Tag Archives: womanhood

The Venus Flytrap: For The Women Who Weren’t Born Men

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Maybe they don’t know everything, the women with the divining sticks, but they sure know how to reel a girl in. Maybe they don’t see everything, but they do see you there on the beach, alone or in some laidback configuration, and somehow – they see enough.

And so they come up to you as you’re rolling your jeans up or dusting your bum off, scrunching the newspaper your sundal came in and absentmindedly considering whether to litter, trash or recycle. And they look you in the eyes with a smile of recognition and say: “Nee ambulaiya poranthirikanum, ma!” You should have been born a man.

Even later, when you find out that there’s nothing unique about this line, you will consider it a compliment, because it is meant as one.

And the shore-side soothsayer will offer you this opening gambit as she takes your palm, because whatever else she knows or doesn’t, she can intuit you aren’t going to take it as an insult.

Though later, you learn: some women who do terrible things to other women have been told it too. Other women who do worse things to themselves have been told it too. Are those also ways to be men, then? “Internalised misogyny,” you think. Women who should have been born men because maybe then they would hate themselves, and each other, less.

Even later, when you bristle and say, “Well, if I lived somewhere else, was steeped in better societal conditioning, desexing me wouldn’t feel like a compliment.”

But you don’t live anywhere but here. You live here in this city by the sea. With a long beach where you could be detained for holding hands at night. And by the brightness of day, you give yourself away because only someone who doesn’t mind sun-kissed skin would be loitering. Someone like you, a woman like a man.

Count them and see how few they are, the women. How far between the canoodling (straight) couples and the water-shy families. While half-naked men splash around like they own this city, or indeed, this sea.

“Should have been born a man”, you ponder – and you look at the transwomen who also mill about between stalls selling blackened corn and displaying balloons to shoot for prizes. And you wonder what the fortune-tellers say to them, though you don’t quite know how to ask.

And not yet, not today, but soon – you may wander along that beach and arrive at the memorial of another woman who “should have been born a man”. And you’ll think of the crowds of men in white who surrounded her, and all the women still in their kitchens, whose lives she made a little easier.

At first, when you were younger, you thought that all that the fortune-tellers meant with that provocative, alluring opening gambit was this: that you have courage in excess, a province you demurred was not exclusively male. Later you understood: if you were a man, in this place and in this time, what you could do with that courage would have multiplied. Or to put it another way, perhaps you wouldn’t have needed that much courage at all.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express on December 8th 2016. “The Venus Flytrap” appears on Thursdays in Chennai’s City Express supplement.

The Venus Flytrap: In Defense of Developing World Diva Hair

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I have oppressed woman hair. No, not “oppressed hair”, as Alice Walker famously put it; the ceiling on my brain cannot be blamed on the chemicalisation or colonisation of my locks. I mean I have the hair of an oppressed woman, heavy duty developing world diva hair. Think Draupadi. Think Dravidian Rapunzel. I have hair that practically demands sitting on a swing and gazing wistfully at a world of dangerous things like riding side-saddle, or smiling beatifically in Amar Chitra Katha comics while undergoing trials by fire for the love of incredibly undeserving men. (Such activities are much better scapegoats for the ceiling on my brain).

But why should I apologise? Not everything needs to be forced through a feminist or subaltern perspective, you know. Remember that line, my similarly-styled sisters: it sounds a lot better as a defense than, “Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m beautiful, hate me ‘cuz your boyfriend thinks so”. And if you must know, I have oppressed woman hair as reclamation, damnit! It’s subversive to be traditional in a world of peroxide and pageboys! These tresses are radical aesthetics, deliberate declarations! They are avant-garde, anarchist, insurrectional… and just incidentally, quite pretty.

I know hair is political. But I think above and beyond that it is deeply, deeply personal. I wear mine messy, letting it be as schizophrenically curly or straight as it pleases. When I am healthy it shines black. When I am not it dries brown. I used to trim it myself, until I stopped wanting to trim it at all. It’s a gorgeous disaster – which happens to be my favourite kind. But I promise you I comb it. Most days, anyway.

I discovered I had this ridiculous hair ten years ago, about the same time I started wearing a fake nose stud, before my parents – modern folks who continue to be deeply disappointed by the bindi-wearing, diamond-nostriled, handloom-sareed miscreant I turned out to be – let me pierce it for real. I’ll never forget that day. I loosened my hair to retie it in a classroom and someone said she wished she had my “beautiful long hair”. That’s when I noticed it myself. I was thirteen and nothing about me had ever been beautiful in my life.

So you see why I can’t let it go.

There are things which come with the acceptance that one is, herself, a complicated country, a feral thing. My developing world diva hair is one of those things, for me. I’ve seen how, subconsciously, it has been part of my semiology. I have tied it up to desex myself. I have worn twin braids to appear innocuous. I have worn it like a wild thing and been that wild thing. I am not the only kind of woman I know, mine is not the only femininity. But this is the only kind of woman I know how to be.

A woman friend of mine recently went bald, and a couple of days later, fell off the bed and injured her newly shiny cranium. On the upside, it was easier to check for bumps.

“You do realise,” I told my bed-bouncing friend, “That your autopsy report will have the words, ‘jungle sex'”?

“What a great way to go,” she grinned (emoticon-ally, that is. World Citizen is just a euphemism for people whose entire social lives are conducted via technology). I couldn’t disagree – that’s exactly what a badass bald babe wants on her Wikipedia memorial page, anyway. I guess a simpering traditionalist like me, in the event that all other attempts at infamy fail, could just hang myself by the hair.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.