Growing up in an Indian middle school, the best insult to use against the fellow lads was "chakka." Technically offensive slang for transgender individuals, the word was used to describe any behaviour perceived as remotely queer; in other words, feminine. Hands would cover jaws hung open, eyes widened: the precursory gesture for "burn" before being burnt was a thing.
Over the years, I remained careful to act straight, butch. Not a hint of sway in my hips, a deep booming voice, raucous laughter, pushing the limits of sensitivity and politeness to see how far one can go. Don't get me wrong; compared to the others around me, I'd seem soft-spoken still. Yet every day, every interaction was a race, a test to pass the masculinity standards no one, in particular, had imposed, yet everyone was bound to follow.
As the number of years passed since my birth increased, so did a feeling of disconnect with myself. The disconnect between who I was by myself vs around people, disconnect with what I was allowed to do, wear, or say within the boundaries of my gender. Hell, disconnect with the way I felt around cute boys (and girls, technically) and how those feelings supposedly emerged in the wrong direction. I stopped going to school more than two times a week, I refused to get out of my bed and be someone else, I gave up on the person everyone implied I was supposed to be. My grades fell along with any self-esteem I'd ever had. Finally, I took the plunge.
Out Of The Closet, Into The Woods
Coming out can be equally liberating and debilitating simultaneously, a rather confusing set of emotions to balance. Yet, I didn't even have it that bad. I mean, I've never been beaten up for being myself, never been doxxed or subjected to much that'd qualify as a hate-crime. It's problematic to think these concerns come hand-in-hand with being queer, but I guess reality never cared about being problematic.
In front of my very eyes, the disconnect left my person and hedged itself between me and everyone else. Being fortunate enough to live in a more progressive part of the country, no one (okay, most people) was outrightly homophobic. Yet I watched as I wasn't necessarily one of the guys anymore, I noticed how my childhood best friend's mother did not smile when passing me by anymore. I saw, I felt, and I internalised, beating myself up over many a night for having come out, even doubting the identity I'd taken years to recognise, identify, and accept.
Finding Solace In Exile
Where do misfitting teens find themselves when they begin to mistrust those around them? Why, the Internet, of course. From finding people with similar experiences to watching RuPaul's Drag Race religiously, I learnt something fundamental that still seems to escape common understanding; being gay is okay, and so is "acting gay."
Not that there is any particular way to act gay, but that is how what I felt and behaved like had been termed for a majority of my childhood. It took the maturity that comes with exposure and the loss of entitlement for me to understand that the problem did not lie within me, but rather around me. My confidence begin to grow again, my grades went back to the straight-A (irony unintended) student I'd been, and I learnt to be unapologetic about being myself. Something that we should've all known since the earliest times we remember, yet are still failed to be introduced to.
Watching me be myself without discomfort or regret taught the same vital lesson to the several people I would've once termed as homophobic: "being gay is okay." Sure, they still wouldn't obsessively watch Nicki Minaj or RuPaul music videos with me, but that was never the kind of assurance or acceptance I needed or deserved. I watched my school progress to a more inclusive space, heard juniors come out in what had once been a strictly heterosexual environment, even saw teachers overcome age-old misconceptions society so deeply seats amongst us all. I saw a tiny piece of the puzzle called progress being placed, and I knew I'd been one of the hands to aid it.
Why am I telling you all this? As I usually end my articles by saying, change starts with an individual. A spark might be nothing to a raging fire, yet the fire would have never been lit without the former. Change, growth, and progress often seem distant enough to be impossible, but in this case, you're watching the journey through a rearview mirror: objects in it are closer than they appear.