Posted by Siddhant Pasricha
The lockdown has bought upon me the trauma of being at home. For me, this trauma meant being surrounded with dysfunctional people throughout the days, having to interact with them constantly. This, in turn, has worsened my mental health and has turned home into an unproductive space. I cannot study, read, or do anything productive due to the constant anxiety that surrounds me. Despite this, the lockdown and my privilege has done one good thing for me, it has provided with a lot of time to think. This includes thinking about my life, my goals, and the way I want to express myself. These are the issues I cannot afford to think about on ‘normal’ days due to multiple reasons. One such topic I have been thinking about during the lockdown is the way I express myself and my femininity.
The primary reason I have not been able to think about my femininity during the ‘normal’ days is because of my constant interaction with people. This means that if I bring any evident change to my identity, I will have to answer multiple questions as a result. As a person confused about their gender identity I am constantly questioning my actions and behaviour which makes the task overwhelming. Every time I am exercising, I am questioning, if I should search for another workout because the one that I am doing feels masculine and farther from my femininity, the identity that I am more comfortable with. At the same time, I tell myself that these doubts are just thoughts which I do not have to work upon, which prevents me from taking my femininity and identity seriously. The contradiction between questioning my gender identity and femininity constantly and simultaneously not taking it seriously makes it difficult for me to justify myself at public spaces like college and restaurants. I would try to avoid this confusion by just identifying as a male and getting through the day.
The lockdown provided me with an opportunity to question my gender identity in a safe space (restricted to my room). My journey began with the question – ‘Do I identify as a man’? and the answer to this question was no. The reason for this was because I do not consider my experiences to be similar to as that of the other adolescent boys. I disliked anything associated with violence, speed, body building. My femininity was referred to as ” being gay” or in an insulting manner during my school days. Having been called feminine since the beginning of my adolescence, I never questioned what of my behaviour was considered feminine. Rather, back then I used to wish if I could incorporate behaviours that were deemed masculine so I could feel like one of my male peers. For this I spent a lot of money with my friends or I used abuses as a way to show my aggression. I also used to engage in behaviour that would prevent me from being an ‘outsider’ like wearing my trousers as low waist (what was considered fashionable) or even engaging in self-deprecating humour. Even though I felt uncomfortable speaking with the boys around me because of their general lack of empathy and indifference, I spent a large part of my puberty doing exactly that because my interactions with them was an important source of my masculine validation and continued repression of my femininity.
While none of these strategies worked, things began to improve after class tenth. Things got better for me when the class reshuffled and I got a new friend circle. My new friend circle accepted me, my femininity. my love for cooking, my personality and my past experiences which gave me great strength to get through the next two years. Despite the acceptance and validation, I still spent a lot of my time and energy trying to negate my femininity and seem more masculine. This continued on till the time I enrolled into my college, which is where I started looking at gendered identities from a different perspective, especially through my interaction with the friends I made there. Understanding femininity and masculinity gave a lot of clarity to me and I revisited my past experiences from a different light. Having better understood the debate around gender, I finally found acceptance for my own self and began perceiving myself in a positive light. I told and reassured myself that I needed to accept myself the way I am, because nothing about me – especially my femininity or inability to be conventionally masculine – was not worthy of being loved.
Given how societal conditioning is such that gender stereotypes are ingrained into us from our childhood itself, the confusion I harboured for my own identity continued to make its presence felt well into my late teenage years. One of the questions I constantly attempted to introspect on was: “Why would I not speak with men?” One of the ways I justified this was by assuring that it was because “since my childhood I was only surrounded by women”. But the truth was, I knew that I did not interact with men because I had nothing in common with them.
My Masters degree provided me with a larger mind-space to think about my gender expressions and femininity. Here again, my friend circle was the catalyst, by constantly debating gender and its intersections with other social identities. My friends made me realise that it was completely normal to express my femininity to the fullest and that I should, in fact, take active efforts to do the same. Subsequently, I got a nose piercing and started wearing bindi in college. Even though, these were just small signifiers of my femininity, it made me feel so much at peace with, and as a better version of myself. I was coming to terms with a version that had accountability and did not have to lie to people about their personality. Wearing it was a sign of my freedom which allowed me to move away from the person I was, towards the person I am and always wanted to be, freeing myself from the label of a man.
During the lockdown I learnt that I do not want to be referred to as a man. Rather it provided me a space to introspect about my femininity, which sparked a lot of joy in me. Once I came to terms with my femininity, I became fearless and liberated in the sense that I felt like I could now express myself fully, without worrying about repercussions, because now I was an outsider to the masculine identity. The realisation finally hit home: To try and be masculine was like trying to put a large pizza in a medium size box.
Learning this about myself has made this experience of lockdown a bit more bearable for me. In fact, it actually has me excited for when the pandemic ends. My takeaways were that: Embracing my femininity made me more confident and truthful about the person I was. A major source of joy for me these days is when I get the room for myself at night and I wear a bindi. When I adorn myself with the bindi and look into the mirror, I realise I want to be a better person just for myself and not for anyone else. The lockdown has made me realize that getting my nose pierced is not just about how I look but more importantly, it was about my femininity and who I identify as, as well as a source of comfort. While my gender expression is only limited to wearing bindi and piercing for now, it has also liberated me to express myself in ways that I feel most comfortable in. The lockdown made me realize that embracing my femininity is worth taking the trouble to make my friends and family uncomfortable. That the only thing worse than staying at home is staying at home feeling that I am not expressing myself properly.
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Siddhant pursued their masters from Tata Institute of Social Sciences. They love reading and writing about mental health, labour, and development. They enjoy interacting with people despite the constant burden of social anxiety. You can find them on Twitter and Instagram.