To Papa, With Love.

Papa, I have not been an ideal child. We have fought plenty over the choices I have made in life.

Dear Papa,

I Love You.

I can’t remember the last time I said these words to you… Instead, I rang you up when I was hard up for cash or asked you to ‘Leave me alone, dad! I’m twenty-four!’.

You have not said ‘I Love You’ to me either, but I feel it in your every little gesture. In your ‘Are you okay?’, ’Feeling better?’, ‘Come home. It’s been a while’ WhatsApp texts. In your join-me-for-lunch, lets-go-for-a-drive requests. The most telling sign is, you haven’t cut me off financially even though I have been horrible to you (PS: Continue to recharge my Netflix account).

Papa, I have not been an ideal child. We have fought plenty over the choices I have made in life. You hoped I would pursue finance like you and join your office. I grew up believing I would follow your footsteps. I had a pencil stache, wore a checked shirt and corduroy pants to become like you.

And then, depression struck me at sixteen. Neither you nor I could comprehend what I was going through. You assumed I was suddenly being indecisive about my career, and used your rage or rationality to bring me to my senses. Its effect, however, was quite the contrary – I was all the more hurt and angry, and no longer wished to be like you.

I thought I could escape my madness by joining theatre, and enrolled in a diploma in acting alongside my Bachelor’s degree. You repeatedly said I was being irrational and impulsive. That I had no prior inclination towards acting. That my efforts wouldn’t amount to much. In retrospect, you were right – I left the diploma within a year and realized I never did want to get into acting after all. Nonetheless, that brief experience taught me to become conscious of my thoughts and emotions. It helped me partly contain the chaos in my mind and find the root cause of my distress.

I took up meditation next, and attended Art of Living programs. The skeptic in you thought I did not need it. To dissuade me, you once crudely remarked the founder might be ‘gay’. I hadn’t come out to you then, but these words made me trust you less. Dear papa, it was in the Art of Living that I discovered the key to my happiness. I realized the only way I can I save myself from more pain, more hurt, is by embracing and externalizing my innate and repressed femininity.

In my entire life, I was never encouraged to access my femininity except in my early childhood. As a toddler, the female members of my family often dressed me up in a saree for their amusement. But that was it. Thereafter, I was told to wear boy’s uniform to school, get my hair trimmed, and keep a healthy distance from girls until I was old enough to date them. As the world around me dictated my sexuality, gender identity and expression, femininity became inaccessible to me. I went through a very confused adolescence feeling trapped by the physical and psychological changes I was experiencing. By sixteen, I completely disconnected from everyone, including myself. I spent my evenings curled up in my bedroom, hating my body, hating my wardrobe, and hating how the society perceived me, without realizing why.

It was much later, during the Art of Living sessions, that I found comfort among broken souls who were similarly overcoming their loneliness, guilt, pain, and shame. In one of the courses, all the participants were asked to cross-dress. The boys began tittering nervously as a bundle of salwar kameez, dupattas and sarees were placed in front of them. They treated it evidently as a light-hearted dress-up game they could recount to their family and friends over lunch.

I, however, had a completely different experience. As I slipped into my off-white floral gown and walked across the room, I felt as though the immense load on my chest which I carried on for years was suddenly taken off. For the first time, I was encouraged to access my femininity, if only briefly, without feeling ashamed. It made me comfortable in my own skin. I felt beautiful.

Despite the realization, it took me three more years to reconcile to my identity as a trans individual. My Masters brought me to a different city, where I lived as an openly gay male swinging in the spectrum of masculinity and femininity, feeling at home always with the latter. Whenever I came back home, I sensed you didn’t approve of my evolving identity and lifestyle, even though you claimed to be supportive towards my sexuality. Even a simple act such as wearing nail-paint or lipstick was enough to make you comment that I was ‘making it too obvious’ or ‘attracting unwanted attention’. You probably viewed gay as simply a sexual preference rather than an alternate identity that was different and often at odds with cis-heteronormative (your) expectations. I was made to feel as though my feminine identity and expression was an act of rebellion, a disruption that came at a price, and only hiding it from my own family – from you –would entitle me to love and acceptance.

So I suppressed my feminine identity, initially just around you but eventually from everyone. As a ‘masculine gay male’, fitting into the mainstream was easier than perhaps as a feminine gay or trans individual. People, be it familiar faces or random strangers, stopped giving me sideward glances, and I felt less threatened, less judged. You and I stopped fighting as you felt I was finally blooming into the handsome young and ‘happy’ man you wanted me to be. And yet, I felt I was lying to myself. I felt unnatural.

After three years, I accepted that I was never a man at all, but a woman who never got to be one – a confident and spirited one that too, with an endless reserve of empathy within her. She has finally acknowledged her voice, her identity, after years of silencing herself and being silenced. If she gets lost again, I will have no will to live.

Papa, I want you to welcome her, make her feel comfortable in your presence, respect her life choices no matter how divergent they are from what you had planned. She never felt better and wants to come home now, join you for lunch and long drives. Don’t leave her alone, papa.

She loves you.

About the guest author

Sashank Kini

A student of communication currently working as a research assistant studying children’s television. My inspirations include Meryl Streep, Joan Rivers, Nicki Minaj, & the movie Singin’ in the Rain. I walk the tightrope of being serious, kind-hearted & optimistic while at the same time I can be wreckless about laughter, be critical of things around and cry ‘f*** the world’ aloud from rooftops.
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