‘Lahan mulga aahe (he's a young boy)’, whispered one aunty to another, looking at me sharply. Their intrigue over my appearance left me a little embarrassed. I often stood by the door of the train, ready to get off immediately if someone called me out for getting into the ‘women’s’ compartment. It was a routine. The problem is I still questioned if I truly belonged there.
Our society is very comfortable with dualities. It is such a rigid norm that we tend to ignore the needs of those who may not fit into these stringent binaries. With ‘woman’ and ‘man’ being the norm, I constantly felt like I was suspended to a string and forced to choose one of the two.
Assigned female at birth, my future was mostly pre-decided in a country where females are seen as weak, vulnerable and incapable of taking big decisions by themselves. The awareness that I could become a Man, if I chose the transition, came quite late in life; when I grew up and started working with the LGBTQIA+ community. The idea did not make me any more comfortable.
Though I didn't want to change my gender, I didn't even feel comfortable with my assigned gender. One part of me loved being a strong, feminine woman, while the other just craved to be a boy, look and feel like one. There were times when I felt like I was an amalgamation of both genders and the next second I would feel I was neither.
For most part of my life, I have struggled to navigate through the dysphoria attached with my body. It hurts me even now to remember the times when I felt uncomfortable and disgusted on seeing the reflection of my body. The mirror was never a great friend. It would make me come face to face with the reality: that my body was that of a ‘woman’, that I had to abide by the rules. I often blamed God for making a ‘mistake’. Little did I know that I would grow up to embrace this part of me the most.
I am not confused, you know. I clearly know what I feel. In fact, I have a clearer understanding of the fluidity of my gender spectrum than many people. But it was never easy to explain to myself or people who believed that fluidity meant confusion earlier. "You are just a tom boy.", "You are just an ultra-feminist.", "Perhaps you just want to escape patriarchy.": I have heard all these arguments and more to invalidate my identity and existence. I am Fluid and I am not confused.
Even without that confusion inside me, it doesn't get any easier when the world around disregards my fluidity. I proudly express myself in my space but when I step out of the comfort zone, I accept the fact that I would have to prove myself and my identity to people at every step. From filling forms as Miss Ria Sharma to paying extra money to access public toilets safely, I constantly feel burdened by a feeling of grave loss. Loss of my true identity, loss of safety, freedom, even money!
This is not to say that my experiences have always been negative. In fact, I have to acknowledge the place of privilege I come from. My parents' acceptance of my fluidity was immediate. They never stopped me in the journey of understanding myself and fighting against inequality in the world. My friends have been a pillar of support; I can rely on them even in the most trying times. After years of struggling, I finally found out the term that fit my experience, got to know I could use Mx. as a prefix to my name, and they/them as my pronouns.
Nobody has the right to validate or invalidate somebody else's experience of gender. Gender fluidity does not mean that our needs are going to be ignored as being ambiguous or not sure. Yes, pronouns matter because after having lived as what society wants us to, when we finally find a safe space even in the form of words, it matters. I want to feel safe as I exist. I may have a flat chest or short hair, but I will have to continue using the women's compartment on the train until we create neutral and safe spaces for people like me. However in the absence of proper awareness, even these neutral spaces would be unsafe for me.
I no longer seek validation. I know I am valid. And I know people who are right beside me to provide a sense of solidarity, even in small ways. I have had the chance to talk about my experiences in public, and that led me to my Eureka moment. I suffered in my early life as I did not have a gender fluid idol growing up. But I had the opportunity to become one and ever for the next generation.
So there's another thing I shall no longer do - stand at the door of the train. I will sit proudly among middle aged aunties still whispering, ‘Lahan mulga aahe (he's a young boy)’ and I will say ‘Nako, pan mulgi suddha nahi. Fakt vyakti aahe mi (No, but I am not a young girl too. I am just a person!)'.