September 16, 2020
As I was helping my grandmother clean out her basement one Saturday afternoon, she handed me boxes of old clothes to throw into the dumpster. I was rummaging through one of the boxes beside the dumpster when I dug out my grandmother’s old red chiffon shirt. My sister was with me at the very moment I held it up to the sun and admired iridescent expressions of authenticity in its every crease and fold. In the seconds before I tossed the shirt into the dumpster, an action that would emphasize the shirt’s own ephemerality and give it its own sort of conclusion, I found radiating from its rich redness radical spaces for creation and possibility.
I knew I wanted it more than it wanted me. My sister sheepishly smiled and then walked back to the basement as I quickly tossed the shirt into my car.
A couple weeks later I posted on Twitter: “when you change into a chiffon blouse in a Grand Central Station bathroom stall and realize you’ve come alive.” I wore that blouse to the 2016 New York City pride parade.
This profound moment marked a significant shift for me away from the imperative of saying “I am precisely this” in front of my Indian grandparents to an interrogative of asking “what else can I become?” in front of a predominantly heteronormative public. It was about shedding layers of pretense and embracing a more honest, truer expression of self.
Yes, it was also a silent fuck you and a middle finger to binary social structures and to those things that sustain them. I subverted those structures that day by compelling my grandmother’s chiffon shirt to serve as the premise linking it to the very logical conclusion of myself, of my own gender fluidity and performativity.
Until that moment though, I only felt comfortable wearing dupattas. I wear dupattas around my college’s campus to address and bridge a certain gap between my biracial Indian-American identity while I simultaneously stretch and flex my own gender fluidity.
Being biracial, however, makes it is difficult to reclaim one’s own culture when you always feel like you’re appropriating it. Nonetheless, by proudly wearing dupattas and chiffon shirts I am not only strutting asymmetrical expressions of gender around my campus community, but I also have begun to, in the words of Judith Butler redefine, reverse, and displace the originating aims of “the closet” and the “gendered” clothes that hang inside it.