While there are various aspects relevant to social identity, I have found gender and my cultural upbringing to be the ones I think about most frequently. From a very young age, I remember being expected to like certain things such as sports, the color blue, and cars. However, the color pink and an interest in clothes were deemed as weird and “girly.” As a result, I spent most of my formative years playing with hot wheels in bright-colored neon clothing from Under Armor, Nike, and Puma. As I got older, I began to question why these things were seen as feminine and a source of discomfort for many men. I took a greater interest in what I wore and the colors I chose to include in my wardrobe. I am personally very happy with the growth of my wardrobe and interests, but I can not say the same for the people around me. My parents often find some of my attire strange, especially when bold colors such as purple and pink are at the forefront. Nevertheless, their feelings of confusion are nothing compared to the clear discomfort felt by my relatives in India by certain articles of clothing. I remember my parents having to answer various questions about my sexual orientation and state of mind from relatives who were not used to seeing an individual of my gender dress a certain way.
Ironically, my cultural upbringing played an even more noticeable role in my childhood and continues to do so to this day. I remember being one of the only Indian children at my elementary school and seeing others make strange faces when I would pull out home-cooked meals from my lunch box. I remember feeling frustrated when hearing others complain about the smell and spiciness of my food. I also remember being embarrassed when I occasionally showed up to school with tikka on my forehead. As I got older, these feelings changed and I began to feel a sense of pride towards my culture. It was a privilege to be able to eat food from my motherland and to practice religious values that had been passed down for hundreds of years. At Duke, I’ve found a rich community of individuals who share my cultural background and celebrate traditional events such as Diwali, Holi, and many others. I am often reminded of my culture on campus and it has given me a way to connect with many peers.
Whenever I meet individuals with social identities different from my own, I try to recall the way I felt when I was younger. The feelings of discomfort and frustration due to the insensitivity others showed my culture impacted me for years. Additionally, in the context of gender, there are still moments when I feel uncomfortable with certain choices. I would never want to bring that feeling on another individual for choices they have made regarding their social identity. The identity they have chosen is a result of their upbringing, life experiences, and those around them. As such, I try to take the time to understand their unique perceptive and use it as an opportunity to grow my own.