The abrupt transition from boyhood to my teenage years did not go quite the way I expected. My voice broke, and I sounded unpleasant and croaked. I felt uncomfortable in my skin as my own body imposed adulthood on me. The newfound independence that came with growing up, however, was undeniably enjoyable. I realized that the first time my parents let me stay home without them one evening.
The house did not feel much different without them, perhaps a little less stuffy. My parents usually talked very little, and I had no complaints about that. As I reached to turn off the lights and call it a night, the overpowering smell of my mother’s perfume struck me. The intoxicating floral accents flirted wildly with my senses. I stepped in to my parents’ bedroom, something I had not done for a long time, at least not in their absence.
Growing up, I would lie down in my mom’s bed watching her apply her magical makeup in the most immaculate way. The transformation was mesmerizing, like a queen, a glamorous actress getting into character before appearing onstage. I never asked my mother why she put so much effort into her appearance, but I thought she deserved to feel beautiful. I was there when she needed help clasping a necklace or straightening the pleats of her sari. I loved how her eyes would become lively as she applied the thick, smoky line of kohl. I watched with amusement as she inched closer to the mirror and stretched her eyes wide open to examine her handiwork. She would sometimes steal a glance at me. “Should I do your’s too?” she giggled at me, and I laid there blushing, feeling a strange sensation within myself.
Being all alone in the house made me feel mischievous and daring. I saw a glossy magazine lying in one corner of my parents’ room. This was as rebellious as I would dare to be, to pick up a magazine that was inappropriate for my age. On the cover was an actress I recognized instantly. Her demure looks, her sense of ease with her voluptuous body, was nothing like the character she plays in the afternoon soap operas. The photo seemed to be her outlet to rebel against the orthodox characters she played onscreen. All around her were captions about how to slim down for summer, the latest fashion trends and secrets to eat well and to keep your man happy in bed. I don’t know what I was hoping to find, but when I looked up, my face was flushed red in the bedroom mirror.
I was transfixed by a centerfold of a perfume advertisement. A woman and man posed together in a tastefully seductive embrace. Her deep, dark lip color and matching nails spoke to her power and confidence. She had the fire and passion to control the handsome man. With his untidy hair and stubble he didn’t seem like he was enjoying himself, but he did not have much choice. Her perfectly pedicured toes in sexy stilettos stamped him down. I was entranced. I opened my mom’s closest to admire her array of cute shoes for every occasion and color.
I convinced myself that I was just being curious in an innocent, secretive way. A pair of black high heels seemed to be calling my name, but I feared I would fall over if I were to put them on. I picked up a pair of aqua wedges. They looked pretty, and also exuded just the right amount of flirtiness. I loved how feminine my toes looked peeping out from the delicate shoes. They were not painful at all to wear. Suddenly, I found myself sifting through my mother’s vast collection of clothes and makeup, adorning myself with whatever felt right.
As I swirled my body around in front of the mirror, I was startled to see my reflection. The added touch of color to my lips and the deep red bindi on my forehead transformed me into a different person. I had donned a beautifully embroidered shawl, one that I knew my mom loved. I felt the boldness and strength of the woman in the magazine. It struck me how my relatives used to say that I have my mother’s face. That day, I saw a bit of her beauty in me.
I understood my mother’s urge to transform every time she would leave the house on a special occasion. Maybe like me, she liked what she saw in the mirror – a reflection of herself in the way she wanted to be seen. In the transition to adulthood, I may have lost my innocent voice, but I was proud of the secret power I gained to express myself.
Sandy is a Desi grad student, who has traveled far from home in the pursuit to discover his own identity as a genderqueer. When he is not rebelling against the world or his family, he likes to reflects back on his funny episodes of crossing cultural boundaries in a not-so-secretive way.