By dipbuk panchal
How can I subdue my skin colour? How am I supposed to suppress my brownness?
The purpose of this blog is to seek to put you the reader, for a very brief moment into my shoes. I am relatively new to this style of writing, and it is also not inconceivable that you the reader are also new to this style of writing (or personal analysis which is how I like to think of it). In this blog, you will notice that I spell my name differently. This is my act of defiance. My name has been anglicised for too long. For almost just as long, I’ve felt an equally strong sense of alienation from it. In seeking to spell my name phonetically, I am now beginning to say to myself, I can be me, that I don’t have to strive for something chosen for me, by people who don’t know me.
It is midwinter and I am at an undisclosable place somewhere in the Coventry area. Location is deeply important to me because it gives me a geographical fix. But, discretion and integrity matter more. I am at Uni walking out of the building I had been studying in. I have on my warm and utilitarian looking ill-fitting black coat. It is familiar yet gradually feels less and less comfortable. I feel it covering me, keeping me warm and protected. Loads of pockets and I know where everything is. I sometimes feel like I am just starting out on some sort of post-apocalyptic, role-playing game when choosing to wear it at Uni. It is not that I like wearing it, it is that I feel like I have to wear it.
“I like your nails”,
they say to me. I’m wearing neon pink and purple.
I reply as I look up to see that I know this person. We know each other, and I also know they identify under the LGBTQIA++ umbrella.
They then say to me,
“It reminds me, I should also paint my nails.”
Initially, it was nice to receive the comment about my nails, but then their second comment unfurls the warm feeling I am having. I start to think about whether the initial statement is indeed one of admiration. I go over in my mind trying to find a time when I might have noticed them ever painting their nails. I can’t think of even a single instance. I feel like I have forced a response that may have been more contrived than genuine. The pudding that I thought was nice has just been over-egged, and now its a hot steaming pile of scrambled eggs.
I say to myself, I can see from having met you and chatted with you numerous times that you are not one to wear nail polish to Uni. I’ve never seen you wear nail polish. Your dress and appearance tell me you choose to move away from a stereotypical feminine identity. Wearing make-up would be the antithesis of how you present yourself to the world, yet you say to me that you would also like to paint your nails.
As I revisit this, I think its also possible that the sentiments were indeed genuine. It’s possible that my preconceptions of who this person is, how they present themselves to the world outside, and how they would like to present themselves is also a struggle for them. Perhaps not the same battle I have, but a struggle nonetheless and one I should see as potential allyship. We are both queer in our gender. We may both have experienced a struggle, and we may both still be dealing with that struggle. I am beginning to wonder whether my sensitivity in receiving this comment and at the time miss construing it was actually a manifestation of how not fitting into gender normativity can work? Instead of feeling allyship and support, I felt a sense of repulsion and sought to alienate myself from their kind words of support. I felt compelled to extricate myself and move further away from any external attempts at forming community and instead chose to reject them. Is this what straying from the confines of heteronormativity does to those who might seek solace in choosing to be true to their authentic selves? In short, is this how the power of conformity works?
I feel loved. I feel like someone values me. Someone thinks of me as human.
I continue on my way. I pass other students and notice giggles and laughs. Who knows, it’s not all about you dipbuk! Just carry on walking. I notice more laughs and sudden movements out of my path, I notice stares down towards my hands.
“It’s nothing dipbuk, the pavement is uneven. You’re just paranoid”,
I tell myself. I go to what I think of as my safe place at Uni. It is a place of worship, or at least a place where people go to worship or engage in spirituality. There are desks, and I plonk myself down. There are some familiar faces, but this time, there is an unfamiliar visitor, that visitor is your fucking fingernails dipbuk! There are stares, a person smiles broadly, but not as if they are happy but as if they have been trying to hold back laughter.
“dipbuk, it is not about you”,
I tell myself. As usual, no-one says hello to me. But this is my safe space, where I feel most comfortable. The bar is low, and this is all relative.
I meet a familiar face, we say hello to each other, and she says she likes my nails and asks me why I chose to paint them. I love speaking with people, I love conversing, and I explain my coming out process to her and the exploration of my identity. She says this is great. I feel loved. I feel like someone values me. Someone thinks of me as human. At this point, I feel like I need to be clear that the love I experience is not of the intimate attraction kind. But one of friendship, support, listening and caring. I love speaking with this person, and I love listening to this person and hearing what they have to say, feel and think. We could easily speak for an hour.
Being out at Uni is different from coming out to family members. While at my parents home, I came out to my cousin sister.
“I realised when you called that you were looking at my nails”,
I say to her in a follow-up call the next day and as a consequence of being caught on camera as she speaks with mum.
“I noticed you rub your eyes more than once. I noticed your eyes move. I noticed a little hesitation in your voice. So, I had a feeling you had noticed my nails, but at the same time, I’m grateful you didn’t mention anything. I am really grateful for this.”
“So how do you see yourself?”
My cousin asks me.
“I see myself as queer”.
I hear a sense of tempered surprise.
I say as I start to feel a few signs of discomfort because I realise my cousin is more in tune with the thinking of queer in the pejorative, homophobic sense.
“See, queer to me sounds a bit off, it is used when someone is saying something bad to a person. It is not a nice way of describing someone.”
My cousin kindly says.
“Yes, I feel uncomfortable too.”
I say with a little palpable discomfort as I am also thinking about how else I could describe myself validly.
Do I need to be white to claim the ‘queer’ identity? Perhaps I need to preface it by saying a queer person of colour, thereby also saying, and acknowledging that I cannot be fully and unquestionably queer because I am not white. However, if I say that I am a queer person of colour, I will once again be going down the all too familiar path of never being able to fully affirm or accept myself. I am worried that this trajectory might slowly but surely erode the self-love that I have managed to garner through identity work on myself.
I’m noticing that the challenges I face in saying I am queer, along with the challenges I face in seeking to achieve this identity leaves me feeling like I might be condemned to carving out another facet to represent second-class membership by the back door, to a marginal group that might otherwise preserve white privilege at its centre. I write this with trepidation because I realise that I might just be focusing too much on my own insecurity and letting it run amok in my mind.
“Just get over yourself dipak.”
Is a comment I have received many times. Maybe they are right. Do I just need to relax?
How can I subdue my skin colour? How am I supposed to suppress my brownness? Maybe I should just put away the self-enquiry. Is the internal dialogue on such, doing more harm than good? I can feel it tearing at me. How am I supposed to ignore it? Am I supposed to be objective about this? How can I be objective when the phenomenon is not? Sometimes I just want to bathe myself in the vision of love I see and feel when I close my eyes and feel the affirming love of saying in my mind that I am queer. But why should it only have to reside in this place?
You can find out more about this project @queer_bodies on Twitter.