14 January 2023

I didn’t sit with tea or coffee this morning, though it is still quiet. I do have a topic in mind. I have been tiptoeing around a lot of people this new year, you know the people who you find in your life at a certain crossroad where you recognise something similar, something that you both share, a common enemy or a common struggle perhaps, and you see yourself with them. You see them for who you think they might be and given how lonely you are, you say, oh there you are! You are my friend!

But soon, soon you realise, no! that person is not your friend. They might see you in a friendly way but they are not your friend. 

Women, as a species, and as a broad gender, have always felt that they needed solidarity. We feel like we need this because if we don’t have this, what do we have left? Men? Sure, there are some men, some decent men, who identify as a feminist, the ones who want to talk about their feelings, the ones who are like, yeah, I’m okay with having period sex, etc. But can they truly offer that friendship that one finds with someone from her own gender?

I have been pondering and observing these facts and my experiences on this ever since I came out as a Transwomxn. I still don’t agree with the ‘coming out’ as a term, but it is the closest I could come to an analogy that would get the message across.

So, I decided to note down a series of my experiences with the cisgender women that I met during my grad school education at a private university. I will list one experience every week, and though they may read like a personal attack, I will do my best to make them soft and pillow-likely to tend to your delicate sensibilities. I understand that you may feel offended, thinking, yaar Maine to nhi bola aisa, or I didn’t mean it like that, or the ever-so-refreshing, it was not my intention to hurt you, but that’s just your own interpretation, not what I said, so I would suggest you be gone; especially if you think you might be in these thought-provoking and mind stimulatingly descriptive pieces, I suggest you don’t read ahead. 

And be aware, women, gays and non-binaries (i am pretty sure that is the only demographic reading this) that I shall be using the most ostentatious English names, to maintain these people’s anonymity, and their personalities will be reflected in their respective names, however supple or thorny they might be.

The first person I will be talking about is Karen. Yes, she is named Karen. And yes, she is that Karen- privileged, white (fair nay, milk-skinned in the Indian context) and she likes to gossip. This woman was one of the first people I met in Amity. Back in the first semester, we had a hybrid thing going, where some students were online and some offline. She and I were among the handful of offline students. She was also one of the first people who gave me a hug, like oh my god, you are so pretty, and tall, gerrrl look at those legs. Yup, that’s how she greeted me. Nothing says ‘I am okay with you being gay’ more than the incorporation of the word girl in the first sentence.

Karen, at one time, saw me coming from afar and hid her lunch while she lipped the words, yaar ye lunch dekh lega. Funny, isn’t it? Sure, she had lunch, prepared by a mother who is caring, and alive, but how dare I see or share that? Her actions were probably provoked by my previous enthusiastic affirmatives when she offered me a bite to eat. I wake up at five o’clock in the morning, to do menial chores for my father, as it is considered my rent. I know it sounds degenerative and negative, but that is simply my reality. So, when a person smiles and offers to feed me when I don’t know if and when I’ll be having my next meal, I say yes. 

 The fact that she said gerrrl not Gworl, told me right then and there that this was the first time she was saying it, and that she probably hadn’t met another alternative person, as she’d like to call me, hitherto. But that’s the thing, Karen always viewed me as ‘a’ gay, which in her definition was a gay male, simply cross-dressing. Somewhere deep down, I think I have been telling myself that at least it is better than her straight-up hating you, or creating havoc of you being in her personal, and female space. So, when she asked me one day during a metro ride together, why can’t a boy just be effeminate or feminine, you know he can behave like a ladki (girl) if he wants, but still be a boy? Why does he have to use she/her pronouns?

In her mind, she was simply asking a question. She did it respectfully, and politely. I understand that. Women are inquisitive, and they shall ask as much as they want to know. But here is the thing: what you say and communicate are two different things. What is mentioned above, is what she said. Now here is what I heard.

