To the heels I bought with my limited savings from last month, as the perpetually broke college student that I am, I wish I knew that visiblising queerness comes at a social price.
Manifesting queerness had always been on my list of things I had to do in college. When things, without any notice, went online, it bothered me because in my head college was going to be only a little more than me strutting in with the trendiest indie fashion pieces, a feminist poetry collection in hand, and a Matisse or New Yorker tote in the other. But fashion statements come at a cost and this time there was the added interest of a pandemic too.
Upon hearing the news of the much-awaited re-opening, I rushed with two friends to Hudson Lane and walked into three different shops – before buying a comfortable heel that not only matched the image in my head but also fit.. Even as I tried out the shoes, I could feel the eyes of the shopkeeper on me. It is for a friend who is flying in, I remember saying to just avoid being value judged by an abject stranger.
But if the shopkeeper was a stranger I was willing to lie to, people in my college were too large in numbers to even respond. And, being a dream that I had nurtured for the longest while, this was a question I was more than willing to engage with. The online college had limited my interactions with a select few people scattered across the college, people who I thought would point towards my heels and say, Oh my god! You did it? or with an air of abject sympathy say, Aren’t those hurting? Do you have band-aids?
Appraisal and sympathy are west winds that comfort the length and breadth of your skin upon touch. But what I was unprepared for was walking into my canteen quarters and being faced with groups of bulked up men from the northern quarters of our country, taking stalk of my heels coupled with my ajrak shirts and small rainbow pendants – just to turn back and initiate a pungent and viral smirk that would birth a sense of hateful sense of directed towards my end.
There would of course be the whispers – annoying to an extent that you know you are being spoken of but you hardly have the courage in your system to walk up to them and ask, in absolute De Niro style, are you talking to me? The first few days of offline college makes you realise that truly the online space is a created bubble wrap of people who are tailored to be decent to you, as opposed to the offline front which throws open the possibilities of being sucked into a whirlwind of heterogeneous socio-cultural capital holders where being the other comes at the cost of scrutiny on the altar of toxic masculinity.
The North campus too, with all its red bell towers and granite pillars, is a divided world in itself. The world of Ramjas is characterised by muted warm colours and gazes that make you hit home the realisation that you’re abjectly out of place – that you don’t belong and you never will. Cross the road and on the other side, outside JP Stall you’ll find a queer visual haven where wearing H&M and carrying Starbucks with neon painted into your hair – makes you no longer an object to be stared at but rather something desirous and aspirational.