An 8-year old on a playground. Wearing purple shorts skimming the knee and a flowery t-shirt. This is me. Were you picturing a girl? Or a boy?
This was 14 years ago, I was shy. I loved to play and to read, talking, not so much. I cared more about Pokemon and Harry Potter than anything else. Most importantly, I was in a new country. With my lovely aunt, her new baby (my favourite person) and my uncle. I would go down to the playground by myself everyday and on my first day down there, this introvert got very very lucky. I made a friend. It was the first time I’d ever had to actively try to make one. The shy, young thing that I was, I followed this girl around till she noticed me. She was really pretty and very very cool. She had the coolest name: Zoey. I remember wanting so much in my 8-year-old mind for her to think I was cool enough to hang out with her. AlI I really wanted was for her to notice me. And she did.
We were on the swings when two of her friends found us. They wanted to swing too. So she said to her friend –
Why don’t you sit on his lap (while pointing at me). His name is Ra, he’s from India. He runs fast
Remember the clothes I was wearing that day? 8 year old me had an enviable sense of style. With bright purple shorts that reached my knees and the “girliest” t-shirt I could find (because my aunt had been begging me to dress “like a girl”). It had pink and purple flowers all over it. I wore purple sandals and painted toenails. I thought I was the cooliest. My long hair was in pigtails, three of them actually. My head looked like a 3 legged spider and I loved it.
I remember being happy. I remember wondering why I was so happy that Zoey thought I was a boy. But I didn’t dwell on it. I let her think that.
We played almost every evening that summer. On the playground I was he, playing teasing getting rough and tumble.
At home, I was she, singing when guests came over, helping take care of a baby and being told in so many ways that ‘wild’ was not okay for a girl like me
I was happy. I did it all. The he, the she, the just plain human, it’s everything.
A couple of weeks before I was to leave to go back home, my aunt washed my hair. I had to go play with my hair flowing down my shoulders, reaching all the way down to my non-existent butt. I hated my long hair. It got in the way of EVERYTHING. I couldn’t run around or wrestle, people thought it was funny to pull my hair. But I kept it. Because it made my grandmother happy. I kept it because all the moms on the playground told me that I was a very good girl for keeping it so neat. I kept it because I wanted my beautiful aunt to think I was pretty too. I kept it because my brother couldn’t have long hair like me. I kept it because it gave my mother a reason to spend time with me, she loved braiding my hair for me. I kept it so everyone else would like me, but it was never really a part of me.
Zoey didn’t like it either. She saw my hair and as we sat on the swings, she was staring. She looked at me twice, thrice. She looked again. And then she said, softly, a little awed –
You’re a girl?
Almost immediately, as though to correct herself, she said –
You’re a pretty girl
I remember smiling at her and nodding. I didn’t know what to say. Inside I was very confused. I couldn’t understand how a hair change had made me a girl to her. I was sad, I really liked her calling me a boy. But between my barely there voice, and her (mostly) Mandarin-English, there was something she said that day that I never caught. Somewhere between the way she stopped wrestling with me and the way I smiled mute and awkward, something else was lost. Maybe it was an
I see you
I don’t know you anymore
You are the same aren’t you?
But I’ll never know.
We never played after that. I went home and I have never seen her since. But to me, she was the first one to ever truly see me, even before I learned to see myself.
And I remember her now, as I realise that I am seen, and I am heard. And I am me, boy, girl, both and neither. Sometimes by turns, sometimes all at once. And my 9 year old friend saw that. Maybe she didn’t quite understand, but she saw me, a feeling I am still seeking.
Ra is a young person who someday hopes to make art that matters. Ze writes poetry and makes comics and is currently trying to figure out how to turn a Maruti Omni into a mobile home. Any helpful information is welcome. Ze identifies as genderfluid/trans-masculine but prefers not to refer to zerself in the third person.
Would you like to hear brave souls retell their stories, like this one, in flesh and blood? YourDOST in collaboration with Social Offline is proudly brings y0u a one of a kind event: Living Stories — Vol. 1: Mental Health, on Saturday 26th August, at antiSOCIAL Hauz Khas Village, New Delhi. RSVP here for more info and event updates. We’re really looking forward to see you there.
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