Hey, I have a question for you. And I am going to be very polite about this, as I am growing up in a culture where ‘people like you’ can shout homophobia and xenophobia as loud as you can at the first slightly insensitive thing. I would like to know, in my very polite and privileged way, nay I demand to know why a boy, such as yourself, is forcing me to admit, in every sentence I utter in a social setting, that you are a woman. Because, honestly, I simply would like to understand why I should be forced to say something I don’t believe in. But, I can’t say that, so I am going to smile and nod as if I am open to a conversation. Who knows, I might even be open to a conversation, but could you please explain your whole life to me, because, honestly I don’t understand. I get that your mom died, and I know you have a hard life, but like. get over it and put my queries above all that. I deserve to know why I should be calling you a girl. So, answer.

If that seems to you an exaggeration, my dearest reader, I implore you to go back up, and read what she said, and then come back down and read what I heard. If you can bring yourself to understand the difference and yet, the most correct interpretation, I invite you to read further ahead.

Firstly, I understand that in some ways, it is somewhat exaggerated. But what you may not see, is that there is a microscopic sentence behind every word, every smile, every hair tuck, and every nod. And that, that is exactly what my years of repression and chronic self-reflection have taught me to see. I have been non-consensually trained in this sea of anxiety and self-hatred, and I positively don’t expect you to see it when you interact with me. I am very good at hiding it. I am sitting on the floor, as I write this, on my 6-year-old laptop Sophia named after a Disney princess, with a set of cold hands because my blood sugar is probably low as I haven’t had anything to eat or drink after dinner last night, not because I don’t want to, but because it is not available. And it has been more than 12 hours since my last meal. So, bear with me as I complete this. 

What followed that question in that conversation, was a simple explanation of the difference between gender and sexuality, and how interconnected and not-connected they are at times. I hope and wish Karen understood it. I explained it to her with the same smiles and nods and hair-tucks, and here is why: I happen to understand what she meant to say- on the surface and below the surface alike- but in order to bring a shift in her attitude, I needed her to see understanding, not hostility

I could have very easily been like- oh I am so offended right now, like how dare you question my identity, and like I have suffered so much, and can’t I have a moment of peace?  I also could have actively or passive-aggressively attacked her- oh what a shameful piece of shit-feminist you are, like don’t you know the difference between gender and sexuality, or like I guess not because that’s the difference between, a B.A. honours degree and B.A. program degree, and yeah bitch I know where you been, you ain’t foolin’ nobody.

Of course, there were other options too, but I chose to take the query part of her question, and I chose to ignore every other aspect of her personality. What I got in return was a Karen who never asked me that same question again. She now never fiddles when addressing me as she, or her, and she is pleasantly more tolerable. 

Some of you know who Karen is. Karen, if you are reading this, I would you to know that of all the people in my life that I have had the displeasure of educating, you have been one of the few surprising positive ones. These are not all the events that we share a common memory of, but these incidences are the ones that have marked our relationship in my mind. I hope you won’t be offended, but I do not care anyway. This isn’t about you. 

The main reason I started this blog, was to chronicle the series of events that I as womxn am going through. I live in a hostile society, a hostile house, with dangerous, mentally unstable people. There is an absolute uncertainty about life that I have come to accept. It is exactly the reason why I am jotting down these details in a blog, for it to be out there, and not just in my diary. I hope I have earned the privilege of all the 4 minutes you have spent reading this, and I wish you all the good things in life, my dearest reader. Au Revoir!

7 January 2023

It is a quiet Saturday morning. I have my green tea resting next to the yellow cloth I wipe this laptop screen with as I lament the fact that I don’t write as much as I used to,  even though I still have a rigorously maintained journal. However, yesterday’s events have made it very hard for me to not use a plainly quiet voice to enunciate the fact that being a transgender womxn in a city like Delhi truly is excruciating. 

I am a Master’s student in the English Literature program of Amity University, Noida. Considering the fact that I came from a central university like the University of Delhi to a highly funded private one, I hoped my experience would be somewhat different here than the very homophobic one I had witnessed in my undergrad. To some extent, I realise it is different. I was not out as Transwomxn in my undergrad, and I felt open enough to do that in this school. The reason? Probably the fact that it is easier to be something alternative to the system’s already existing subjects in a private university because you do have a right to be there. You are paying the same money (speaking equivocally) and the culture is somewhat of a hybrid nature. 

