I have a friend. A friend of mine who I have maybe said 3 words to, in totality, in school, but have spent hours speaking to over texts. This friend of mine is someone who purposefully avoids me in school, but will stay up till the brink of dawn completely engaged in our meaningful conversations. I am very fond of this friend of mine, and he is very fond of me yet what hurts is that this knowledge in the wrong hands can be detrimental to his being.
This friend of mine is different. He is different even when compared to most different people. But at the same time, he reeks of a desire to conform: an odor more potent than even that released by actual conformists. His desire to fit in, and live by the standards of social acceptance are wholly justifiable. Who doesn’t want to have friends? Who doesn’t want to live a life free of mockery and name-calling?
I have been called many names these past few years of my life. Faggot, whore, slut, harlot, rapist, predator, pedophile, chakka, hijra, and kinnar make up just the creme de la creme of the long list of words which I bear on my chest. I have often resorted to owning these words, making them mine, referring to myself with them in an attempt to normalize their connotations not for anyone else- but for me. I have labeled myself a slut, given people honorary ‘faggot’ passes and laughed along when the entirety of my being was being proclaimed null and void.
You see, if this friend of mine were to talk to me in school like any other friend of his, these labels would slowly creep on to him too. We’d both bare the brunt of the school’s rampant homophobia and bigotry- even though he isn’t gay. And in saying this I am not assuming the resultant impacts, but instead simply stating people’s past experiences. People have ruined their lives by allowing me to be a part of them. I have ruined people’s lives- the lives of people I love with all my heart. People are afraid to speak to me or associate with me in any way shape or form in fear that someone would see, someone would hear or someone would smell the passionate scents of our apparent love.
I recently commented on a post on this same friend of mine’s Instagram page. The next thing I know, it was deleted. I said hello to this friend of mine while walking past him in school. He raised his eyebrows and kept walking. He apologized for having to ignore me in school, and I told him it was okay. I couldn’t in my right mind ask him to do something akin to social suicide, could I?
People walk past me and smirk - and I laugh along. People ask me for sexual favors - and I deliver.
People make me believe than I am nothing more than this one three-letter word which has defined my entire adolescence. That’s where my being starts, and it is conveniently where my being ends as well.
The most painfully funny part is that often these interactions happen not with the people who mean so little to me, but with people whom I would give my life for. Last year, one of my closest friends was asked to name the first thing that came to her mind when she heard my name. She had plenty to choose from (I may be worthless but I am definitely not bland), yet she landed on everyone’s favorite three-letter word. The one that defines me, the one that has always defined me, and the one that will continue to define me as long as I call this country my home.
It would be unfair for me to place this massive burden of guilt on society because a lot of it lies on my shoulders as well. I adhere to stereotypes because I feel the need to. I fuel the negative perceptions so many have of me. I am the reason people hate me.
Don’t get me wrong- I love the attention, I wouldn’t know what to do without it. I think the jokes are funny, I have gotten used to the mockery: but I worry for this friend of mine.
This friend of mine just so happens to have a brother who is like me. If people knew, he would be over. His life for the next few years would be stained by the knowledge that he shares blood with someone of the forbidden kind. The kind which is so despised by so many. He cannot tell people, he hesitated to tell me and I told him he cannot tell people. This sibling of him calls another land his home, one much more accepting and one where the ill effects of this terrible disease we both suffer from are significantly less potent. I feel sorry not for myself, not for his brother, but for him: because living life in fear of being suddenly murdered is much more pitiful than living life in fear of murdering someone. I am not a killer. Nor am I a rapist, nor am I a slut.
I have a friend, but soon he will not be my friend because he wants to live by standards of social acceptance whereas I want to love by standards that, well don’t really align with those. So maybe I am a killer, and I’m murdering my friendships in cold blood because I’d rather my friendships die than those who I am friends with.
Madhav is a sophomore at Indus International School in Bangalore. A passionate artist and writer, he uses his work to advocate for and spread awareness about the causes he believes in. He authors prose and poetry about the epiphanies life throws at him and his experiences as a teenager at https://www.aoou.home.blog. In the past, he has partnered with youth and community-driven organizations like the Young India Foundation, the Young Leaders for Active Citizenship, the Laxmi Mittal South Asian Institute of Harvard University, etc. His fieldwork in community mobilization and public policy with these establishments have given him a mature view of world affairs and politics. You can find him on Instagram at @madhavisachampion and some of his artwork at @madhavisadrawingchampion as well.