By Roshan Pinto
Illustration by Anshumaan Sathe
I always wanted to be a woman. The most beautiful inspiration is when you know a woman who works, sings, smiles and appears powerful. The willful essence that stays with a woman, that is her grace…I want that. Since my childhood, it was not easy to dress like a girl outside; only in the secrecy of my room. After lunch, I used to wear a towel on my head, keeping it as my long hair. Mom’s dupatta served as a fashionable dress – a gown. It was wholesome and always a thrill. It helped me imagine. And it stayed like a forever fairy tale; one with no limits.
Mum and dad thought it funny and cute when boys wear “girly” stuff. They called it my “girly play” to the neighbors and the nuns. When Sister Rose came home one day and asked me, “Aye, you want to be a girl ha?”, I nodded yes to what I thought was a serious question. They laughed like I had made a good joke to keep the banter going. I never quite understood, but I learnt that boys can’t be girls. It was a threat. It was a shame and a sin. Someone being who they wanted to be, and appearing how they wished to, was inevitably a scandal. And I remained in this confusion – the state of not gulping the hot sip of tea, because I didn’t think it was fine. I remained suspended – never owning and embracing my gender and sexuality; it was too much to ask of society and the boys in my school. So I went along without questioning these beliefs, silently admiring my fourth standard Kannada teacher’s glossy hair. I imagined myself to be Preity Zinta in Kal Ho Na Ho and Dia Mirza in Zara Zara. And these stories were like a personal journal; a deep secret within me that I was not to betray.
Soon after my tenth grade, I joined the seminary. By then, I shakily admitted that I had to stay a man and only the seminary could keep me away from the punishment for being a gay man. It was an escape from unknown sexism and bullying. I failed to be like the other boys, who waited outside convent school, who took the names of their girlfriends with thrill in their eyes that only they could fathom. But I enjoyed playing lagori, with my neighbour’s girls. I watched Nach Baliye and Jhalak Diklaa ja rather than the IPL matches. Cricket was a threat to me, not a game to enjoy. It was a pressure to prove my masculinity. I always prayed the ball would land in the neighbor aunty’s verandah so everyone had to waste time pleasing her with their apologies. Seminary distracted me from this toxicity, while it, perhaps, added in me other toxic beliefs, silently. After “coming out” to a priest, my ‘therapy’ was the advice to keep growing a beard to feel more manly. “The truth will set you free” the priest used to say, quoting Jesus, while skillfully making me believe that I couldn’t possibly be gay. Men with penises can’t be gay. It was a myth and just worldly desire to be identified as gay. I was convinced. But fate took a surprising turn, and Bangalore happened to me.
Bangalore, the city that showed me what liberation is- that mild rush when breaking the rules and feeling the cold rain droplets on your palm. Sex became a beautiful word and the desire to talk about guys became so real. My love for clothes and fashion were somewhere evoked during these times. I changed from my plain tops to floral shirts in dressing rooms whenever I would step out of the seminary.
It was finally just last year then that I decided that seminary life was not what I wanted and so I said alvida. My mum and two brothers liked having me back home. I loved staying in; relishing the suddenness of leaving the seminary, smelling the same house kitchen, finding all the rooms awkward and tiny compared to the seminary’s.
People had started doing mad things on Instagram. There were no longer men in black, but men in sarees, men in makeup, men talking about mental health. Ankush Bahuguna, an influencer, applied make up and made it evident for me that, by then, fashion had became real. Komal Pandey was the woman I started imitating, especially after I wore dad’s safari and took a lot of pictures; gold, silver and dark green- safaris in those rare colours. “Something is wrong with this boy”, was the thought visible on my elder brother’s face; he received confirmation of my madness when I ordered a salmon pink T-shirt from a Melange store and wore it to meet my friends. He gets mad at me when I tuck a t-shirt and pull my pants up to my belly. I didn’t say anything, but like Komal, I continued tucking more t-shirts in, wearing more body fitting tees, and dancing in more fields of floral shirts.
Abilash and Anandu, my school buddies were now into photography. Mum had a culture shock when she saw the two with long hair, beards, and heights comparable to the villains in her Mahesh Babu films. I couldn’t compare to this. It was during this photoshoot, that I first felt I was a model. It made me the influencer I could never become in front of my bathroom mirror. I posed and made that same model face in my bedroom by spreading and locking my two stick legs. I stared at the camera as it requested me to reveal my bad ass looks.
