My name is Zulfiqar Mannan and I’m from Lahore, Pakistan.
Ever since I was a child, I used to trail around my mother a lot because every thought I’d have, I would want her to be the first person I can discuss it with. Every time I’d see her wear an earring that was a clip-on earring and not one that required a piercing, and if she would put it back, I would always try it right after her. My mom was pretty lax with me, until obviously I got a bit older and she told me that it was better if I wasn’t, for example, taking her dupattas and making a sari out of it, or wearing her earrings on my ears outside of the confines of her room and whatnot.
I remember this one day I was having – my sister was getting ready and we used to play this WWE game and there used to be this one wrestler who used to do, like, a shit ton of makeup on his face, right?
To my sister, I was like, “Aba, would you do that make up on my face?”
She’s like, “Yeah, we can do it right now,” because we were in my mother’s room and all the makeup was there. While we were doing that – while we were in the process of doing that, my mother walked in. She did not immediately punish me or even sort of scold me.
Her inquiry was very much, “Why do you want to wear makeup?” And I was 8 years old then, 9 years old. I’m sure if I was asked that question today, I would have lots of complicated things to reply to with my mother that she might even be convinced by. But back then, I just remember thinking, I like makeup.
So in my senior year of high school, I was in the play Death of a Salesman. We were leaving rehearsals when I saw a senior student’s journal left behind. I was – I took it to give it back to them, but on the cover of the journal, there was this beautiful illustration but it said Yale’s the gay Ivy. And that’s the first time that I’ve figured – found out that Yale University – one of the Ivies that kids keep on talking about – also has this moniker of The Gay Ivy. A couple of online tours and YouTube video blogs later, I’m convinced that the haven for queer is somehow hidden at Yale University.
And so I remember me being entirely 130 percent convinced that I have to apply to Yale and get into Yale. Initially, I didn’t – initially I didn’t make it to Yale because they deferred my admission. And then God kind of pulled through and I made it to Yale during the regular admissions.
I remember I went to – I was in DC, staying with some relatives. This was the week before I came to Yale. I went Zara with my friend and I bought three things. I bought shiny silver shoes and a pink, baby pink, millennial pink MacBook case and a shiny silver bowtie. And so I wore those shoes my freshman orientation and it was very funny because within the international orientation group and within my group of close freshman friends, my silver shoes became sort of a big identifier for me because at night, people could see the silver shoes at a frat party and know that was me because they were really, really, really, shiny.
I love dancing and I would go to all these frats in the beginning of my freshman year and I liked going there but I realized that they liked the boy in me. They loved the boy in me. The frats were very nice to me. But they didn’t want anything else. The moment I wasn’t as boyish at they wanted, there would be skepticism. Eventually I found a co-ed group that there wasn’t much information about, but a lot of my friends – senior friends – were always saying that, “Oh, that’s the place that you’re looking for because you love partying but you hate frats.”
And the first 2-3 times, I had lots of fun there. But then there were some instances where a lot of the things that I just felt intuitively or wanted to say intuitively would be responded to with snickers of discomfort, of “Why would you say that?” or “You’re so extra,” or “That’s too much.” So whenever I did things that were girly or that were too much or, like, “Why would you wear those silver shoes? It’s just a casual chill party. What are you trying to show?” or “Why are you trying to dress up so much?”
After not getting into that frat and being almost too embarrassed to ever go back, I tried to make myself better. I dressed myself down. I stopped being as loud as I was. I stopped being as expressive as I was. I threw away my silver shoes.
I remember coming back sophomore year – and this was within the first two or three weeks of school – I was having a heart to heart with one of my friends, who is a queer man. He always felt super burdened by these expectations of masculinity and control and this being like a boy. While he believes that those expectations are patriarchal or sexist and contribute to the system, the privilege is too good, the reward is too tasty, the apple is sweet enough, that he never wants to lose it. And when he was saying this, I saw so much fear in his eyes. I promised myself there and then, within his eyes, that I will never let myself be fearful like that.
So that promise of fearlessness that I made to myself in this magical moment I kept the very next day. I had a French class at 9:25 am. I was up at 8:15, showered, ran to my friend Casey’s house, got her pink eyeshadow. I was like, “You know what? I’m a boy. Boys don’t wear eye shadow. Let me put on some goddamn eyeshadow and go to French class. So I wore this eyeshadow to class and the entire 50 minute class, I was very paranoid.
But at the end of the class, I was leaving and this girl, just on a casual way out, was like, “Oh, by the way, Zulfi, I really like your eyeshadow. Then I walked on to my other classes ready to shock people with my beautiful pink eyeshadow, as I’d been told.
And from then on I’ve just been experimenting with all kinds of, like, cosmetic or clothing stuff because I like art, I like colors. And I’d think oftentimes Yale feels like a little video gaming joke to me, so I treat the campus like a runway and I pull mad looks, left, right and center.
It’s not that I’ve always felt like a woman or a man. I just felt like the biological product of a human consciousness first. Before any of these things, I’ve just felt pretty goddam subjective. And I am regularly excited by seeing what that subjectivity does. I don’t think I’m going to ever let interests or wants or desires to be gendered ever again.
In 2018, there is a gay, queer, Pakistani kid who loves wearing makeup and is genuinely happy and fearless.