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Filling out an application.
This form will get me somewhere I want to be/make me someone I’m not/tell me who I am.
It claims my identity.
gripping the ball point black tip ink pen hesitantly. to gain control.
writing in CAPITALS because I’ve been instructed to. We do what we are told.
Gender mocks me as I attempt to glide the pen, holding onto it tighter than my masculinity or femininity, as I tick squares that force me into shape on the familiar white page.
leaving some out/ tracing above them/ not knowing whether to place a tick or a cross.
Should I affirm a constructed self or cross myself out?
Trapped inside that straight sided box, I push at cracks to break out. so does the black ink. it bleeds outside edges. unpredictably streaks across the page. smudges. blemishes. stains my skin in affirmance of
not belonging on this preconceived page.
I consider categories…
contemplate between the options of…. Indian… Pakistani… Bangladeshi. All 3 parts of a piece ripped apart by the British Raj.
I read something written by someone else about myself.
‘there are 7 – 11 countries in South Asia, depending on who decides. 50 in Asia depending on whether you include Russia and Turkey:
Russia- Mongolia- China – India -Sri Lanka – Maldives – Nepal – Bhutan – Bangladesh – Myanmar – Timor Leste – Brunei – Singapore – Taiwan – Phillipines – Japan – North Korea – South Korea – Pakistan – Afghanistan – Tajikistan – Kyrgyzstan – Uzbekistan -Turkmenistan -Georgia – Armenia – Azerbejan – Iran – Iraq – Syria – Lebanon – Oman – United Arab Emirates – Quatar – Bahrain – Kuwait – Turkey’
I summon ancestors from more than 3 who did not choose. Landless. Who did not question who they were and why and…
who moved across lines/letters/tick boxes/empty spaces. Their pages flipped in reverse from back to front. Script written ‘backwards’, in circles, to soothe souls and fire up hearts
no ticks or crosses, no borders, just poetry in motion. In motion.
who moved endlessly under stereotypical cresent moons, that now get rebranded, and scorching suns craving the same water, pani in Persian, pani in Urdu, Pani in Bangla, pani in Roma, pani in Hindi. Settling for only a second until time to venture again
across tiresome torrential terrain with tracks upon dusty red earth that they covered up. to seek a better place to be and leave something else unknown behind…
discarded dirty secrets in the dhows in deep dark oceans we now name Black, Arabian and Indian.
Following future, in never ending rail roads that lead to colonial cobbled streets. Badly designed maps. where promises were traded. Sold and sold out. Colonial gold we love to adorn ourselves with that make us feel uniquely South Asian. Spices imported that contributed to our culinaries. Nothing is ever original or authentic. Not the cloth we wear or the food we eat. Not even our own bodies wearing them.
Did they question themselves? Where they were? How far they had come? Did they even need to know? Did they ever stop surviving to reflect? I imagine them chanting in protest ‘Where we are from is not where we belong’. So eager to leave the nest, flocking like birds flying somewhere far and unreachable. Unquestionable. yet crossing borders full of questions of identity with checks and quota control. Sending family members one by one by one.
Distribution. Seperation. Segregation. Assimilation.
I unconsciously tap the pen against my palm, reconstructing a nervous drum beat, the kind I grew up hearing in simplified Panjabi songs, the complex 12 beat ragas reduced to only 4 through migration, beats lost along the way or dropped, never to be found again.
Turban pleats flattened and reduced or unravelled completely. Discarded on the floor. Colours tamed from bright and brilliant to boring black. to match our characteristic hair. instead of coordinating our styles to our familiar ‘exotic’ surroundings. faded but not forgotten. Cut and shave. Straight suits with straight ties. Straighten up now. Tamed and taught to tone ourselves down.
And yet the un/willing failure of saris sway in unfamiliar cold winds like sails heading for land ahoy! where we were greeted with joy. No….
what are you? where are you from? where are you really from? Originally, Your ancestors, your people. Your… kind.
Funny how the women were always last. Last to come over, last to westernise, last to be defeated.
My Uncle told me when they arrived in Australia by boat, Sikh families were ready there waiting to greet them, strangers waiting patiently by shores for fellow brown folk to welcome to their new home. Queers, we are not the first to choose our family.
Everyone needs someone in solidarity.
I take a big sip of ‘spiced chai’ from an English-China cup, a familiar cultural contradiction, whilst my mind melodises a mantra…. Chinky – ching chong- paki – bud bud ding ding – dot head – rag head – blackie – foreigner – darky – terrorist with a capital T.
I swallow, with a memory of a mini-me running home to tell my mother that somebody at school had called me a ……….(insert one of the above) and why did we come here, this imperial ‘motherland’. My own mother couldn’t even explain. This was not her land.
This is not the chai my mother makes.
