As I reached puberty, well-meaning family members said that I should start being more ladylike; I believe that this is the same socialising they had received when they had reached puberty. Being ladylike meant maintaining a specific type of posture, not wearing clothes that revealed the developments in my body, always sitting cross-legged and with my legs apart, not being in the company of boys as they were becoming men. I was discouraged from associating with them as that would not bode well for me – a concern for my safety, a sort of pre-emptive measure against the male gaze, cat-calling or harassment.
How should I walk, what should my gait be like, what kind of clothes can I wear that will sort of cover me up…? This indecisiveness and the burden of, “What will others think?” are some of the worries, that I carried for a long time while making decisions like: “Is this going to expose too much skin?”, “Is this going to look a certain way that I may not like to present myself as?”
When I say I carried it with me for a long time, I mean that, despite my efforts at ignoring people’s comments and opinions on my body, I mulled over them. Even today, I do not walk with my chest held high; I am always conscious of how I move my body.
The firsts in life are always special. I wanted to try on a pair of heels, but as I put them on, they brought to the fore my bottom and my chest, accentuating the curves. They simply wouldn’t allow me to walk hunched up anymore, meaning that I would have had to walk with a swivel in my hips. So ‘my assets’ (for the lack of a better word) would sway for everybody to see. It inevitably led to some people passing snide comments and staring at me as if it were their birthright to do so when I dressed a certain way. This certainly did not help matters, nor did it make me feel comfortable.
One day, while I was reading an article on fashion, I came across a quote from a famous designer, Christian Louboutin where he explained that he designs shoes for women while keeping men in mind, because it is the men who will appreciate how attractive women look in them. “I never forget that shoes also have to please men,” Louboutin told Vogue in 2013. To me, this felt derogatory, referring to women as objects of heterosexual desire meant to tickle the man’s imagination, something to be put on display like a show piece.
Objectification abounds everywhere, from the fashion industry to some of the cultures we grow up in. It trickles down from one generation to the next. Do we have anything of substance to pass on to the next generation of humans?
I grew up being mindful of the male gaze and moving stealthily in crowds. It seems trivial now, but there was a time in my childhood when I would pin colourful pieces of cloth to my undies and do catwalks, to everyone’s delight, touted to be the next big model. But of course, I was a child then. This very thing would come in my way as I hit puberty.
We are made to feel uncomfortable in our bodies, not allowed to express ourselves, and we spend our lives perpetuating the same norms that we were subjected to. Is that our legacy for the next generation?
Few among us, courageous and gritty enough, are fighting against these gender norms, non-violently. They do so with a sense of determination and calm, patiently responding to their trolls, online, with love. Love begets love, or so they say.
“Gender non-conforming people face considerable distress not because we have a disorder, but because of stigma and discrimination. There is nothing wrong with us, what is wrong is a world that punishes us for not being normatively masculine or feminine.”
– Alok Vaid-Menon, Beyond the Gender Binary 
Alok Vaid-Menon is a comic, an author, a speaker, and an activist. They wear heels and dress with aplomb. They is a diva and they know it!
Is there an inner diva that I could summon? From somewhere deep down, when I was but a child, before I got drowned under these societal perceptions and expectations?
How does all of this affect my everyday life? The socialisation that we go through in our childhood years stays for long. It casts a deep, lasting impression, difficult to change in our adult years. When I go clothes-shopping, I head for the men’s section. I think I should buy loose-fitting, round neck tees or Polo Tees for everyday wear and for lounging around. If I wear women’s tees instead, they are bound to have a deeper neckline, end at waist level and reveal my curves, and then people will stare. That is something that I don’t want. I do not like to be stared at. I am not an abomination.
And so, I do what is easy, what I have done for so many years, and that is to become invisible. Another reason to don men’s clothes is their functionality. So, it has just become my style, over time. One can imagine, when I move, I am restricted by thoughts of modesty, morality, and most importantly, “What will the others say? Will they stare?”
I realized in my late twenties that as long as I am not hurting anyone, I should not be feeling caged in and uncomfortable because some people have not learnt to show respect for other people’s expression of self and their personal space. Visibility comes at a cost, but I have the right to not be invisible, to own my movement on my own terms, without being stared at and being subject to people’s opinions. I have the right to be myself.
 Alok Vaid-Menon. Beyond the Gender Binary. Penguin Random House. 2020.
Cover Image: Photo by Parker Burchfield on Unsplash