September 18, 2016

REDDY | Brown Boy, Brown Boy

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My parents found a perfect candidate to look after me since they couldn’t anymore. What qualified him, however, had nothing to do with the fact that he was my resident advisor whose job was to ease the drastic change to college life. He was a respectful and seemingly responsible Indian student who fondly reminisced with them of the motherland, using “aunty” and “uncle” throughout their conversation.

As we mature, we come into identities shaped by the culture we were raised in. My parents came to America for my sister and me, but ensured we would grow up in an Indian household. As a result, my Indian heritage has always been an important aspect of my identity. It was always a source of support and comfort I could turn to, and this well-mannered Indian boy would continue to provide it for me. They were right in that he became important to me, but not in a way they would expect.

Years of maintaining denial were shattered; I burst through the closet doors. His terrifically structured face told me I was gay, and the tight red shirt and skinny jeans plastered onto his lean, lanky body confirmed it. Up until that point, I would justify the urges I felt towards boys with envy. In elementary school, I would convince myself that some boys’ faces were really cute, and since mine was ugly, I was jealous. In middle and high school, my body was doughy and sedentary and theirs toned and athletic. When I saw him, however, I didn’t want his face. I didn’t want his body. I did, however, want them enmeshed against mine.

I told my parents he became my friend and to him, I was. To me, it was a little more than that. I half-sprinted back to North after my last class to secure dinner dates, felt fiercely betrayed when he spent time with other residents, and endured physical pain upon meeting his girlfriend. It was not until much later that I realized it was more than puppy love. The running theme of our interactions was the Indian culture we both identified with. Privately, however, I used my infatuation with him as a way to begin accepting my own gayness.

My identity was in disarray. I asked myself how I could continue to be an Indian when Indian culture disapproved of queerness. However, through an imagined relationship, I lived in a utopia in which society did not pit identities against one another. It was an attempt to force affinity between identities marred by a relationship of hatred. His Indian-ness kept me grounded in memories of home and childhood, and his sexiness was a space for me to explore my sexuality with the assurance that my sense of self was still standing, albeit fractured.

This is what we do when faced with polar aspects of our central identity. This is the queer evangelical Christian. An individual I once had zero empathy for, but who I now understand, truly believes that God will forgive them for their sins. No, I didn’t think he was divine, but “get you a man that can do both” rings a bell.

I learned a few things from my first foray into romance that I wish to share here.

First, I learned it is important to accept that conflicting identities boil down to those created by one’s experiences and others by one’s belief system. For me, my Indian identity comes from watching Bollywood movies every Friday with my family, and finding community in the “brown” parties we attended every Saturday. It did not arise from my approval of the heterosexual, cis-gendered and caste-upholding institution of arranged marriage. In fact, my sheer rejection of such a custom is driven by my identity as a gay man. This is an identity informed by my own personal belief system. I feel comfortable merging the two identities knowing that any conflict between them only feels “wrong” superficially. I stopped leaning on him because I found stability in dual affirmation.

Second, I learned that instead of compromising an identity to sustain another, it is best to fixate the struggle of tending to multiple clashing identities into your becoming. I let go of the shame attached to delusion because I knew I learned from it. People are diverse and diversity in identity lends to diversity in experience. We learn through diversity, including the lifelong process of learning who we are. Without it there would be no differences to perceive. Become comfortable with and be open about identity crises to work through and learn from.

These lessons will inspire positive change in ourselves which can then extend outside of ourselves, into a society in severe need of social change. Change that dismantles institutions that keep aspects of our identity in solitary confinement, making integration easier for those who come after us. I am a proud, gay Indian American that has only just learned that I don’t need validation from an Indian man. By writing through this extremely neglected perspective, I hope to inspire more queer inclusivity in Indian spaces. I was once called a unicorn. People would pay to see a unicorn, let alone hear it speak, but the problem lies in the fact that we are not rare but silent. Sharing your own narrative can give voice to those who guard theirs and can eventually lead to edits and additions to the narrative of humanity.

I saw him again the first week of this semester. He looked good, but I wasn’t trying to have his babies. I had learned I didn’t need his affection to be Indian or gay; I did not need him to be myself anymore. I know I’m still very much insecure, but I have embraced the fact that all humans, including myself, are messy, complicated folks predisposed to compartmentalizing, mediating and negotiating their intersectionality.

Third, I learned I still have much more learning to do.

Narayan Reddy is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at nreddy@cornellsun.com. Reddy Set Go appears alternating Mondays this semester.

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