"performative mudras for/from the (queer) diaspora" by Tara Miller
it’s getting close to bedtime and my friend’s mother says, Okay girls, brush your teeth, lights out soon. i’m six years old. apparently, i’m not ready for sleep. I’d love to, i say, But in my family we do a nightly Hindu ritual and I just won’t be able to get any rest until I perform it. Would you like to join me? being polite and politically correct in the way that well-meaning liberal white mothers often are, she says, Of course, and i lead the three of us — me, my friend, and her mother — through some hand gestures and squat-like positions i learned in my Indian dance class. i don’t remember this night at all, but i imagine i fell asleep satisfied, with the warm sense of purpose that swells in your chest when you feel like you belong to something.
chatting on the phone the next day, my friend’s mother tells mine that i showed them our
nightly Hindu ritual. What ritual? my mother asks, puzzled.
it’s my second year of college and a dormant political awakening is restless, desperate to
breathe itself out of the entrapment that is my body. still, I continue seeing the boy who,
casually in bed, said, “Dark girls, man,” let him be fascinated with my eyes.
abroad, i obsess over finding turmeric and ghee, leading my travel mates on a goose
chase through the extensive markets of Oaxaca until i spot a spice vendor who
points me to the third stall down the fourth pasillo around the second corner where
an old woman sells me the precious orange powder for twice the cost of my meal budget.
in my childhood Bharatanatyam dance classes at a makeshift studio in my teacher’s
perpetually frigid basement, we are taught to speak through abhinaya,
literally: “the representation or exposition of a certain theme,” derived from the Sanskrit
root ‘NI’ meaning ‘to convey’ or ‘to lead,” “a state of being or feeling.”
abroad again, i cuff my jeans in 100 degree heat, wear closed-toed shoes, absorb sweat rolling
down my back. like nodding a lot, like an unequivocal yes to more work,
like the half-lie answer to do you have a boyfriend: no.
no drips down my back, becomes one with my shirt, bra, hair, underwear, fingernails, skin
darkens and i apply more sunscreen. i tell myself i don’t want cancer.
i am halfway to the bus stop and i turn around, go home to get the sunscreen.
because i don’t want cancer.
later, my apartment’s white walls make me feel small, so i clean obsessively,
glance into my bag, see 55SPF decide: today, i’ll be an artist.
squirt whiteness onto my palms, finger its viscosity, appreciate the cool as i blend it
into plaster, kneading each bump further into the wall until it no longer drips away
doesn’t just linger,
India hates gays as my grandmother writes about the fruit trees growing outside her
apartment window, travels 32 hours, alone, in a wheelchair to sit for an eternity
in the dry California sun as i walk across the stage in rainbow glory. asks, eyes
full with apology, if it’s okay not to tell my grandfather because he quite simply doesn’t
have the mental space to fit it in his brain.
“Indeed, the Indian Penal Code of 1860, which was exported as a model by Britain to its
colonies around the world (and still forms the basis for anti-gay legislation in countries
such as Egypt), was a crucial tool in the management of empire and the control of new
populations. Anti-gay laws were imposed on massive, culturally disparate
territories where homosexuality had never been criminalized – or even treated as a
discrete moral crime. (Indeed, in colonial India, British officials were stumped by
castes of men who dressed as women.)”**
high school, i begin what will become a daily practice of lining my eyes with black
pencil, don’t bother learning how to pronounce kohl. or its history, origins. nine
years later i almost pretend to know the answer when a Hinduphile asks why i
pierced the right side of my nose, exhaust myself before the first breath, settle for folding
into my shoulders.
last week, i let go of previous preoccupations with the “where are you from” game.
now, drop ‘India’ after the second question. hope for meditations on the mix of my
blood—brown and gringa; respond to innocent inquisitions about yoga and cows
with a definitive ‘no’ even though last year yoga saved my soul and the one time
i tried beef i hated the taste and vowed never to eat it again.
**Wolf, Naomi. "A Rash of Homophobia – and Tyranny." The Globe and Mail. The Globe and Mail, 3 Mar. 2013. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.