Friday, 2 June 2017

When men walked with/like women- by many authors

Why loiter? the movement in Mumbai celebrated its third year of existence by organizing a loitering session where men and women loitered on the streets wearing what is traditionally 'Women's clothing'. This walk is special because its inclusive and also because it beautifully passes the litmus test of the Why loiter? movement, that of 'the right to take risks' and 'the right to have fun'. By putting their male bodies in women's clothing in an aggressively patriarchal and homophobic society, these men were definitely risking a lot. But, they didnt let this deter them from having lots of fun too. This was the third such walk and I can say the men are getting more experimental with their attire, the route was longer and we had a lot more interaction with people on the roads than the times earlier. It is important to know how men feel when they break notions of masculinity in such a visceral and vulnerable way. It is truly brave of them to make themselves accessible to anyone on the streets, wearing women's clothing, knowing fully well how that attacks a patriarchal man's sense of masculinity and can even result in violence. Here are some testimonies of the men that participated in the walk. Read on. 


This had probably been the 6th  or 7th time, that I walked on the roads, wearing a woman’s clothes. Not that one is counting, but it only makes sense to keep an account of the silly little victories one manages to accomplish in a world which is otherwise more concerned with the real, pragmatic, solid, applaud-worthy victories.

Come to think of it, it was a silly and outrageous idea some 3 years ago when I had asked Neha Singh, my dear friend and founder member of Why loiter  to be a part of their ‘loitering in public places’ sessions. Since my gender automatically makes me ineligible for the politics of the movement, it was only natural that I push for some more silliness. Little did I know that she would agree. Little did I know that there would be so many other men who would join me in this seemingly harmless but gently persuasive social experiment.

Now that one has done some 9 shows of our theatre piece LOITERING (where I come onstage in a woman’s clothes), there is nothing new or uncomfortable about cross dressing. But the stage, or an auditorium has its own comforting cocoon. The real joy of actually taking the streets and engaging with members of public space who are curious, amused, provoked, offended, dismissive amongst other things is a different ball game altogether.

Right from little street urchins to people in their cars. From traffic policemen to the moonlighting transvestites. From coffee sellers on cycles to the people driving down to a 5 star hotel lobby for their midnight dose of caffeine – the range of an audience one gets here is simply mind boggling.

Invisible theatre is here to stay and I am ecstatic that there are some steps here which I can take fearlessly. I don’t need my producers approval of the financial implications of the show, I don’t need to sell tickets online or otherwise, i don’t need anybody’s dates or support. All I need is some women friends to lend me their clothes and join me on the streets. Offers anyone?

- Satchit Puranik, theatre maker, film maker, and has worked in five languages across different media. While India Today covered him in an article about ‘male feminists in India’, he is non committal about his real reasons for cross dressing and stepping out in public. Part fashion, part exhibitionism, part weather, part shock value – his essential reason is PURELY POLITICAL – to comfort the disturbed and to disturb the comfortable.

Walk Like a Woman is organised to draw awareness to the lack of safe public spaces for women. I participate not only because I align with this objective, but also because it allows me to satisfy a very personal desire- to express my femininity in public. For a majority of my life I subscribe to normative ideas of being a man, with respect to my clothing, behaviour etc. I would never walk out of my house wearing a dress or a skirt or a saree or a blouse, and dare to walk down the street by myself. I don't want to be harrassed, I don't want to be stared at, I don't want to be beaten up. There is security in a group. When Walk Like a Woman is over, and I have to change into my shorts and t shirt, there is a feeling of emptiness. I stop myself from going to a restaurant in a dress. Is it because I will be the center of attention? Is it because I haven't worn make up and haven't shaved my face, legs, arms and armpit hair and I don't look woman enough? 
The number of pressures we put on women on a daily basis is entirely absurd- no leg hair, no arm hair, no armpit hair, no upper lip hair, no nipple hair, no belly button hair. If a woman comes to work with no kajal on, (I have been guilty of this myself) she is asked if everything is ok and why she looks so tired/sick. I remember in college being repulsed by the girls who hadn't started waxing yet, and sniggering at them along with my friends. These friends were girls, by the way, not boys.

