Growing up in a conservative family in Haryana my effeminacy was always discouraged. People often ask each other to stay real, but nobody ever said that to me. In fact, I was always asked to behave like someone I was not.
The shift started when I first came to Delhi in the year 2012. I remember wearing a palazzo and a black, glittery cut-sleeved top with my high heels, framing it as an experiment to ease my anxiety.
Growing up, gender was a confusing concept. I just didn’t get it. It felt like people were sorting other people into just two groups and neither of them worked for me. I had a very difficult childhood because I constantly found myself trapped between the two opposing options – never masculine enough for boys and never feminine enough for girls. After some research and introspection I discovered the word “genderqueer”. Not that it gave me a way to label myself, but at least it told me that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.
Now, the way I understand my gender is that I am both a man and a woman, and neither a man nor a woman. I am outside these categories. I am Rovin, and Rovin exists outside of society’s heteronormative gender binary. “I wasn’t born in the wrong body, I was born in the wrong world” was what I told myself.
The story goes something like this: Every morning when I wake up and look at my closet I ask myself, “How much do I want to be harassed on the streets today?” You have no idea how walking down the street as our authentic selves can invite so much verbal abuse, or even worse. It is a sad reminder that this world doesn’t live and let live. Before leaving the house every day, I wonder if my lipstick is too dark, or whether my makeup is too loud, in an attempt to reduce the threat of harassment and violence.
We are often erased from history and are told that we are not supposed to exist. But the fact is that I am everywhere around you, it’s just that I am often asked to pick a side. There is hardly a place where we can be who we really are- not in school, not on the streets, not in the metro, not at college, not at work, in fact not even in public restrooms.
For me the question “How do I present my best self at work?” becomes “Can I present my best self at work?” I was told that I am not professional, but I feel I am professional in my own way, a way which most consider alien. “Professionalism” has been my enemy, because it requires that my gender identity is constantly and unrepentantly erased. If you dare to step out of line, you risk being mistreated by coworkers, losing promotions or even losing your job. In fact, I did lose a job- my employers fired me saying that I am “too casual”.
People are constantly told to “act professionally” without a second thought. Wear a garment that represents your non-Western culture to work? Your boss may tell you it’s unprofessional. Wear your hair in braids or dreadlocks instead of straightened? That’s probably unprofessional too. Wear shoes that are slightly scuffed because you can’t yet afford new ones? People may think you’re not being professional enough.
We deserve to have our work ethic and intellect respected regardless of how we choose to express our gender identities. We deserve to be able to wear clothing and behave in ways that affirm our gender. We deserve to be treated fairly in the workplace.
While people may try to discriminate against me and tell me that I’m dressing “inappropriately” for work, I will hold on to my gender identity and sense of self. In the workplace, I will stick up for those who, like me, find that their gender does not match a prefabricated box. I will wear my heels, pearls and skirts to work until, hopefully, the world can learn to respect people like me.
So to all of the discriminatory employers out there, you better watch out, because I am genderqueer, professional and unafraid.
Feature Image: space538.org
Guest Post by Rovin Sharma for DU Beat
(This post first appeared on Pink Pages, a national LGBT magazine)