I'm Queer and I'm Here
Ever since I was a little child, I could feel that I was not ‘normal’, precisely because that is how I was made to feel - every time I refused to wear a pink frock, every time I chose to play sports I was made to feel that I was doing something wrong. As I grew up, things became even more difficult and confusing. Puberty brought new challenges, especially the different way in which I experienced puberty as compared to my other friends, whose desires were as heteronormative as the desires I saw being represented in popular culture and media.
I felt alienated not only because I was unable to give a name to the attraction I felt for other girls my age, but also because I felt like I was alone in that attraction. Nobody felt the way I did. It was much later, when I had access to the internet and other resources, and when I moved to a bigger city to attend college, that I began to understand myself. I became aware of queer collectives and communities - other people who felt the way I felt, and had similar experiences of childhood and adolescence.
It has been a journey - from understanding and identifying myself as a queer person, to then coming out to my parents and friends, and finally being able to articulate and participate in queer politics on campus in my university and around the city. But my comfort in my own skin is only a slight respite from the stigma, discrimination and homophobia that I experience as I grow older and visibly queerer.
I remember last year I was exiting a movie theatre in Connaught Place in Delhi with my then partner. It was late in the evening and we were planning to go to a restaurant to have dinner. As we stood on the pavement, trying to decide where to go, two men who were about our age (or maybe slightly older) approached us. They started flirting with us, trying to gauge our interest. I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea - perhaps a lifetime of walking on eggshells with men who could be potential harassers had taught me to always make my identity as a queer woman invisible - but I decided I should tell them that we were queer and each others’ partners, so they could realise we were not interested and leave us alone.
What seemed like a harmless defence to me soon turned into a provocation to the men. At first they started to laugh, but seeing us visibly uncomfortable, they decided to try another strategy to demean us.
They said they could cure us of our queerness if we agreed to spend time with them. They suggested that it was our lack of interaction with men such as themselves that had led us into believing we could be satisfied with being with women. Since it was late in the evening and there were not a lot of people around, my partner and I decided to leave the conversation. We walked quickly to the nearest metro station where the rush of fellow passengers made us feel a little safer. Throughout the metro ride, my partner and I held hands in silence because it was the first time that we realised that despite our privilege as two women who could afford expensive movie tickets and go to restaurants in posh areas, we were still very vulnerable together.
I am still disturbed by the possibilities of what could have happened that night if we had decided to stay and finish that conversation instead of following our first instinct. Would we have been able to shut them down, could their verbal harassment have escalated to physical assault? I will never know.
It is incidents like these and the constant misgendering and comments on my appearance on a daily basis (my gender expression is masculine on most days) that makes surviving as a queer person really difficult. It takes a toll on my mental health, which then influences all spheres of life - working, studying, even dating and relationships. But being around other queer people makes things better. It is the feeling of solidarity and being part of a community that gets me going every day, making me realise the importance of surviving and of being proud of my queerness.
Avali Khare is currently a student of M.A Gender Studies at Ambedkar University Delhi. She has been a volunteer with The WordsWorth Project and The YP Foundation's KYBKYR Programme in the past. Her work has also appeared on online platforms such as Love Matters. She identifies herself as a queer feminist.