What all does a biologically male person have to do to be considered woman enough? I am reminded of Alok Vaid-Menon, a trans-feminine performance artist who identifies as both genders. It is very hard to watch them and not say, 'that's just a man in a dress.' Alok does not shave their(*) arm and armpit hair and did not shave their beard for the show I watched. Their performance very cleverly complicates the act of performing gender. In their poetry chapbook, Femme in Public, they write:
"Promise me that you see the femme in my hairy body...
Promise me that you understand that I wasn't just assigned male at birth, I'm assigned male every day walking on the street
Promise me that you understand that as a form of gender violence."

I wish I had kept a copy of Alok's book and given it to the men on the street who saw us and exclaimed, "Ladki hai ya ladka?" and (this is my favourite), "Zindagi mein kya takleef hai bhai?"

Alok sums it up beautifully:

"To the two men who yelled 'that's a man in a dress! That's a man in a dress!' while pointing at me on Sixth Avenue: 
I wanted to turn around and point back and shout:
'Hey everyone that's an insecure man! That's an insecure man! That's an insecure man!' "

"I have spent 25 years trying to figure out where man begins and where man ends and what I have discovered is that man begins only where I end. 
Let me be more explicit: Man begins when I end. Or rather: Man begins because I am ended.
Which goes to say in order for man to exist I cannot. 
Which goes to say one day I got so confident in myself I was no longer a man.."

(*): The pronoun they/their is used in place of he/she as a gender neutral pronoun.

- Vikrant is a performer and writer based in Bombay, whose work over the last few years has centered largely around gender and sexuality. 

I had never worn women's clothes in public. Of course my elder sisters dressed me up in their clothes for fun when I was a kid. But this was a first. The militant exhibitionist in me was excited but the 'man' in me who was raised in a patriarchal and gender in-equal set up was a little uncomfortable. I minded the tremendous attention, stares and hooting from crowd on the roads, but only for the first 10-15 minutes. Then came a strange sense of freedom and liberation from God knows where. It had me engaging with strangers. Some curious people asked and I was happy to explain the vision of 'Walk like a woman'. Some young boys on bikes hooted and whistled and I hooted back at them and they were amused. For the first time in my life I got a sense of what it must feel like for a woman to be eve-teased/hooted at. I was supported by a bunch of other ballsy men who cross-dressed in clothes borrowed by our female friends and we marched from Versova to Juhu along with hose women. We thus attempted to make a statement about gender-equality and dousing the shame attached to 'women's clothing' in general. I feel proud of myself for participating. And I feel grateful to Neha and her team for this wondrous initiative.

-Himanshu Singh, juggles between being a fashion model, acting in the theatre and making photographs. In his free time he loves to clarify the widespread and ridiculous misconceptions about feminism.

It cannot be contained by saying just an experience, for me it has beyond an experience. I first hand feeling of getting into the clothes of a women itself was difficult. But while it took some time to sync in I got comfortable when I meet other male into the same attire. Walking through and feeding on live reaction from passerby was little awkward , but all settled down in few minutes. Then it really did not matter who is feeling what, infact the feeling was how many are actually turning back to checkout what is happening. Overall it was a moment of truth for me and will always remain one of the special event of my life.

-Devashish Nandy, father, husband, media person, tennis player and 'experi-mental'

Apart from Satchit, Vikrant, Himanshu and Devashish, we had Dhruv Lohumi, Sumeet Thakur, Shawn Lewis, Saurabh, Manoj Gopalakrishna and Arpit Singh who participated in the walk. Watch out for their reflections in the next post. 

As the city, state, nation and the world gets intensely skewed in terms of gender violence, ignorance, pitting men against women and even refusing to acknowledge the entire spectrum of genders that exist, it becomes more and more relevant to include all genders in the walk towards women empowerment and gender equality. Thank you, all of you, for being the torchbearers of not just support for women, but also for celebrating gender, sexuality and beauty in all its vivid forms. 


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