From Grandpa’s Sweaters To Grandma’s Scarves: “What I Really Wanted Was What My Grandmother Owned. I Wanted To Be Her.”

by Alek Chandra

So, my name is Alek Chandra and I’m from Milford, Connecticut.

When I was 10 years old, it was around Christmas time, and I am at my grandmother’s home, so my father’s mother’s home, and she’s from India. As my grandmother and grandfather pass out gifts, I received mine and so does my sister simultaneously. And we’re asked to open our gifts together and when I open my gifts, I have to really force a smile and a sense of happiness and joy when I open up and receive a gift that is a sweater. And I remember vividly as well that the sweater is also one that my grandfather has as well, so it’s just a size smaller. So it’s exactly the same thing so I can show up to his house and around town with him in identical sweaters, like we’re a mirror image of each other. So that was around 10 years old, and that would happen every Christmas around the holidays. What I really wanted was to get the gifts that I most desired from them, which was what my grandmother owned. I wanted to be her.

So, fast forward and it’s spring time, you know, and she lives on a hill in Orange, Connecticut. We’re in her basement lugging things out because she wants us to finally clean her basement. She’s the type of person that every year says she wants things done but is a huge procrastinator. So this time, she had ordered a dumpster and it was like all of us gathered together because we knew this was probably the only time we can get things done. So my father is giving me things to stick into a wheelbarrow to bring to the dumpster.

So I’m by the dumpster attempting to throw things out, but something inside of me is telling me to go through the bin. So I’m going through a bin and I realized, oh my god, there are so many fabulous colors, I love it. There are the saris and the shawls and the scarfs that she’s worn in the past. She’ll never wear – obviously not, they’re going into a dumpster. Let me reclaim them. Let me recycle and reuse them.

My father, I remember, calling me multiple times while I was taking my time going through a lot of the clothes, being like, “Alek, where are you? You know, we need to keep this moving. It’s time to keep going, you know, we have other things to do.”

And I’m there at the car going through a lot of that stuff very covertly, being like, “I’m on my way. Don’t worry about me. Keep going.” So I was throwing things in the back seat and putting it on top – beneath a lot of other materials in the car.

After I graduated from college, I was on campus for a year. That’s around the time, right after actually, that springtime when i was cleaning things out from my grandmother’s basement, that following year Is stayed on my campus to work. Every time i was coming home, because it’s about an hour from home, I was changing things up a little bit. You know, painting my nails. I was doing that while I was away from home, but I figured home should also be the place for me where I feel most at peace.

What I did then, from that point forward, was that I would be in my room at home, whenever I would come home, to try on these clothes, to stand in front of my mirror, to say that this is the direction I need to be heading, I know there is more work I need to for myself to become more full, but this felt right.

So I was coming home, just started with my nails being painted. My father would look at me being like, just kind of like taken aback and we have a conversation of, like, you know, this is how I feel comfortable, this is how I express myself, this is what I like, this is what I love doing, this was what I need for myself, for once. I need this.

He’s like, “Okay, but it’s gonna take me awhile.”

I said, “As long as it takes, let me – I’m not pressuring you.” On the following instance then, I’m coming home wearing more women’s clothes and telling my mom that I feel more comfortable shopping in the women’s section at stores than I do the men’s. She’s also taken aback.

My father and my mother would talk at night, you know, when I was at home and they would have conversations about how I wasn’t their son anymore, you know. That’s what they said to me one time when I was home, you know, after I had my blouse on and my nails are painted.

And I said, “You know, I will always be your child.” So they were very happy and joyous when I started to comfort them and give them the time and the space that they needed to really come into their own. Every so often, I was coming home having these conversations with my parents about my gender. I felt more comfortable that way. They started to see it and started to realize that this is who I was and this is who I was going to become.

When I went home even for around the holidays this year, I showed up with my father at a grocery store in Connecticut, in Milford, Connecticut, where I’m from.

Some folks stared at me but a couple of people went up and said, “I love the way you look. I love the way you dress.”

My father, what he did – and I’ll always remember this – kind of went a few steps ahead of me and started smiling and then came back and was like, “You know what? I’m very proud of you.”

I’m like, “Why?”

He’s like, “For you to be able to show up in such a space as unapologetic” – those weren’t the words but kind of what he was saying – “You know, I could never have done that.” So he was proud of me for being able to just show up and show out. To see him still love to stick by me through this and be a part of this experience, to bear witness, meant so much, because I knew that he was kind of going along his journey simultaneous to mine.

This past Christmas, I remember as Christmas morning rolls around, we’re all kind of – as immediate family, my grandparents aren’t there. It’s just my father, my mother, my sister, myself and our dog. And I’m opening gifts not getting what I’m wanting. You know, I’m like, at this point thinking to myself, just get through the day.

As we near the end of opening presents, there are two that are left. I opened the gift. It was just a tote bag. It wasn’t even an elaborate type of thing. It was just a nice tote bag that I really wanted. I sent her the URL. It was black. It’s one of those feelings where you feel overjoyed because you feel like what you’ve asked for, you’ve gotten, and who you are is being affirmed. And that’s what it felt like in that moment.

And I thought, oh my god, let me hide this as quickly as possible from my father. My father also didn’t care at that point in time either.

He was like, “Oh, I’m glad that you got your gift. I hope you like it.” I’m like, oh, wow, so he was also affirming in many different ways.

If I were to tell a younger person or even a younger version of myself what I know now, to not worry as much, to let them know that it will eventually work out, that you have to sometimes in the most difficult of circumstances articulate what you really want and sometimes demand it in the most powerful way possible in order to be heard.

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