Creative Nonfiction

A Tale of Queer Sorrow Becoming Unabashed Queer Joy

A Queer Duality

Like most people who are different, we negotiate our sense of belonging from a pressing grain of normality. We derive at once joy from an identity positioned contrary to it and sorrow when that identity encounters the grain’s coercive direction. This is the duality of pride and shame that follows all of us. Joy and pride came to me during a time of deep shame and cutting sorrow, showing that we don’t often realize who we are until we confront what we aren’t.  

A Queer Sorrow

Shame lowered my eyes when I was with him, when I spoke to him, when I so slightly brushed his arm, and certainly when I glanced sadly at his girlfriend. 

In a single moment, I unheeded my reticence when his fluffy head fell on my shoulder, resting on a blessed drive back home from a debate tournament. As his warm presence radiated on my prickly skin, time itself melted away. We were in a car like a sun deity’s chariot, racing across the earth’s curvature, bursting with light. He was asleep, the next morning forgetting, as one does, the dreamy moments that flickered by as his eyes were closed. They were indeed closed, then and forever. 

I went to school the next day, talking, pretending like something wondrous didn’t transpire the night before, exchanging the feeling with you guessed it, shame. For me, the wonder of a first love was a secret, imprisoned by a towering wall, guarded by menacing watchtowers of confusion and fear. 

Confusion bred desperation: desperation to know what was going on with me, why I felt so warm and fuzzy, and so cold and barren, a shifting condition tied to a single person. I was frantic to grip firmly a slipping gray love, perpetually on the edge: on the edge of being discovered, on the edge of being lost, or worse, on the edge of becoming real and admitting the truth that it was solely my own. 

I pretended to be his closest friend, his best friend. But to me, my best friend was code for something else, a delusion of being both nothing and something more. I was caught between deep currents of pure feeling and shallower, whitewater rapids of a self-imposed normal, always threatening a head bashing if I didn’t right myself and steer the correct course. 

Fighting myself and incessantly battling a gushing broken pipe of emotion sapped me. Eventually, the tide of heteronormativity and, even more powerfully, unrequited love swept me away, slowly untethering my mind until all I had left were intimations of love. 

On one fateful morning, even those whispers left me. I remember looking away from the moment of heartbreak, away from the purposeful eye contact and composed body language to the sparks flying in my field of vision, feeling every sinew, every muscle holding, my eyes rip. Salty water quickly rushed to fill the collapsing potholes where my eyes used to be, as gently as it could, guiding them downstream to a shattered valley of despair. A babbling creek of love, which had turned the turbine of my soul, deposited me there, where I was petrified and expired among the littered fossils. That metal water wheel, which had milled every moment with him into sustenance, now grinded against the harsh, hard rock bed. 

A Queer Joy

The pain in the ensuing months felt like it would last forever, as if my reason to exist flew away like a sweet mockingbird, its mellifluous voice never again to mingle with my own. But the pain did subside, and the dear mockingbird did return. I ultimately glided towards a more complete existence. In the meantime, I convulsed constantly with random memories of him, evoked by the most mundane things: seeing the first letter of his name, seeing a similar hairstyle, living through political events (Donald Trump = President!) which I could no longer analyze with him, watching the last season of the Colbert Report and Jon Stewart’s the Daily Show without him to laugh with me. 

Eventually, in his absence, alone with my pain, I grew. I faced a reality where I had become a wisp of a person, a person contorted, exhausted, and ready to give up. To suppress wayward feelings, I also had suppressed everything which made me love in the first place: that peculiar attraction to boys (which he illustrated in every look, act, and pose), a devotion to intellectualism (which he oozed), a growing political agitation (which he inspired). With him no longer acting as a litmus test, casting a pallor on everything I did, I could reclaim these facets for myself. Losing him really meant losing, too, the constraints and scared moments that made the relationship with him a battle.

I confronted the loss not only of someone else but also of a particular self, a self that was a mask, a masquerade, a product of the battle I waged against myself. The resulting vacuum in my psyche was sorrowful, but it opened space for me to find out who I was. Someone I could be joyous about, recovering the same joy that had been sliced and diced into slivered sorrow by a pernicious knife handed to me. I realized the truth: I had been in love, not a simple love, nor an accidental love, but a love ordained by my very nature, endowed by a power beyond any appeal and certainly beyond any knowledge.  

I learned about a community who recognized this different capacity to love as an immutable part of themselves and as a source of sincere pride. The battle became an uneasy peace; the shame became a hesitant confidence. I came out to my mom and family. They accepted me, leaving behind everything that had told them otherwise. In June, the nation’s highest court recognized the legitimacy and worth of a love with which I had struggled and bore as a burden. A social muscle now reinforced a personal strength.

I went back to school after that summer, pink in my heart and skinned on the outside. I was exposed as something else – whether that something else was better needed to be settled. I made a solemn vow to never hide who I was, never be anything more or less than the truth. I made a new friend, a brother, Luke. We shared a common spirit. Our conversations and debates showed an abiding sense of who we were; a shared way of looking at the world. I realized through my interactions with him, a real friend, that the other person was not my friend. Otherwise, he wouldn’t have disposed of me; otherwise, I wouldn’t have wanted more from him. With Luke, our bond was exactly what it was, a friendship without interest or deceit. 

A Queer Beginning 

Lifted by a new friendship, I embarked on a journey that took 5 years to complete with astonishing results. Now I am writing 8 years afterwards; my fingers moving gracefully, purposefully, typing about a shame I used to feel, whilst wearing bright green, sparkly nail polish, fully gay without even a second thought. I don’t frequently think about what happened. Prior to sitting here writing this, before this precise day, I didn’t dare consider myself as someone who was self-repressed, after all I was born and raised in liberal Austin. But I was, indeed, at that moment in the past: a shame which like a conflagration had razed the life rooted on the red exterior of my heart. In the wake of its destruction, a green seedling sprouted. Over time and properly watered, it blossomed into a joyous sunflower, turning towards Queer Pride like it was a soothing Sun in the blue vastness of my imagination. 

Akhil Picture

Akhil Mulgaonker

Akhil Mulgaonker is a history and anthropology undergraduate student. He wishes to become a historian/scholar of disability and mental illness in colonial and postcolonial India. Akhil desires to capture difference and the multifarious ways 'different' people negotiate their identities and sense of belonging. \\ IG: @akhilmulgaonker