I wonder how she and my nani and massi’s felt, tasting food that was meant to be ours but had changed to suit tastes of others deemed more important. I remember them tasting new culinary treats like chips and baked beans with sour faces, adding spices and chilli to match fiery temperaments they had learnt to tone down in obedience. But re-surfaced in each other’s kitchens. I imagine how they gathered together to make food taste exactly like it should, to comfort weary hearts and taste like back home. while laughing and gossiping about white western women who wore nothing/ couldn’t cook/ spoke to them twice as slow. requesting tailored clothes for a discounted price. Funny how wearing our clothes didn’t come with insults when worn by them. I wonder about how long it took for our elders to forgive and forget. adjust and embrace. these new places. fuse fashions and flavours. speak new, in tongues they tasted with.
I tick ‘other’ to memories of a humming sewing machine my mother peddled. I immediately change it to a cross. The uncut cloth of the east becoming the cut cloth of the west. With it the fluidness of our identities transitioning into something more rigid and fixed.
choosing not to choose. I cannot choose. My identity always chosen for me. Did my mother really want to be a housewife, sew ‘ethnic’ clothes, cook for others, be a mother, be somebodies partner. Be something to someone?
I sip another sip. Another. other.
I flip a few pages forward to the EDUCATION section. Scan sections I must complete. Blank white pages staring back at me. Stroke the new black hair on my chin. Blink my eyelashes shut.
Think of my father the imperialist lover, Jonny cash wannabe. suede jacket. leather shoes. butterfly collars. box beard I stroked fondly. wishing one day I would grow one like his. ‘daddy’s girl’. he would say when the mood felt right. strict disciplinarian at all other times.
He beat ‘education, education, education’ into us. he beat my mother to teach her a lesson. His western dreams shattered. this place did not live up to his expectations. Tortured him. so he tortured us. I do not excuse his abuse but I understand it.
Intelligent charming brown man. too smart for oppression he was force fed. Daddy made the wrong choices. Yet I hate him for it. Does that mean I hate myself?
I am a mirror image of this man.
But I am not a man.
I make different choices.
I have no choice
between female and male. Indecisive. I tick male.
I decide on the easiest section. Flip back to the beginning. Name. Address. Date of Birth. Contact Details.
I write my new name, Singh. I think about my former name. My father’s one I discarded. think about the name my parents gave me that I keep in honour. In respect. My middle name. The one the gender clinic fought with me to change. write Raju as my first. The name I chose for myself. Brings me closer to my culture. Further away from the girl I didn’t want to be.
As a ‘female’ I was exotic or Spanish? Italian? some other Eurocentric ideal.
As male I am musselman, Sikh or Hindustan?
or obedient. Traditional. Patriarchal. effeminate. Another contradiction.
Panjaban, a slave to the ‘British Empire’, yet still never quite British enough. The ignorant irony.
I adjust my turban. Tuck escaped strands of hair in with my fingers. Glance at my ink stained hands. I have my mother’s hands, I trace her veins running into mine and mine into my grandparents when I see them in photos. Never in real life.
I don’t want to look like my father so I wrap my head to look more like my mother. A Promise broken. to not grow a beard or wear a paghri when I ‘began to look like a man’. But I’m doing this for you Mum. She doesn’t hear me.
internalised racism. fear. forgetfulness. denial.
I want to wear a turban. Bound not by tradition or bravery but purely by desire to be seen. In/visible. Erased by what others cannot see. I trace the nose ring that connects me to ‘my people’. The same people who reject me in the beginning, in between or at the end, inevitably. Those who do not know I am one of them. That I used to be. I do not look like them even when I try.
I panic for a moment and consider ticking female … what if I cannot go back?
My mother strives to keep me feminine. sends me saris and shawls. packs food parcels whenever I visit. keeps me nourished. the way an Indian mother shows her love but never says it. Says she is not religious but calls upon god when I tell her who I am. Hai mere Rabba!
I smile as she shudders. Brush off her shame and disgust. Disgrace/d. I Cloak myself with her blessed cloth to protect myself from the phobia and hate.
Shawl wrapped around my frigid foreign body. covering ambiguous shapes.
curves in cloth that create a composition of conspiracy.
Constructed patterns of tradition imprinted on my skin contradict my body while erasure fades over me. Am I the contradiction or is it this cloth I carry?
Concealed by cultural contradictions, lost in transition of translation, where queerness is uncovered.
Stopped at the fringes or border line. Too ethnic. Too pretty. Too fearful. Too feminine. Too fluid, Too free.
I find danger, defiance, desperation where I seek dignity.
I ponder on address. How long have I lived here? Longer than I would like. Not long enough to call home. There are too many homes. Panjab. Africa. ‘Great’ Britain. London.
My addresses do not fit the page. My age does not fit my face.
Perpetual underage feminine boy who will never be respected as a ‘man’. I grow a beard that I would prefer not to have, in order to fit the frame.
To figure a way to function. To fix up. Fit in. fill in and out.
‘We do what we must to survive’
This is the legacy I have learned.