Gender Diaries: Shriya Samavai
As the world continues to push against gender constructs, the conversation around how people are identifying themselves is constantly evolving. Each week, MILK.XYZ will feature a guest editor writing about their specific relationship with gender and, often, where it intersects with fashion. This week, we feature multidisciplinary artist Shriya Samavai.
I was walking down Prince Street the other day in a great outfit—baggy jeans, big winter coat, bejeweled cat eye sunglasses—and I saw a man walking towards me with a camera around his neck. “Excuse me,” he said as he neared me, and so I stopped, thinking he was a tourist and maybe I could point him in the right direction. “Yes?”, I asked, only to be met with a resounding “WOAH!”.
Confused, I asked again, “Yes? Can I help you?” He looked at me and said how he was shocked by the register of my voice. How “awesome” it was that my “voice was so feminine” but my outfit was otherwise. That I sounded “like a woman” but dressed otherwise. How cool that was, how novel it was to him. A girl who looks like a boy. Perhaps a boy who sounds like a girl.
I get sir-ma’amed a lot. This is when someone calls me sir, then calls me ma’am. Sir always comes before ma’am because people see me first, then hear my voice. Getting sir-ma’amed inevitably leads to many apologies. “Oh, so sorry! I thought you were a boy! Ah! I’m confused! Sorry!” And I have to be like, “No no no no it’s fine! I’m not offended at all! Sir-ma’am is actually my preferred pronoun! It works for a non-binary gender-nonconforming gender fluid person such as myself! Because I live somewhere in the middle!”
I mean don’t we all live somewhere in the middle? Or, don’t we all want to? Wouldn’t you be happier without imposed boundaries? Without unnecessary restrictions based off something as arbitrary as your organs? Wouldn’t we all be happier if we all were uniformly guaranteed safety no matter how we presented ourselves?
Tell me one good thing that has come from the gender binary. I’ll wait.
Middle school I had thick eyebrows that met like friends in the middle. Wore my brother’s hand-me-downs—a uniform of rec tees and basketball shorts. High school I dug in my dad’s closet for oversized flannels and rugby polos. Shaved the side of my head in a quest to find myself (and looked like Skrillex as a byproduct). Cut my hair to pixie-length and people would ask me at a football game or the fair, “Are you a boy or a girl?” I’d respond, “What’s it to you?”
I am mostly interested in not having anyone project their thoughts on to me. Who needs to be told they look like a boy but sound like a girl? Why can’t I just look like Shriya and sound like Shriya?
Still when someone asks me my preferred pronouns, I hesitate. I do use ‘she’ as I have been my whole life, but I like using ‘they’. I would also respond to ‘he’. I would also respond to anything else, so long as it was said with respect or affection. Sometimes I think I could develop my own pronouns. She, Him, They would become Shri, Shim, Shey.
Clare and I call each other Martin, Brother, Buster. Lo and I call each other Prince. We’re everything and we’re nothing and I’m unsure as to why we can only pick one set of words to represent ourselves. Ideally I would have no pronouns and people would have to say my name over and over again.
Shriya Shriya Shriya.