(Aprakratika - Hindi for unnatural, Bindi - Traditional Indian mark/jewel)

Defeated is you, your smile, your unnatural worth,
Victory is your identity, your blood, your touch.

For any queer Indian teenager to live in a place like mine, to be a son to a father like mine, coming out would mean going right back in. I wish I could make this essay a more jovial narrative with happy endings and not render it to a stooping low, downright grumble. But being queer in my country meant challenging the puritan patriarchal dominance that structured generations of man-made authority in family spaces, educational setups, and almost all social spheres one shares in their existence.

I first heard about the coronavirus outbreak while I was on my way to college on a cold February morning. All schools, colleges, and theatres were the first to be shut-down. Everything else was next. Two weeks into this whirlwind of a routine and the world went into hibernation. Scared of such novelty, I left for home. And like each time, hugs and kisses welcomed me in, promising the usual reserved withholding and good food. College wasn't exactly liberating, but freedom came with moving out nonetheless.

Colors, make-up, sex, and breakfast for dinner — without caving into any make-believe parenting — was the thrill of it all. As the world was fighting coronavirus, I was living a life I thought I left behind with stiffer shoulders, heavier baritones, no face masks, or cooking. All my time was spent on this taxing ideation of a masquerade that would make me as unwomanly as possible. Locked in this seemingly limitless confinement of imposed morals, normal clothes, clean dishes, an alcoholic dad, stained relationships, and lost love meant two things: exhaustion and survival.

Ever since I was old enough to feed myself, I remember dancing gleefully to my favorite Indian songs & almost galloping in frenzy with my mother’s Dupatta (a long piece of cloth worn around the head, neck, and shoulders by Indian women) draped across my body, enacting the actress at my best. My queer self did not fear my grandmother’s contempt and disbelief; but it was shadowed and suppressed, bludgeoned into hiding in the confines of my shame from when I was first groped in 4th grade. To think of it as the beginning of my abuse and dissociation would be wrong. I had been violated before! Name-calling and fat-shaming adorned my identity in school and elsewhere. From the teachers eyeing my thigh gaps to the students wanting me to define my lost self in a space of their manifested clarity; I fell into a haunting abyss of exclusion and stigma. Clawing my way back to belongingness meant no more pink, no tears, no vanity — all that I despised until this purge of my effeminacy was over.

Back at home, my sister saved the day! Dressing each other in our dead aunt’s wigs and our very alive mother’s brightest Sarees and Bindis in secret, we lived our best lives every Sunday before it splintered into reality that next Monday morning. My sister, unlike the rest, loved me unconditionally, never expecting anything in return. Love is confusing. My mother loved me and so she knew me, every inch of me. Her subtle yet failed advancements to try to discuss my strangeness, possibly to mold my queer charisma into normalcy, was a testament of her fragility and meekness. She just would not ask her son to give in to the worldly dominance and yet couldn’t accommodate his exclusion.

And what do you call a man who works tirelessly to please a world without their children in it yet tries too hard to make up for his drunken unavailability by weekly dinners? My Dad. He always lived at a distance and withered away eventually, much like my brother who tried too hard to not been seen with his gay elder brother. My brother wanted to fit in as much as I did, but we belonged to very different puzzles. Now, this was the time when I was still familiarizing myself with this charade of virility and every blurry detail of homoeroticism. And this was far from coming around to the homosexuality bit.

I’d be lying if I say I was lost in a labyrinth of lies, convenience, anxiety, scarcity, and pretense. For a large part of my life, I have chosen to be there to save myself, to have friends, to be felt, and to be wanted. I tried to live in this deluding puzzle, but it is only now that I know what puzzle I belong to. It is none! I am a queer reality and that is my truth. We must find our own before the world finds it for us.

Rohan Mishra is an Asian (Indian), non-binary poet, and Commerce undergraduate at The University of Delhi, New Delhi, India. They volunteer at community-based organizations, write poems to elevate individual sexual expression, and watch a lot of Netflix in-between stressful hours of full-time college, anxiety, and internships. One of their works, titled Him, was featured in an anthology (Whispers of the New Rain) by The Alcove Publishers, India. Follow them on Instagram @mishra_rohann