By Doel Rakshit
It was a table beside the window. A square wooden table. The kind which you get to see only at the Coffee House. But queerly enough, the view outside the window was not that of a busy book lane off the College Street. It had the look and feel of a residential society in north Bombay with kids playing on the small green patch in front of the tall buildings.
I turned my head to discover that I was not alone at the table. Right opposite, on the other side of the square table, there was this person whom I had been longing to meet since the lockdown started. She was smiling at me, she was talking. I couldn’t hear her. But I was really happy. I was going to ask her to be a bit louder when the waiter came and served coffee. I took a sip and, unmindfully, looked out of the window again. I saw a woman standing at the roof of one of the buildings. Our eyes met and she smiled at me. As if she was waiting for me to look at her before she could let her loose off the edge of the roof.
I woke up to find myself locked in isolation like the rest of the world. I recollected, the woman who jumped off the building seemed to be a transwoman. Just like me. And I realized, once again, I am back to the closet.
After coming out at the age of 26, the world gave me back my closet life at 27 in the name of social distancing and lockdown. Coming out is not just telling people about your gender identity or sexual orientation. It is a statement against the status quo that oppresses you for being who you are. It is a gesture of dissent against the social order that restricts your behaviour, questions your choice, censors your experience and erases your history. Yes, THIS is coming out. Once you are out there’s no looking back. And any kind of imposed restriction of movement seems like closet again.
Have you ever spent a night with the most notorious villains of your life? Well, I am spending nights and days and mornings and afternoons with him. Yes, it’s a ‘him’. Since the day lockdown was announced in my country, I have been living with dysphoria. There’s no way I can ignore him. He’s always here, sitting in one corner of my room. Whenever I unmindfully look away from my laptop screen in the middle of work, my eyes meet his. I see him sitting in a crouching position right there at the corner, smiling at me in the evillest way possible. I get distracted. I get up to go to the washroom. I splash water on my face and look up to find him in the mirror, smiling at me in the same manner. He doesn’t stop there. He bites his upper lip like a lecherous old fellow, and I realize I have forgotten to shave this morning. I get hold of the razor on the rack, I hurry unnecessarily and end up cutting my facial skin. I shave nonetheless and apply a lotion. I come back to my makeshift desk. But by then the laptop screen has gone black. And he appears again on the screen. I switch on the screen, take a deep breath and resume work.
This is just a snippet of my life in quarantine. This is a fraction of my daily struggle since I am locked in. The first week was terrible. Now I am getting used to it. In other words, I am coming to terms with it. And THAT is, essentially, a closet thing. Either trying to ignore or make friends with the man that the society had attempted to construct me into, nullifies all my struggles to get rid of him.
I started living when I came out. I was a free bird willing to fly all those spaces in the sky that have been denied to me since birth. I started letting the clothes that I ardently coveted to embrace me in their warmth. I started reliving my childhood, my teenage, undergoing puberty once again and, this time, not faking it. I started revisiting my feelings of love and desire, laughing at my mood swings or bursting into tears that relieved me of the remaining burdens in my heart. I started getting acknowledged in society as the woman I have always been. Sounds like seeking validation? Yes, it does. But I call it payback. Because it is the society that has gaslighted the woman in me for so long that she could not help but believe that she was the figment of her imagination. Seeking social validation and acceptance doesn’t make me vulnerable but reminds the system of what it owes me. And this continuous process of payback has stopped due to the current social distancing. The life that I deserve and the life that was denied to me for so long has come to a standstill once again. I have, once again, been exposed to gender dysphoria that’s much deadlier than the virus that is creating havoc across the world. It has exposed me to another deadly virus called mental trauma, that I had successfully kept in check. All those incidents of me surviving mental and sexual abuse are coming to surface while in isolation and are attempting to kill me every day. The artist in me who was bursting with poetry and music since she had started establishing her identity against all odds is facing a miserable creative block. And all of these are happening simultaneously since I am locked in. Self-quarantine, for some, can be a luxury or an experience to be romanticized. But for me staying at home is symbolic of the closet I had gracefully demolished.
But what am I ranting about? Who is to blame? The pandemic? Is it not a natural phenomenon?
Well, besides being a transgender activist, I am actively involved in climate activism and animal activism since long. In the course of my activities related to the environment I do come across the latest studies and scientific reports on the same. And since the pandemic broke out, I have been reading multiple reports which are establishing and re-establishing the fact that this is the result of humans encroaching too much into the natural world. Humans have been exposed to most of these deadly viruses potential of causing pandemics, be it Ebola, MERS COV, SERS COV 1 or the Novel Coronavirus, because of its unnecessary exploitation of wildlife and animals. Added to that, climate change acts as a catalyst to these calamities as change in the atmospheric temperature and other climatic conditions can cause unpredictable mutations in the viruses, making it even more difficult for humans to control it.
But, wait. How did all these happen in the first place? Aren’t we really keen about the “natural order”? Didn’t this very system designed by humans try to teach LGBTQIA+ people what’s natural and how they are not? Didn’t this very society use the excuse of nature to oppress us since times immemorial?
If the collective consciousness of the society is so enlightened about the workings of nature, then why couldn’t it prevent this pandemic? Because it was always a lie. This crafted narrative of the “natural order” has always been a lie which only benefited the privileged and the powerful in a cisheteropatriarchal setup. And I, a transgender woman quarantined in the 21st century – an era when intersectional feminism and ecofeminism coexist – accuse the cisheteropatriarchal system for creating this pandemic and putting me back into my miserable closet.
But I’m sure I will come out of this too! We all will come out and survive just the way we have survived age old oppression only to grow stronger and resume the battle against cisheteropatriarchy with greater power.