Shifting Paradigms

      Blog       14 May 2020
Shifting Paradigms

“hey vedant! just wanted to let you know that after a lot of questioning, i’ve realized i don’t feel boyish. i don’t feel girlish either. i guess i’m genderqueer? god, i’ve never done this before. i’m nervous. i’m closeted for now. hope you’ll be my confidant through my figuring out. x” 

My heart thudded in my chest. Blood pounded in my ears. My sweaty hands trembled, my feet tingled. My vision disfigured as I hit the ‘Send’ button. My chest grew tighter as bile rose in my throat. 

“Inhala.” I took a long, slow breath through my nose, first filling my lower lungs, then my upper. One. Two. Three. “Exhala.” Through pursed lips, with my face, jaw, shoulders and stomach relaxed, I let the air out. Doing this ten times or so calmed me down. 

My phone chimed. “Time for bed,” the notification read, “Go to bed by 21:45 to get a full 9 hours of sleep.” I closed my eyes to the gentle, soporific croons playing on my phone till I fell asleep. 

My not-so-nightmarish sleep was interrupted by the loud alarm on my phone. It was 6:45. I got out of bed, stretched for five minutes or so, and freshened up. 

“I am not my thoughts, emotions, sense perceptions and experiences. I am not the content of my life” In front of the spotless mirror reflecting the penetrating gaze of a familiar-looking pubescent stranger, I chanted the mantra, originally said by Eckhart Tolle. “I am life. I am the space in which all things happen. I am consciousness. I am the now. I am.” 

Baba dropped me off at school at around 8:30, as usual. However, today, the school environment was different. The usual chatter of the school corridor was replaced by muffled snickers, slanderous gossips and accusing stares. The fifteen-minute walk from the entrance to the classroom felt no less than any infamous walk of shame. The bitter knife of Vedant’s betrayal pierced my skin, leaving me to bleed alone amidst forlorn busybodies “discussing” my gender identity discreetly but not so discreetly that I couldn’t catch a few words. Amidst ignorant busybodies trying to avoid me on account of who I am. 

The classes were usual, the same old teachers lecturing about mitochondria being the powerhouse of the cell, solving three math problems on the whiteboard to burden us with twelve more problems of the same kind, twisting words of famous litterateurs to mean something they’re not. Maybe the author liked orange lilies, maybe he didn’t mean it to be a symbol of hatred. Ever thought of that? God, I couldn’t believe how mad I was at Vedant then. I couldn’t believe how much hatred and passive-aggression was spewing out of me. But I simply couldn’t control myself. 

At 11:40 sharp, the lunch bell rang. By 11:42, before the teacher could dismiss the class, the class had almost already emptied. I could clearly imagine the school canteen flooded by hundreds of gourmandizing mouths desperate to be fed. I approached Vedant; we hadn’t talked once the entire day. 

“What’s wrong with you, Vedant? Everyone is avoiding me today. I thought I told you specifically to keep my gender identity a secret and help me through it, not out me. I thought you were my best friend!” 

“Quit it, Rachit. I don’t want to talk about it. I’m hungry. Excuse me.” 

“Seriously, dude. What even? What happened to our friendship? What happened to our promise to be supportive of each other in whatever we do? Our promise to protect each other’s secrets as if they were our own — what about it? Our promise to love each other unconditionally?” 

“Forget everything I said, okay? I can’t be friends with you anymore.” The words came out of his mouth, without him batting an eyelid. “I cannot be friends with a sissy. Is that enough? Now get the hell out of my way.” 

“God, you’re unbelievable!” My head felt light, my chest grew tight as I tried to hold back my tears. His exasperated expression and words impaled me, numbed my entire body. My small intestine had been pulled out of my mouth and tied around my neck. Felt like it anyway. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t concentrate on the remaining classes. 

At home, having half-heartedly finished my assignments, I latched on to the train of thoughts I’d started on my way home. Intrusive and suicidal thoughts. Self-hatred for the unpredictable transition of my gender, at different places, at different times. I latched on to them till my eyes dried up. Till my head was about to burst. Till my 

tinnitus was unbearable. Till I couldn’t hear ma call out my name, call on me to have my dinner. 

“What’s wrong, babu?” A modulated, feminine voice nudged me out into reality. “Bhok lageko chhaina? Why didn’t you respond to my calls?” 

“It’s nothing, ma.” I tried to speak without my voice breaking. “I was too focused on this math problem. Tapai tala janus. I’ll be there as soon as I finish this problem.” 

“Rachit, don’t lie to me. First of all, that’s not your maths notebook. Second, your eyes are puffy. I heard you sob. Now tell me, babu, what’s the matter? You know you can tell me anything.” 

“Anything?” A solitary tear trickled down my left cheek. “You promise, ma? You’ll handle everything well? Tapai risaunu hunna, malai ghar bata nikalnu hunna? Promise me you’ll be open-minded.” My voice strangled and hoarsened with each successive utterance. “Promise me, ma.” 

“I promise,” she said, consolingly. Her honey brown eyes provided me solace. “Look at me, Rachit. You can say anything to me. I won’t be mad.” 

“I’m genderqueer.” My muscles tensed up. “My gender shifts from time to time, ma. I don’t fit into traditional gender binaries. I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of gender roles. I texted Vedant as soon as I realized, but he outed me at school, ma.” 

She didn’t say anything. An awkward silence ensued. 

“Ma?” I called out to her, hesitantly. “Are you mad at me?” 

She looked at me; her face evident of vague blends of incredulity, rue and acquiescence. “Of course not, Rachit. I love you. I want you to be happy. And you shouldn’t be afraid to tell me anything about yourself.” 

“Thank you,” my voice broke. “I’ve been wanting to tell you for a really long time.” 

“I’m glad you did.” She wrapped me around her arms, in her warm, motherly embrace. She kissed my forehead. “Aru le ke bhanchhan bhanera nasocha, baba. Others will judge you no matter what. Just be your authentic self. We’ll figure out a way to come out to your baba as well, okay? Come on, let’s eat.”

“I am worth more than the summation of my trauma.” I chant the mantra, originally written by Alok Vaid-Menon, in front of the same spotless mirror with the same familiar-looking stranger gazing at me. Only this time, I’ve learned to embrace them. “I have an essential value and dignity simply and irrevocably because I exist. That even though almost every institution and hand and word has been forged precisely for the purpose of teaching insignificance, I am significant.” 

It’s been exactly three months since I came out to ma and baba. I’m grateful to have parents who love me for who I am, unconditionally. Vedant is in the past. He’s been replaced with Prerana, my confidante who supports me in all of my crazy and dangerous adventures. I’ve discovered Jacob Tobia, Adam Eli and Indya Moore among many more genderqueer internet personalities who inspire me to stand up for myself. In a world where my existence is a riot and often fetishized and deemed insignificant, I am incorrigible. And though there are times when things can be a lot better, I am happy to be free to express myself in the way I want to.

Submitted by: Arnav Darnal 

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