Imposter Syndrome – Or Something Like It

Imagine my wild joy at the unexpected discovery that Mary Oliver was a raging lesbian in a long and happy relationship with very talented photographer, Molly Malone Cook.

Dear S.S,

This letter is some fifteen years in the making; we are almost at the year’s close and if now is not the time for impulsive, ill-advised confessions, then when? Here goes. Let me start over:

Dear S.S,

I have a raging crush on you and my self-serious seventh-grade heart can’t even handle it. I think you’re the coolest person I’ve ever met. When you walk in your basketball shoes, my stomach does unfamiliar lurching things, and when you pull your short hair impatiently into the world’s tiniest ponytail, my fingers itch to run through it – I’m certain it’s the softest thing they’ll ever touch. An orchestra of tiny violins would play in my head if Main Hoon Na had released by then (we are NRIs growing up in Dubai after all – Bollywood is the basis for our ideas about romance).

But seriously, you are best friends with my friend A, and a part of me desperately wishes that one day we’ll all be hanging out and you’ll look past my giant glasses and become my best friend.

I can’t articulate why I feel so strongly about any of this, but entire armies of butterflies go to war in my belly whenever you’re around.

That was then. This is now.

In a city like Delhi, you could go your whole life as a passive queer.

How does one become actively queer? Do I not get the card unless I fuck a woman?

I am 26. I have spent a lifetime crushing quietly on straight girls, making out at house-parties and clubs with women who slide my hands down to their waists and dance real slow until- that’s my girl! They kiss me on the neck in secret, and go home with their boyfriends. I’m the sad one. All the pretty girls, they are not meant for me.

Then there’s Tinder. I’m experimenting. My boyfriend is cool with it. There is this one stoner-lawyer who keeps setting up and bailing on dates until I leave her last sorrryyy at a blue tick. There is the one actual date I go on, soon after the demise of an abusive relationship. At this point I’m crying all the time, everywhere, and making my Uberpool co-passengers extremely uncomfortable. This girl is from the new crew I’m partying with, building a new social life like it figures on my KRAs. I’m hungover every morning and I do a lot of karaoke nights. We drink together surreptitiously on street corners at 3 am waiting for the 24×7 to open so we can buy hot-dogs. I wanna do happy drugs she says casually, happily — everything I’m not. She asks me out and I tell her repeatedly how sad and confused I am. It’ll be practice for a real date, she says. I am surprised, but we go to Paharganj and eat Korean food, get wasted on shoju and go back to her place. Although we promise to do it again soon, I need to cry uncontrollably for some time longer and we meet only once after — for karaoke with a bunch of people, the night before she leaves the city. Now we follow each other on Instagram.

I am so tired.

After my day job, I can hardly muster the energy to come home and write; then there are chores to be done, friendships to maintain, decisions to be made about what to eat for dinner — sometimes I think we spend our lives thinking about meals from one day to the next in an endless loop. How much time does that leave you with to protest our horrifying slide into a crony-capitalist-fundamentalist nation, let alone to go seek out queer company?

If you can get by without, not very much. I have a few queer friends here; we get by. Mostly we talk about what a drag work is and smoke pot. Pretty regular stuff. A long time ago I lived in a queer commune in Boston but I was in a long-distance relationship with my college-boyfriend so I danced at all the parties and ate all the vegan food, but platonically.

Here’s a rhetorical question: Does it count that all my favourite poets are lesbians?

Imagine my wild joy at the unexpected discovery that Mary Oliver was a raging lesbian in a long and happy relationship with very talented photographer, Molly Malone Cook.

There’s also Eileen Myles. Adrienne Rich. Most recently, Ellen Bass. Oh man, Ellen Bass.

Of course this isn’t really a letter to you, S.S. I read this book recently, ‘The Argonauts’ by Maggie Nelson. She tells of someone who’d written a long rhapsodic letter to their girlfriend and received a one-line rebuff: ‘Next time, write to me’. Write to her she meant as opposed to writing to the nothingness at the other end of writing.

That’s what this is, right? If we met today, odds are we wouldn’t have anything to talk about. Facebook tells me that you’re some sort of marketing professional working with big fast-food companies, and likely soon to be engaged to a very dude-looking dude.

“Stop narrativising everything,” my best friend tells me all the time, but I can’t help it. The only voice inside my head is my own, and it is perpetually arranging and conflating things, noticing the details of that tree with brown-spotted leaves like someone stubbed out cigarettes on all of them, or the creases that form beside my partner’s eyes when he’s on top, smiling down at me.

Oh yeah. I’m in love again. It is a dude. (Again. Fuck.)

Deliriously happy, completely invisible. (Again. Fuck.)

But then, all the years of self-loathing- do they count? What about when I first came out in college through two transatlantic phone calls:

  1. To my then best friend, telling her that I was in love with her (not true)
  2. To my mum telling her that I was 100% sure that I was a lesbian to which she responded unruffled with No beta, it’s just a phase (also not true)

How about the bizarre episode where I come out to this friend, the two of us alone in her dorm room, and she slowly puts her hand inside her sweater, looking straight at me. What are you doing? I’m plucking a hair out of my nipple, she says. Does this turn you on? I’m so flabbergasted that I just stare at her, and confidently she dismisses my crisis: Don’t worry then, you’re not gay.

There are the now woke friends who back then told me that I just thought I liked girls because I wanted to be adventurous.

Listen, let’s be thankful that I can speak of these things to you today. I come out all the time – casually, professionally. In fact I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that I might just have to resign myself to sort-of-from-the-sidelines-advocacy, forever invisible queer. Perhaps my queerness will just be sparking dialogue in each new heteronormative non-profit I join, where I’m always the solo queerdo, and people stare blankly at me when I use the phrase ‘heteronormative’. There’s an alternative?

I can pass, I can even choose, so I say the things that need to be said. Have those horrible conversations with new friends and colleagues when they throw out the usual lazy shorthand: It’s 2017, are you seriously still saying that? You know I’m supergay, right?

Feeling viscerally like I’ve been slapped, the enthusiasm of so many potential new relationships and fun evenings dissipating out of me like a deflated balloon, a hundred uncomfortable silences met head-on.

I come out all the time. I can afford to. Does that count? Who gets to be queer?

You were how I first knew way back when. Before I could think of girls without feeling sick. Before I could speak the words. There are years of self-loathing to come, but before that, this moment of grace. Picture this: a tiny girl has just singlehandedly won a race for her House. The last runner in the team, the baton had scarcely touched her fingers when she took off, passed each sure winner one by one. Picture this girl walking dreamlike after crossing the finishing tape to a gigantic roar and coming across another girl from the race, from the house that ended up second. This girl sits on the ground, alone for once. Congratulations.

Tongue-tied, struck, the tiny girl mumbles a thank you and walks slowly towards the crowd. She will carry with her this memory for days, replay the tight feeling in her chest, the warmth creeping up her cheeks and that one word meant just for her. Two girls passing each other. That was you, this is me. Now.

About the author

Riddhi Dastidar