Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer

Durga Gawde is a 25-year-old sculptor and an educator currently residing in Mumbai. They identify as gender fluid and pansexual. Full of love and joy, they wear a rainbow every day on their quest to sensitize people about genderfluidity. I met them at Mumbai Pride March 2018 and they were delightful to talk to. They prefer the pronouns Them/They/Their and we shall address them by the same and not with she or he. This is their story, a story of the gender fluid rainbow bearer.

You identify as gender fluid? Can you tell us more about it? What’s it like to be a gender fluid person?

Being gender fluid means that I sometimes identify as female, sometimes as male, sometimes as both at the same time and sometimes neither. Like the term, my gender is fluid like water and flows into each other. Sometimes there is more clarity about how I’m identifying at a moment. Most often, it is ambiguous and makes me feel closer to being human than when I used to try and force myself to fit the binary of male and female.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

How would you differentiate sex, gender, gender identity and gender expression?

Assigned sex is the term used for the body parts that you are born with. Some people are born with a penis, some with a vagina and some are intersex. Gender is a social construct. Like a list of dos and don’ts (usually) for males and females.
Gender Identity is the way one sees oneself, how one feels about oneself. Gender expression is how one expresses the way they see themselves and lastly, sexuality is who one is attracted to.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

When did you know that you were gender fluid?

From a very young age of 4, I would find myself looking in the mirror and wondering who I am and what I am. I would stare for long periods of time and see through the reflection of my body into my soul. If you think about it, each person can see almost all their body parts with their eyes except their face. We only see our face as a reflection our whole lives. The part of our body that we don’t see, is the same part that the world uses to recognise us. It’s quite ironic actually.

The way you feel on the inside is very very vital to our existence of being self aware human beings.

After I moved back to India in 2015, I had finished college in America at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). It was a very free environment where no one was expected to follow any kind of norms related to gender, sexuality, expression of any kind was welcomed and encouraged. It was a safe space to experiment and really find out who you are.  Only after I came back to India did I realise the box I was put into by society all over again. It was a nightmare honestly. After a while, I realised that I was dysphoric but not trans.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

I did not feel like a man all the time. My gender identity moved, shifted and everyday I experienced it differently.

It was quite confusing not only for me but for everyone near and dear to me. I decided to come out and live a life of truth without hiding myself.

The energy that it takes to hide one’s true self gets in the way of their intellect and potential.

Was childhood difficult? Were you bullied because you were not able to fit into the boxes that the society had created for you?

My childhood was very beautiful actually. I was a sports person and I loved to excel and win. I loved the feeling of being a champion. As puberty came along, my body started to change and I started to observe how people’s behaviour towards me changed. The way young boys and older men looked at me had completely changed. A lot of times their gazes made me uncomfortable and suddenly there was so much weight on my chest, physically and emotionally.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

I was expected to suddenly behave differently, to wear certain types of clothes, to grow my hair out. I started to lose myself and my reflection in the mirror started to scare me.

The older I grew the more disconnected I felt with myself. For about 10 years my reflection in the mirror just made me uncomfortable. The world around me would say that I was so attractive and I would get a lot of attention from men and sometimes women too. All I could sense was that my discomfort within made it difficult for me to relate to people around me who were also going through puberty.

There was something different about my discomfort. Something I could not put a finger on.

I became really depressed but I knew how to hide that really well. My family had no idea that I was going through all of this internal turmoil. I felt like I could not talk to anyone about it because I would just be called a freak or someone who is losing their mind. Honestly, I started losing my mind because I had no way to identify what was going on.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

There was no representation of it in media, there was no way I could even find out about the term gender fluid.

I tried to talk about my attractions to some of my friends in school but right after that they could not relate to me anymore and suddenly my close group of female friends became very distant. It felt like suddenly everyone was talking about all the things that I spoke to my friends about in confidence. It was heartbreaking but I still had sports to make me feel alive and my masculinity had some sort of an outlet.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

Your education abroad had a major role in you exploring your gender?

My education abroad played such a major role in me finding myself. Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) is a safe space for people to experiment and express themselves.

I went to an art school and an art school essentially is a place that lets you figure out how you express your thoughts.

It opens up and frees your mind to concepts that may not be explored in other fields. To be able to research in the sciences while studying the archaeology of Jerusalem to understudying the materiality of objects in the world, we were constantly pushed to pay attention to what we paid attention to naturally. I had the opportunity to work alongside and share spaces with people with so many different identities. Every single person even while being in some sort of discomfort, tried to express themselves no matter what. Every single person was so unique and committed to their uniqueness.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

Embracing one’s wild imagination and expression it is what artists do.

