were never my gaming zones. The tenderness and beauty of dolls often lured me into playing with them, dressing them up as gorgeously as Nani would find me, with those heavy, dark locks and big, round eyes of mine that shimmered in the attire of a bride.
Dressing up as the dulhan in the ‘dulha-dulhan’ game, wearing Masi’s dupatta as a hairpiece and dancing wholeheartedly without a shred of care for the world on Madhuri Dixit’s Bollywood numbers opened the non-negotiable realm of society for me.
While growing up, I did not have a particularly friendly relationship with my father. Like most dad-son bonds, ours was speckled with shades of masculinity where the proclamation of love and expression of feelings lay suppressed. To make a man out of his effeminate son (whose walk and words resonated with feminine tenderness rather than manly toughness), Papa would relentlessly beat me for even the smallest of mistakes.
He detested my speaking Bhojpuri, our mother tongue, as he felt it made me sound like a ‘mauga’ (a Bhojpuri word for effeminacy). I never quite knew the amiable side of parenting for the most part of my childhood, it surfaced only in certain instances when Ma was around. However, her working in a different district often stole this bit of happiness away.
Where on one side, home had this to offer, school only worsened my mental peace and added to the trauma of ‘being different’.
Known to be a space where one’s identity is formed, where our personalities are shaped, school contributed in making me known as ‘chakka, hijra‘ (insults for eunuchs and trans persons), words which were thrown like daggers at me in the most derogatory sense.
The notion of your name reflecting as your identity became a blurred idea for me. There are very few days of my school life when I was not bullied or humiliated. Hence, it’s hard to forget the rest – which had become ‘my normal’ for not being normal.
An incident etched clearly in my mind was when a classmate sitting behind me wrote ‘SIXER’ (an abuse for queer people) with paint on my shirt. The courage and strength that I had been mustering all this while, which had been secretly helping me tackle each day as it came, lay shattered.
I tried every possible way to stop going to school again, one time even intentionally hurting my own leg, but it nothing worked.
For once, after years, I let down my shield of masculinity and cried in the warm and secure arms of Ma, cursing my birth and existence. The torment of years could not be calmed with her wise words. So, taking the onus on herself to set it all right, she spoke to my class teacher about all that had been going on.
This only worsened things. Everyone at school stopped talking to me. My existence was now even smaller than before.
After matriculation, I took admission in humanities in a different school. My idiotic heart, which clings to every false hope, led me into believing that this change would mark a new beginning of acceptance, kindness and warmth. Little did I know that the humanities can only teach such notions, but cannot force you to practice them.
All my aspirations to be known as ‘Aditya’ in this new setting, among new people, got burnt at the playground as the sun beat down on us when a boy from my previous school called out to me, “Chakka, tu yahan!”
I decided not to succumb this time, so the ‘new me’ did not let them humiliate me to my face. But that did not stop it from happening behind my back.
To exist equally was now forgotten. The exuberance and flamboyancy of my personality now lay boxed. Insecure in my own skin, I started to feel suffocated in my own body and more than once considered ending it all only to hate myself for not having the courage to fully follow through with such a step.
I started keeping to myself, an introvert who only found the will to breathe in the reality of his own identity either through comic books, TV series or movies. At times, I danced in front of the mirror, in my dad’s dhoti wrapped around as a gaghra (skirt) to feel free. It never felt as liberating, for the doors were always locked and loneliness was my only audience.
But sometimes, the process of change is not noticeable to the naked eye, nor is the human brain intelligent enough to register it until the change is visible outwardly.
Standing on stage in a long yellow skirt, resonating my faith in blurred gender roles and a belief in masculinity beyond the idea of clothing, in a packed auditorium, I was not only accepting the award for topping the second year of college – the moment came as a realisation of how the past few years in Delhi University’s Ramjas College had empowered me to accept myself the way I am, to love myself and to believe the notion that only the sky was the limit.
This acceptance did not enter my system overnight, but was a process of constant unlearning of what society had enforced ever since birth. It was learning to put my individuality beyond the flawed spectrum of prejudices and stereotypes.
To say that it was a cakewalk to reach this stage in my life, that would be a lie.
For my three years of college, I stayed in the Ramjas hostel for boys. Initially, it was tough to be surrounded by men who questioned my manhood and masculinity in every action, and it made me feel vulnerable. But the beautiful course I was enrolled in helped me understand the fragility of masculinity. The constant load and pressure it puts upon men ‘to become a man’; to be conditioned as insensitive creatures and to avoid all discussions and talk about normalised oppression – as it would manifest their ‘unseen, unknown side of femininity’.
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Understanding this helped soothe my anger towards my father. It helped me see his concern for his son. And, being a product of his times, I realised he had simply given into the methods his father used to bring him up.
Of late, I have been vocal about my feelings. This has mended our bond. Delhi, in all its colours, brought with it some angels in the form of the most understanding humans in my life. Without their support and irrevocable faith in me, I would have never dared to take such a big leap from the side of constant insecurity and loathing to undeterred belief in myself to become whoever I wanted to be.
With time and maturity, I can now even comprehend the strength and beauty of my sexual orientation. I am a gay person who happens to fall for the wrong men – always. To love them has always felt like ‘we’ have never belonged to this tangible place, neither do our hearts, and yet, here we are, making love as we make love to life with no strings attached. This tantalising fragrance of love with the same-sex has ephemerality and the strength of petrichor – intense, but short.
Every time I have fallen in love, I have had a different experience, just like the varied spectrum of sexuality. Still, one thing that has been common to all is how easily a man can accept his vulnerability behind locked doors; how everyone is a little gay or has a ‘gayish’ side to them that can be hidden well behind a façade. But to portray it boldly is to bathe in the joy of a unicorn ride over a rainbow slide.
Aditya Singh is a 22-year-old who identifies as a gay person. He has led 22 years of his life like a turtle, carrying the load of societal norms and prejudices and now finally, he has reached the finish line of self loathe and depression beyond which lies acceptance and love studded among glimmering stars, unicorns and rainbows.
Featured image credit: Dan Gold/Unsplash