constructing gender

by Sarosh Nandwani

you, a small brown Muslim girl, are too early in age to understand how your demands are unladylike, and why the boy in class asked you if you were going to kill everyone. the only other brown girl in your elementary school class is Sikh, and your classmates poke fun at how the oil makes her long braids smell. smart and quick, you both demand space.

drama class is taught by a white woman with wavy blonde hair, and she tells the class they need to audition for the position they want in the play — it’s about Alexander Graham Bell and his partner, Thomas Watson, and would be narrated by four angels wearing white dresses and standing off to the side.

nervously, you jump into your audition with a clear voice and all the feigned confidence your 10-year-old self could muster. an angel, of course. you want to be an angel. what little girl doesn’t? you want to be in the white sparkly dress with the fake white wings and a glittering wand, standing a few feet above everyone else, telling a story about a telephone.

but you are darker, and less pure. you and the other brown girl.

casting announcements come out, and so do small flecks of body hair. unacceptable on only you. camille, your classmate, walks around in short shorts and hairy legs, the white-blonde hair blending with her skin. you walk around in full pants, and then to a waxing salon a few years later.

your costume is a white button-down shirt, a black suit, a black tie, a mustache, and a top hat, with black dress shoes to match. hers is too. you both stick on your mustaches, put on the hats that fall to your eyebrows, and walk onto the gym-converted-stage.

the angels are already there, prim in their white dresses and white skin, standing a few feet above everyone else, telling the story of how you and the only other brown girl, made into men, invented a telephone.

(it is years later and you still lack the white femininity you crave. your legs are hairy, you hate shaving, and your sideburns grow back every week. you are thicker, unruly-haired, dark-eyed. oh, the world, how it turned you meek. perhaps you were made into a woman after all.)

Sarosh Nandwani is a mechanical engineer & anthropologist, and is particularly interested in the overlap between those subjects. She loves experimenting with her curly hair. She is a reader for the Longleaf Review and Anomaly Lit. Twitter/Instagram: @saroshnandwani 

Photography by: Feliphe Schiarolli