I learnt about fluidity through a transgender friend of mine. My friend told me about Ruby Rose and I started to look into it. For almost 3 years I read as much as I could about fluidity and dysphoria. But at RISD because of such an open environment, my gender wasn’t an issue at all. The way I expressed myself was just accepted so easily that it almost didn’t occur to me to think that I identified differently. Then I came to India and I was put in this “Indian girl box” and I just felt myself losing myself. Often I would think about everything that I found within myself at RISD and tried so hard to hold on to it but it was impossible while being in the closet.

Around a year ago I came out to my family and since then I have been able to be more myself everyday. It is still not easy. I am still in the “Indian girl box” for people around me.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

Are your parents accepting of your gender fluidity? How was the experience coming out to them?

My parents are wonderful souls who made me with only love in their hearts. They come from humble beginnings and are very rooted in Indian culture even though they are very open-minded and artistic. Coming out to them has been a process of a lot of ups and downs. Not only do they have to work on accepting me for how I identify but also fight within themselves all the things they have been taught about gender and sexuality.

Sometimes it’s exhausting to not only be their child but also have to educate them, but it is one step at a time with them. I know they love me no matter what and inspite of the ups and downs, I feel much more closer to them than before.

They support me in everything I do even if it means that they are confronted with their own ideas. Both of them actively make an effort to understand me and always push me to follow my heart. They stand up for me and knowing that they are there for me gives me great strength to do what I do. There are days where none of us is at our best selves but the fact that we love each other is the thing that brings a lot of strength to all of us to keep going and pursue our dreams.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

What pronoun do you prefer while people address you? What do you do when people address you with a pronoun that you don’t identify with?

I prefer the pronouns Them/They/Their. I try to correct people when they address me differently. It is difficult for people to use pronouns I prefer for me. I just have to be patient and correct them when I feel I should. I try not to let it affect me too badly but I am human and there are some days where it really hurts to hear she. When I first came out it did not affect me so much but I realised it was because I was just so used to people calling me a certain way that I didn’t care as much to correct them and I also knew it was an effort to constantly correct people.

I have come to realize the importance of using the right pronouns for people. When someone uses the correct pronouns for me it feels like the other person is an acknowledging my truth.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

That they are saying ‘hey I understand how you are comfortable and I will make an effort to make you comfortable with me by calling you the way you want to be called’. Imagine for a second the gender you identify with. Now imagine every single person around you referring to you with the opposite gender with every single sentence they speak to write to you, then imagine that you also are expected to sit, stand, speak, eat, and generally behave in the way that they expect you to. It is exhausting and most people who go through any kind of dysphoria just lose the will to live. So when one uses the correct pronouns for me sometimes it feels like they are fuelling my will to live, saying that, ‘there are people like you in the world and I see you and accept you’.

It has nothing to do with seeking validation from society, in fact it’s quite the opposite.

What do you think can be done so that people around us are sensitive to the differences in sex, gender, gender identity and gender expression?

Queer people need to not only be sensitive to each other but also bring together as many allies as they can. Connecting with each other on the basis that we are all human first before our gender identities, or religion or caste or race or whatever, we are human first. We are human when we are born and human when we die. There is more for us to learn from each other and our varied human experiences than it is for us to fight with each other on the basis of our differences.

What is between our legs should not dictate our place or role in society. Our thoughts, our actions, our intelligence and our honesty should be what dictates our place in society.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

What advise would you give to someone who identifies themselves as gender fluid?

Just know you are not alone. There is a network of gender fluid people online who help each other. Find someone to connect with on that level. The jokes are funnier with a gender fluid person. I have a friend called PK. PK also identifies as a genderfluid individual. I have never met them in real life or video chatted with them. In my time of need, I write to them and they write to me in their time of need. We give other the strength we need and remind each other of what is important and how we just have to deal with certain things society makes us face.

Finding a way towards understanding is important and I am grateful for PK in my life.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

What’s the story of the rainbow that you wear every single day?

In December I made an artwork for NH7 Weekender Pune. The artwork was called the rainbow revolution. I was dressed in a giant rainbow cape, my breasts were bound and I had a full beard. I kept talking to people about love and rainbows. It felt absolutely amazing to connect with so many people on the basis that we are all human. That day I was out in public. I did not feel a pinch of shame or discomfort for being who I am. I realised that the rainbow is not only a symbol to be used to talk about Queer identities. It is not a symbol to be only used during the Pride Walks.

The rainbow represents the spectrum of humanity. It represents pride. When I wear it, it makes me feel powerful and proud because I have accepted my truth unapologetically.

The discomfort that I face to this day becomes lighter. When I look down at my body, I see the rainbow and it reminds me to be proud of who I am. I am proud to be a queer gender fluid person. Most importantly I am proud of being an honest human being, honest to myself and the world.

Gender Fluid Rainbow Bearer - Durga Gawde - Queer Voices of India

To know more about Durga, follow them on @durgagawdestudio