The Shape of Masculinity

Updated: Jun 27, 2021

Story by Ashutosh Salunkhe

I was always terrified in school to go to the washroom alone because I was afraid someone would call me a faggot. I was terrified to walk in corridors, afraid that someone would notice my way of walking and call it too ‘feminine’. I was scared to stay back alone in class thinking someone might come and call me a whore.

Everybody paints a rosy picture of going to school. That these are going to be the best years of our lives. What nobody prepares us for is the relentless ignorance people have and what their refusal to accept differences can do to someone else.

I was always ‘the slim guy’ who would have more female friends than male. Who would not necessarily play ‘masculine’ sports but would rather dance to my heart’s content with girls at the annual function.

Although the exact events are a blur now, my first memory of understanding that I might be different from the rest of the boys, came around 7th standard. I realised I wasn’t attracted to girls. I was convinced this was not normal and for a very long time, I was internally conflicted whether there was something wrong with me.

What was even more troubling was the double burden I was carrying. As a young kid who was confused and trying to figure out my sexuality, I would be body shamed constantly. I would be called all sorts of names and I thought that the best way to tackle this was to ignore and get used to it.

To add to this, in 8th grade, while travelling for a school field trip, one of the male teachers sat next to me and started touching me inappropriately. He kept talking to me the entire time. I tried to move his hand away using my school bag but to no avail. Eventually, my friends called me to join them and I ran.

I was terrified to even process what had happened. But he didn’t stop. He would act as if it was completely normal and would call me to the staff room. My friends noticed what was happening and would volunteer to do the tasks instead.

Eventually, he realized that they were protecting me and stopped. So even though he wouldn’t touch me anymore, I had developed a deep-seated fear and shoved away all thoughts of considering a non-binary identity.

It was only when I got into an engineering college; I got my own phone, did I seriously consider the idea of queer identity. I downloaded dating apps and made supportive friends whom I eventually gained the courage to come out to. It was healing, to not feel ‘weak’ or helpless anymore.

I started becoming more active in queer events and discussions for the LGBTQ community. I decided to write my thoughts and feelings on social media pages and that gathered people’s attention around me. Eventually, seniors and juniors from my college would come to me know more about queer groups.

Very often people have judged me, upon the stereotypes, for how a queer person should look or behave. I have been told I don’t “look like them” or that my “voice is too masculine”. Other times, even in queer groups, I have been told to hit the gym or develop a better physique. Or that being a ‘slim guy’ would naturally mean I’m more petite or ‘feminine’.

This constant tussle between identities becomes difficult to cope with. I believe that the fluidity of identities one maintains is what makes them unique. It took me years to come out of that cage I had built around me and heal. I’m no more afraid of roaming in corridors, using specific paths or belonging to the queer community. I’ve learnt to love myself and my body; regardless of what others will say.

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