They named ‘him’ ‘Somnath’ when ‘he’ was born. ‘He’ was the first grandchild in the family. ‘His’ parents were confident ‘he’ would make them proud in years to come.
For one evening only, my ma and aunty both dressed me up in a Kanjivaram saree and nudged me onstage. It was my fourth birthday, and I was the Star Attraction. They named me Sharanya – the Southern Siren. For twenty minutes, my thumkas and latak-mataks were greeted with cheers and claps galore. When the show was over, so was Sharanya, as the yards of fabric were undone and I was hoisted on my father’s shoulders wearing an itchy pair of shorts and a Mickey Mouse vest he had specially bought for his ‘son’.
They found ‘him’ shy and sensitive. ‘He’ was bright as a student but steered clear of sports.
My bestie and I joined football; early morning practice and an unforgiving coach. As we stepped into the field, he barked one team to take off their jerseys as a marker of difference. Fortunately, I was on the other side that remain clothed. I would not be as lucky another day and I could not imagine myself bare-chested in public. So I never returned. My friend aced in the game while I remained on the sidelines, my eyes fixated on the girls happily playing volleyball across the field.
‘His’ dad would accuse ‘him’, years later, ‘For so many years you remained confused and you expect us to accept you instantly?! You never gave us any signs growing up, so how do you expect us to know?’.
We were six twelve-year olds, each one on the cusp of adolescence. We were slowly shedding off our innocence, this time through a risqué play of truth-and-dare while our parents were out. The initial rounds were puerile at best, as we ran through teachers we hated and the periods we found the dullest. And then, a friend set the ball rolling with ‘Who is your secret crush?’.
Talk soon escalated to action. ‘Kiss them on the cheek’, ‘Act flirty!’. When the bottle pointed at me, I was dared to slide into my mum’s garments. Eager to be a sport, I slinked up to her cupboard and sauntered back in a bright red gown putting on airs like a prima donna. My friends rolled on the floor with laughter. ‘You left out the most important bit!’ one reminded, gesturing towards his chest vulgarly. Two girls hopped up to assist and the next thing you know we were back sifting through my mom’s wardrobe. ‘Here’, one said as he held a black brassiere in the air and strapped it on me. I took one quick look in the mirror – felt flawless – and reentered the hall to a mightier round of guffaws.
The door suddenly sprung open and my dad entered first! He went berserk seeing his ‘son’ in such a state and stormed towards me like a raging bull to strip me in front of all. As his blows hit my back, my face he shamed me with the words, ‘You disgusting freak!’
I promised never to repeat the act.
‘His’ family was happy to see ‘him’ growing into a young ‘man’. Neighbors would remark such things as, ‘He is a carbon copy of his papa’, ‘Girls would be swooning over him’…
‘How do you explain yourself, Somnath?’, the school principal asked as she held my notebook open in one hand. I was summoned for mingling around the girls too much. ‘They do not like you around them’.
The notebook was obsessively scribbled with doodles of the female form in stark nakedness. ‘If you continue your abnormal ways I shall have to call your father’, she warned, chucking the notebook into the bin.
They were excited when ‘he’ announced one day plans to follow ‘his’ dad’s footsteps and become a businessperson.
My eyes open. It is almost afternoon. I lay facing the ceiling, wishing the concrete slab would break off and crush me to eternal rest. It takes many-a-minute before my body is convinced to live through another day. I lumber up to the mirror and catch my reflection.
‘This is you’.
I attempt to grapple with the reality of myself at eighteen. My 240-pound lumpen body devours most of the frame. A fence of scraggy hair runs through my face and torso like barbed wire.
I open the wardrobe. Most of my clothes remain untouched, a heap of branded garments all bought by dad with great hopes to make his ‘son’ look just like him. I proceed to pick the same worn out tracks and tee combo that has covered my body for days.
I glance at the mirror again, as a figure stares back at me which I fail to recognize as my own.
‘Something has gone terribly wrong in these last few years – but what?’.
I have no answer. I dread how the day shall pan out – another day of intense loneliness in college followed by another clash with dad over losing focus followed by another attempt to smother myself with a pillow aching for the the pain to subside followed by another sleepless night followed by my open eyes staring at the ceiling, wishing the concrete slab would break off and crush me to eternal rest.
