“I shower. Get dressed. Read or listen to music until my hair is mostly dry and I can brush it. I don’t wear makeup and I don’t know how to do anything with my hair. No one wears the same size as me. I don’t know how to be a part of this ritual.”
“I was unwilling to buy a binder. It seemed like a declaration, the kind I was nowhere near ready to make yet. But for that winter, I had the bag.”
“To understand my relationship with this symbol of masculinity, we’ll have to start with my journey of queerness I had no idea I had embarked upon until I was turning 28, the sleeves of my buba — the tailored Agbada shirt — all rolled up to my elbows and my fingers rubbing down on the clit of a girl I had only met a couple of times prior to that moment.”
Closets suck, generally speaking, but sitting in mine gave me joy. This is a coming out story that doesn’t neatly fit in the queer community, much less my own mind.
“I sat there staring at my laptop screen soaking in the news that my love of flirty summer dresses, brightly hued tights, wine-colored lipstick and smiling radiantly in photos made me invisible to those I wanted most to be seen by. I thought I had to make a choice between authenticity and visibility.”
“And there was Susan and Rachel at the heart of it all, dancing to the band Susan had sworn would play her wedding if she ever got married. As they laughed and moved to the music and worked up such a sweat that their jackets had to come off, I saw a glimpse of the future wedding I hope for, marrying someone I love, the two of us not fitting so strictly into the feminine.”
I surrounded myself with pieces of paper organized by titles. “Things I want.” “Things I need.” “Things to buy.” “Things to throw- away.” “Things to do.” “Things to fix.” The first thing on my list was “Me” and the second thing was “The United States of America.”
I looked less and less like my mother— the image of womanhood I grew up with — and I was scared. Was she disappointed that I wasn’t like her? Did my femininity disappoint her? At the same time, I worried about being too masculine: people would know I wasn’t straight. I was angry: my mother taught me to be proud of who I was, but what if who I was becoming wasn’t good enough?
She has boxes of recipe cards; mostly I know their stories and not their flavors. She needs to know what I cook for dinner regularly; she eats a dinner of nibbles and stolen bites. She tells me that sugar is toxic and will cause irreparable harm to my body; she sends me a box of Christmas cookies. Scrumptious little crystals that can tear at my blood vessels from the inside.
In 2014, after learning how to care for a person on the edge between life and death, I went on the bike ride that would, ultimately, return me to myself.
Lilith after all has become a sign of every socially unacceptable aspect of women, including and especially our sexuality.
“I always went the extra mile for you and did so gladly because I loved being around you. You never returned these more concrete gestures, which should’ve been the first sign that things were not reciprocal between us, but I was oblivious and idealistic. I genuinely believed I had found love.”
The first time someone described Casey as having “stalkerish” tendencies, I defended her. For the most part though, I didn’t talk about it.
“We don’t talk about our roots as they relate to the heaviness of humid air recycled through our generations on swampy plantations. My family has never talked about it with me, at least. It feels like a small betrayal, choosing to go south when we were given a new chance in the West.”
I found a different self slowly, learned to exist as if with many different goggles on at once. Always speaking from my mother’s kitchen in the Silicon Valley and, at the same time, my grandmother’s crowded living room in Punjab. In these years, I would feel the sharpness of many kinds of difference, marginalization. But when I looked down at myself for signs of why I felt so other, all I would find was the color of my hands.
I feel nothing and everything when I’m with her and I want that more than I want to protect myself. I know this will hurt me, but pain is part of my life, so I allow it in bursts I think I can control.
In short, Zumba is a dance fitness class set to popular Latin music but honestly, for me, Zumba is more than just that, it’s given me life.
In the pool hall, my sweetheart and a close friend tease me one night: “unimpressive,” “pure luck,” “you aren’t that good.” They were trying to get my ire up so that an hour later when I told them to stare into each other’s eyes as I fucked my sweetheart’s body, I would mean it with a snarky competitive vengeance, I would mean it with power and control, I would be pushed to take what I want.
“She asks me how it went, I say it went bad. I don’t say much more because she hates hearing about my family like they hate hearing about her. It goes better when I keep it to myself.”
“I wanted her to smile at me that way. I wanted her to say my name. This turned out to be easy.”