Miley Cyrus, running in the background, kept nosing in to say she’s happy for me. My room was no less than a studio as I adjusted golden lights from window to ceiling and slapped the walls with posters of FRIENDS, Carpenters, The Beatles and Queen. Each time the camera clicked, my bare shoulders knew that this would get them a new exposure; it was a journey from my bedroom to the rooms of my friends and other rooms of social media. It was a thrill as my body spoke to the flashes with the comfort I only previously found in bed sheets and lusty pillows. My mind constantly mimicked a spinning wheel to keep feeling the moment, hold it gently without fear of letting the bird escape my sweaty palms. I focused on the moment, without thinking of the consequences, knowing it would happen one day. I kept going with poses, my waist competing with Chanel models, my thighs balancing over my feet in a classical yet precise look. I grabbed my blue mug and peeped through the window to let my bare upper body absorb the sunlight as the camera absorbed me. I then gave Manu Thomas’ novel a try, gazing at it with the pretense of a critical eye for the camera. I felt like a discoverer, not knowing what I would grab next, just flowing with the rhythm of the clock ticking before it’s too late. I redefined the word ‘beautiful’– it went from being the beauty people expected to referring to something new; a man trying play with his gender. I was playing with objectives of beauty and its notions- one part of me never wanted to leave the mediocre norm and the other risked my body to experience every inch of desire to do what I wanted to with the camera. Beauty is to be myself and show what I am and want to be- that day to the camera, one day to the world.
Even then, the thought of these pictures getting leaked was scary. The thought of them coming to know this private side of me which swung and remained on one side of the pendulum, made me nauseous. I still want to remain stuck on that side of the pendulum where no one enters, where I remain with my choice of being what I want to be, expressing what I want to express, and surviving what I want to survive.
I wanted to own atleast what was, in a way “regular male clothing.” I decided to buy harem pants as fast as I could and ordered them before my elder brother could hand me another chapter of Chronicle from the Bible. The day it arrived, I embraced its warmth; the waist belt was as sexy as for a belly dance. Very soon I decided to pose with harems inside my room and post it on Instagram. Turns out, I somewhat resembled Harry Styles in his famous pink top and white palazzos. Days later, another friend called me “Tan France.” Uff, what else could I do other than be grateful and respond with a puppy face. I went on.
With each shoot, I jumped forward towards another. This time in the outdoors, in a real dark pink lehenga, shimmering like a spring. I grabbed the lehenga from Sandra. My stomach produced growling sounds as I took this forward and kept imagining myself on the day of shoot. Soon the day came. Sandra did my makeup. Abilash’ sister gave me her jewelry which was the best thing I could ever ask for. It matched so well with my pink lehenga that we decided to put the blazer it was planned with, in the back seat. Now it was only the lehenga and my bare skin romancing the jewelry on my chest. And I posed with eagles in the sky, in the construction site, near the banyan tree, with his parrot and his aquarium. My heart fell full – of everything I wanted- the feeling of fulfillment, of getting paid for an internship. It was all that, and more. Of love and abiding support from friends who shared my work in their stories. Everything went smoothly until the day my mum and elder brother found out about my shoots.
Getting caught like this made me feel like a culprit. You are surrounded by your family treating you like you ruined the Christmas cake; reasonable enough for others to complain. But you have ruined it. Not Rose-villa aunty. Not the Sisters of Charity. My stomach turned, like it was urging me to get out of this situation; like when it sees a snack it doesn’t wants to eat. How do you manage to slurp the upper floating milk skin without hesitation? I remained silent and stared at the white tiled floor like a flowerpot while the burst of family drama showered on my sleeping head.
They were the confrontations that everyone faces. Everyone who gets tired of following the monotonous norm that is…so structured and so obsolete. And I still get back to my room, look at the mirror and try making a pony of my hair. I keep blushing more and more for being like this and not like some macho Bahubali.
I am allowing some light weights of lavender or no weight at all, some sober clothing that came my way- a long yellow checked blazer, a grandfather’s hat, a leather printed shirt, a floral scarf, and eventful gazes from neighbors and family.
Roshan Pinto is a queer student from Bangalore, now in Hubli, who believes in the pleasure of haunting homophobes, while figuring out their life, smelling dog paws and listening to Osho Jain.