When ‘he’ grew increasingly withdrawn and erratic, they assumed it was just a ‘teenage’ phase. ‘His’ dad tried to bring some sense into ‘him’ but it only aggravated the situation.
‘I HATE MY DAD! I DREAM OF KILLING HIM!!! WE FIGHT ON A DAILY BASIS AND IT HAS OFTEN GOTTEN PHYSICAL. I WOULD HATE TO BE LIKE HIM… I FEEL NAUSEOUS WHENEVER I THINK I’D LOOK LIKE A YOUNGER VERSION OF HIM! I DON’T WANT TO FEEL THIS WAY BUT I DO. I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO WORK ON MY ISSUES BY SEEKING HELP BUT DAD JUST THINKS I AM WASTING MY TIME AND SHOULD FOCUS ON MY EDUCATION. WHY DOESN’T HE UNDERSTAND THAT THIS IS SAVING ME FROM BECOMING A THREAT TO OTHERS… OR MYSELF?!’.
The head of the local queer support group patiently hears my concerns and proceeds to offer some counseling. I confide in him my attraction towards men. Just as I exit the session, a tall middle-aged woman enters. As I smile at her, she greets me ‘Good day’ in a voice that sounds far-from-the-usual-feminine to my ear. I immediately look away in revulsion and refuse to return to such a bunch of ‘Freaks’.
They were relieved to find ‘him’ recovering finally. ‘He’ was finally becoming the ‘man’ they wanted ‘him’ to be. They were secretly disappointed when ‘he’ came out as gay, but supported ‘him’ nevertheless.
‘At least ‘he’ is not the effeminate’ types’.
I have been trying to reconcile with the impression of me as a ‘gay man’. My new friends have been incredibly supportive. They push me to go on dates, and often suggest me guys in their circles. For some reason, I never feel attracted to others as a man no matter how much I try.
I feel very hollow as a human being, and I still do not realize why. My grades have improved, and tensions with family – with dad – have subsided, and yet there is a gnawing feeling all the wrongs have not been righted.
‘He’ had begun working and was making decent money for ‘himself’. ‘He’ had moved cities but would visit home now and then. ‘Everything was back to normal’ ‘his’ family believed.
I was at a conclave for members of the queer community, and I felt weirdly out of place. As we introduced ourselves during the orientation, the person in front of me revealed she is a transwoman. By then, I was making conscious efforts to get rid of my internalized transphobia, and yet I could not help but squirm. When it was my turn to speak, she looked towards me for the first time and I immediately felt an air of familiarity I had been yearning for long. I immediately spoke to her after the event and probed her with the most inappropriate questions about transitioning out of sheer cluelessness and curiosity. I realized how wrong it was for me to think of trans persons as freaks in the first place.
Two years pass.
I stare intently at the person in the mirror, thinking, ‘This is not who I am’. I have never been clearer in my head. The decisions I would be taking in the next few months will shock those around me, but they must be made to save myself.
‘His’ family was increasingly perplexed by ‘his’ changing comportment. At first, they found ‘him’ wearing nail-paint and mascara. They feared neighbors would talk, and pleaded with ‘him’ not to spoil the family name. They would say, ‘What sins have we done in our past to give birth to a ‘freak’!’
‘And how are you today Sharanya?’ my psychiatrist asked, calmly. It was our fifth and final session.
‘And how are you coping with the reactions of those around you?’.
‘The past year has been tough to say the least. The irony is people perceived me as more normal when I was at my lowest and contemplated death each passing day’
‘And what about your parents?’
‘You mean ‘Have I killed my dad already?’
‘Are they… is he supportive?’
‘They are trying. I feel my dad feared deep down that I would end up like this, and did his best to make me more like himself for my own well-being’
‘And what does that mean?’
‘It means society treats you like a complete freak if you decide to live as your true self. And the best way to be perceived as normal is to forsake your true desires even if it comes at the price of feeling empty, wanting, and miserable and regretful for your entire life… Maybe I am too big-bodied to fit into this top. Maybe these skinny jeans were not intended for this body. My size-11 foot with these mighty toes do spill out of these heels, and maybe most people never thought a person born with this body befits the name ‘Sharanya’ or the recognition of the female gender. But at least I can wake up and look forward to living each day to the fullest’
‘And what would you say looking into a mirror?’
‘I would say… I feared I had lost you forever, but I am glad you are back you Southern Siren.
I have finally embraced the freak within me’.