Hybridity here exists in varying degrees. Let’s talk about men first. Boys, if we are being real. You would find your desi men, the ones with the big beard, tight expensive jeans, and a car and pair of shoes that their parents bought them the day they realised this is the only way to ensure their offspring can be controlled. Then you have your nerds, I know it sounds derogatory, but it’s not. They can also be divided into two categories. Their similarities must come first. They all wear glasses; they all have a tone of condescension in their voice that when they speak to someone from a literature background shines through exponentially; and they majorly happen to be business or some sort of tech majors. The only thing that differentiates them is their outer appearance and their class. Yes, I am talking about the faces and jawlines, and their height, the hair, the legs and eventually their wallets. It sounds superficial, but that is how I have come to understand it in the Amity world. 

The women, on the other hand, are completely easy. It sounds so shallow, and as a womanist myself, I agree that one thing we as a gender are not is easy. Yet, it is my understanding, that the women, cis-het kind, happen to be far easier to make out than the men. There are simply two categories- the ones who talk about their purses and their makeup, and the ones who are more balance-oriented. Now there are varying degrees of balance-oriented women- there is always the one who will be plain, and simple- easy to understand and talk to, non-problematic, and no-nonsense types, and they will have similar plain and simple friends. Their topics of discussion include their studies, their homes and their prospective boyfriends. The other kind happens to be more discourse oriented- they will know the things happening around the world, they will know the difference between womanism and feminism, and they will be the first to tell you they are so proud of you for simply existing as a minority gender. Regardless of their background, all the women I have met here are intelligent and aware of their life choices. They do what they do shamelessly. I found it quite liberating, to be honest.

Sure, there are problematic people as well. You know the ones who become suddenly bi-curious, and eventually bisexual, when in a presence of a visibly queer person; they are manipulative enough to think this gives them some sort of an edge to talk the Twitter meme language, but not sensitive enough to know it leads to the problems our real bisexual community faces within the Queer community, simply because the last bisexual they met turned out to be woke phoney. This may be a sensitive topic, and I fully acknowledge that. I have had enough bisexual experience to know and read a fellow person, but that’s not the case with everyone. 

All in all, women proved to be my safe space at this university. I am in a class of 45 women and one man who rarely ever shows up, and 90% of my faculty happens to be female. The ten per cent male faculty are supportive or stoic enough to not make my life hell based on my gender. I know that is a low bar, but that’s simply just India. I make do with what’s given and I say my gratitude for not being accosted in the street. At least, that has been my life’s way of living as an out and proud transgender womxn. But it is still not that simple. 

The fact that I can walk out of the house dressed as a woman simply relies on the fact that I pass. I pass with my voice, my hair, my legs ( believe it or not, they are excellent), my traditional Indian clothing choices such as salwar-kameez, or Kurtis (after my mother’s chosen fashion choice) and no Adam’s apple. Then why are you here, the reader must think right about now. Well, bear with me my dearest reader.

Yesterday was one of the very few times I had worn a gender-neutral outfit. You know simply a sweater and pants. It was also the first time I had a top bun instead of my hair down. I reckon that was probably the reason why. It started out as normal glares. I have a round face with what I think is a prominent nose, and I am 5’9, so when they see a tall-ish woman they usually tend to glare. (And let’s not forget those delicious legs). But something… something was off. I didn’t notice it very quickly, as I usually block out the male gaze, male stares more specifically. And I carried on with my day. It was with my friends from class that I finally noticed that there was something going on. 

