My barber, who is Cambodian, said he would give me the “Indian cut.” After he was done, the other guy waiting said that I looked just like a doctor. The unsolicited observation has led me to believe that we, of the South Asian Council, are actually getting ahead of ourselves if our front is asserting that our perspectives are not completely irrelevant, and that we should be able to take up space within spaces that are generally designated for students of color. First of all, how the fuck are we going to convince people that our brownness does not itself qualify us to perform an emergency tracheotomy with a box cutter and a plastic straw? I mean, I’ll do my best with my knowledge of Asian American racial formation but no promises. A few days later while I was trying to figure out my next dick, I remembered I’m gay as well as Tamil. The fact that the queer identity itself is inherently politicized made me see it as a remedy. My friend put it — nail polish — on me. The color was a deep, peacock blue called “midnight” and it popped against my brown skin. It truly did make me feel more relevant.
When I saw the teenage students at the afterschool program I work at with “midnight” on, I learned that I wasn’t shit. One of the younger students didn’t talk to me that day, when he usually says something to me. That hurt. Even more so than the last time I painted my nails and a homeless Nepali man asked me if I was a faggot, to which I replied “yes, sir!” as faggy as I could (we talked a little after that and got to know each other better, he then offered to “raise hell” on anyone that ever gave me shit, but I haven’t seen him since). Everyone else said my nails were on point, but I think he was just too young to deal with the fact that the older male college volunteer he knew for several months just walked in with “midnight” on in broad daylight. I would have been confused at his age too. It begged the question, was it really more important for me to assert my own experiences and identities as an individual, rather than building meaningful relationships with others who had experiences and identities different than mine?
I washed “midnight” off as soon as I could.
It’s probably not smart to take something profound away from someone that called me a “faggot,” but I could have spared myself from déjà vu if I did. Both times were attempts to “live my truth,” and the boys I’ve recently been on are the ones I’ve deemed very honest.
On violence, I’ll push back if you push me. But I won’t start it. So, his offer to kick someone’s ass on my request goes against my values. But it’s the thought that counts. I really believe he saw that someone or something was hurting me on the inside over the course of our unlikely conversation and offered to provide support. Which was already more than my friends at the time were willing to do. That’s why I painted them, to break away from friends I was already isolating myself from. So this time around, I washed them off because I knew it would affect my ability to engage with people that are not as steeped in their own identity as me. In fact, something I understood is that identity doesn’t necessarily even reside within ourselves.
It’s in the meaningful relationships we have with others that may have grown up in and still live in a world different than mine. Without diversity, there would be no differences to perceive. But real differences are deeper than skin, and fixating upon or asserting the physicality of brownness and/or queerness alone keeps intercommunity discussions and relations superficial and could undermine them altogether. The effect of acknowledging them between and working with each other along the lines that mercilessly structure society blurs them. Cutting yourself off from others for the sake of individual liberty only makes make them more rigid. It’s not about carving out spaces within spaces, it’s about undermining the need for those spaces themselves.
Before we insist that others accept us, we must address ourselves and think critically about the lines that separates South Asian students — including Asian and Asian American students in general — and other students of color. The queer people living their truths and those that can’t identify as queer. I understand that these binaries I set up as well as this entire column in general are reckless blurrings of identities and social issues, but that’s kind of the point. My new catchphrase is “I don’t have the answers” but I can guarantee you these problems require more than acceptance at the individual, psychological level. An overhaul is in order. Take it from a messy gay brown boy; it’s time we make a mess together. Painting your fingernails doesn’t excuse anyone from getting them dirty.
Narayan Reddy is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at email@example.com. Reddy, Set, Go! appears alternate Mondays this semester.