We used to kiss in empty corridors, empty classrooms, & empty spots in the school backyard. We used to spill giggles into each other’s mouths wherever we would find spaces empty of light until— ‘empty’ became associated with ‘unsafe.’ 16 December, 2012. ‘It’ used to be a shadow in the back of our minds, a chill down our spines whenever we would dare to think of it; but unimportant otherwise. ‘It’ was the fear of harassment. Unwanted touches, & unasked for stares. ‘It’ was the fear of not knowing what to do with your skin; how to shed it off. 16 December changed that; 16 December made sure that we would feel the ants crawling under our skin with every centimetre our bra’s strap fell. 16 December, 2012 changed a lot of things.
I was in grade iv & in love with the boy. That morning, there was a heavy pall over the school. He asked me if I had watched the news. We were eleven & in grade iv & news at that time was associated with ‘politics’ & ‘politics’ with something that happened to other people, something boring. We were privileged & oblivious & he asked me if I had seen the news & I said- no. He laughed, & called me a fool. I asked him if he had; he said, “Who wouldn’t, when the news was so scandalous.” 16 December, 2012 completely changed how we viewed empty corridors, empty classrooms, closed curtains on school buses— & the boy called it “scandalous”. A tabloid headline: something that caught eyes & left you with dry mouths & dilated pupils— “scandalous”, meaning “interesting”.
It happened before that, & it happened after that, but now we knew. Every eleven year old & their teachers & their parents & extended families knew that it could happen to one of us. Boys knew what they could do to one of us. It wasn’t ‘interesting’; it was terrifying. I was requested & threatened & bribed by my parents to not step into another empty corridor ever again. It changed us.
Fast-forward to grade viii & we knew about crushes & love & boys & how those things come together. We knew of sex as magazines snuck into school bags & code words & something that happened to adults. We were fifteen, & we all wanted to be adults. So we lied. We lied to our teachers about where we were during Maths class; & we lied to our parents about who was calling at 21:00 on the landline on a school night.
Looking back to grade viiii through grade xii; it’s disconcerting. Our parents did good with the hand they were dealt. How do you explain to a child that, baby, I want you to have the world, but unfortunately the world is not good enough for you? How do you explain to an eleven year old, a fifteen year old, the sheer expanse of your fear? Where do you find words soft enough for their tiny mouths to swallow?
I was xvi when the boy I liked called me a slut, & I hit him. His father was called to the school, & he proudly declared that it didn’t matter what his son might have called me; I hit him. How dare I hit his son. He went away scotch free, & the next time I saw him, he winked at me. I was xvi when I realised that hitting someone is always wrong; but sometimes, words can hurt much worse. But, no one cares about wounds that don’t spill blood. We are a breed of animals who learnt how to use numbers & our words; but at the end of the day, we are animals, & we love spilt blood.
Grades xi through xii were all about spilt blood. Girls sashaying around in two-third buttoned white shirts, & collarbones framed with grey-striped loosely tied ties— as the Head Girl, I could never decide whether to report them to the teacher in-charge, or ask them out for coffee. Most often than not, I did neither. We spent our teenage years in an age dominated by cat-fights won through Instagram followers, & scales of coolness broken through Snapchat views. I think it was both harder & easier to grow as a queer kid in India in these times— we knew watching girl x girl porn is not unholy, but in an age where crushes are whimsical & chosen on the basis of mutuals, how do you tell the girl she is holy?
& so, we spilt blood at the altar of choice.
It’s grade xii, & we have known of sex for four years now. The coolest ones among us have chosen to sneak behind washrooms & to blind spots, & spill giggles into each other’s mouths. (God, I hope you laughed when you chose to make love. I hope you laughed & smiled & crashed & flailed— I hope you didn’t let the monotony of choosing to make love over & over & over again overwhelm you.) We were eighteen, & we were on the edge of falling face-first into the golden light, or something, that looked a lot like golden light. So we lied. We lied to our girlfriends about where we were last night, & we lied to our best friends about not being in love with them. We lied, & held onto our truth tighter.
16 December, 2012 changed how we viewed ‘choice’. & ‘choice’ became associated with ‘consent’, & ‘consent’ became associated with a thousand-new definitions of no, but not one that spelt it the same way ever again— Don’t try to fix something that’s not broken, dear. We scribbled a thounsad new definition of “no” until “no” became replaceable with “she didn’t say no.”, which became further replaceable with “yes”. When I walked through the gates of my school as a student of that institution for the last time, I knew I would be walking out into a world where the act of consent & the privilege of choice are forest-fires & at-the-edge-of-my-fingertips & holy; not because they are the truth, but because we have digressed back to an era where only the men in power hold them in their lungs. They know it to be true in their every breath, & their every utterance.
Today, I’m xviii, & in love with the boy & the girl. That’s my truth, & that’s the altar on which I choose to spill blood.