One thing one finds when in and around women all day long, is that there is a certain beauty and a very fitting Indian grace that these cisgender women carry themselves with that I can never replicate. I am speaking in a strictly Indian context, and I hope it is somewhat understandable to the reader. Maybe if I was acting all day long, I would have been better but not in real life. I pass as an educated woman, the kind that goes to college and learns something. I don’t pass as a desirable one, and that is what became apparent yesterday. I have acquainted myself with my lack of bosoms and a thick posterior, and frankly, I have no need for them. But, yesterday, I realised that is desired of me by my surroundings. And the fact that I have no inclination to hide for a day under a shawl or a big jacket, outs me as the other. And the funny thing is, I wasn’t even the first person to realize it. My painfully beautiful friend, who shall remain anonymous, saw a group of men staring directly at my body with suspicious and conspicuous smiles on their faces- something that the women in India are all too aware of. And when she broke out in her precious Urdu, telling them off in a witty passing fuck you that only Indians can understand, asking them if there was a spectacle (numaish was the word she used) that they were gawking at, it is then that I turned away from the friend with whom I was walking in arms with and saw their faces. There was not anything different. They were still the same desi men I have come to not fantasize about, and I was still the other they are used to laughing at. 

I did feel a bit taken aback by my friend’s brave middle-finger-like attitude. I also for the first time felt solidarity in a group of cis-women. I have been friends with cis women my entire life. But it doesn’t usually happen that one of them ever speaks up for me. My inner trans-child felt not loved, not accepted, but simply content that my existence meant something to someone that they chose to say something. It doesn’t happen often, I will tell you that. Those who have the privilege of anything rarely ever take a stand for those of us who have none. That was primarily the reason why the Queer community came together, and how it always speaks out against any and all injustices if another minority community ever gets in trouble with this system we have so eloquently accepted as the real world and its red tape.

That high did not last very long, as I soon parted with my friends, they were leaving the campus, and I had to stay to catch my bus. Once I was alone, roaming the campus with my lunch bag in one hand, and my smartphone in another googling to find something to write my thesis on, I realised the spot I had chosen to rest my heavenly bottom on became a tourist spot for a couple of men. I found them unabashedly staring at me trying to figure me out. My eyes met theirs and they suddenly tried to disperse, but not fast enough. They looked away; one of them looked at his phone and the other one looked at his friend. I knew enough to not be there any longer, so I moved. They started following me not long after, and when I stopped again, one of them ran right in front of me. The other one soon followed, and the former clapped his hand twice with his fingers out. Then, they both laughed and I exited.

I knew what that clap meant. You know what that clap meant. 

Chances are if you are reading this article, you probably are someone who has been at the other end of that clap hurled at you as an insult. But it is not.

The clap was them trying to call me hijra, hijri, chakki, various words that I have heard often and never with a valid context. When I did know what it meant I was told to be scared. I wasn’t. There was not anything to be scared of. They are just people who lived like me, breathed like me, drank water, ate food, and the only thing that set them apart is that they choose to not listen when they are told that they are wearing the wrong clothes, kissing the wrong person, dancing the wrong way, or feeling joy when they ought to feel ashamed. That’s not different from what I do. 

Hijra is a word that the people in India use for a community comprised of intersex, transgender, and eunuch folks, who choose to live together accepting each other as their kin. I hope I explained it right. They usually get discarded by the “civilised society,” so they make their own. They make their living doing whatever they can, and they feel no shame in that, as they ought not to. Every human does that- trying to live however they can. Some of us have more resources owing to our respective privileges, and that’s how the world works. It’s just that some of us choose to use those resources to do our part. My writing is a resource I have accumulated because of the privilege that is my education. One would think that education is a right, or that everyone has a right to it. It is not, and no, not everyone gets that. We may live in a country where we are taught to say and think so, but the reality is far, far removed from it being a right. 

It took me almost five hours to complete this. I seriously underestimated the toll it would take on my depression, but I am glad I did this. I am still trying to come to a conclusion that would make sense, or give hope as my name suggests. Perhaps, this time I can’t. But there is still some hope in hopelessness, my mother used to say. She said, one ought to get knocked down before one starts to get up. I learned to confine my expectations and conform to keep myself safe after yesterday’s events. And I hope to keep writing, for as long as I can. It has been an honour to have you here, my reader. I hope you are not too disappointed, and I wish you a good day.