The Eagle and the Mole
Avoid the reeking herd,
Shun the polluted flock,
Live like that stoic bird,
The eagle of the rock.
The huddled warmth of crowds
Begets and fosters hate;
He keeps above the clouds
His cliff inviolate.
When flocks are folded warm,
And herds to shelter run,
He sails above the storm,
He stares into the sun.
If in the eagle’s track
Your sinews cannot leap,
Avoid the lathered pack,
Turn from the steaming sheep.
If you would keep your soul
From spotted sight or sound,
Live like the velvet mole:
Go burrow underground.
And there hold intercourse
With roots of trees and stones,
With rivers at their source,
And disembodied bones.
- Elinor Wylie
“If you can’t love yourself, how you gonna love somebody else.” said Mayamma, the drag queen. She took her final bow to the thunderous applaud. As she walked to the green room, she remembered her Class Eight English literature course.
Mrs. Susan was concluding the discussion on ‘The Eagle and the Mole’. “Which of the characters in the poem do you identify with?” asked Mrs. Suzan. At that very moment the thirteen-year-old Alex knew he was born to be the eagle. He hadn’t a clue of how he would get there but he was certain that the magnificent eagle was who he was meant to be. Yet, his journey to discover Mayamma, his drag personality would cause him to embody the velvet mole and burrow into the depth of his soul.
Time passed by and in class twelve, the school announced the upcoming fancy dress competition. Alex felt a strong urge to participate. This would be his first time. “Who will you go as?” asked Jacob, Alex’s best friend. “Nagavalli!” Alex exclaimed without hesitation. Alex had just watched the Malayalam psychological horror film Manichitrathazhu. The performance of actress Shobana, as the protagonist Ganga and her schizophrenic personality Nagavalli had captivated him. Over the next few weeks Alex worked assiduously to design and create his costume, refine his dialogue and perfect his expressions. The character challenged him as a performer but his comfort in female attire puzzled him.
The Drag Queen:
At the performance Alex danced flawlessly to Oru Murai Vanthu, the movie’s soundtrack. His expressions captured the innocence and serenity of Ganga and the wrath of the blood thirsty Nagavalli. In the final climax to the performance a hypnotised Ganga, overcome by her alternate personality – Nagavalli finally extracts her revenge on the cruel Sankaran Thampi and then collapses. As Alex fell to the floor, the audience rose to their feet to applaud the exhilarating performance.
The performance was impeccable and Alex knew it. For the first time he felt electricity flow through his body. The act won him the first place in the competition. As he walked home with his certificate and brimming with excitement, he shouted “I won mother!” “They loved my performance.” His excitement knew no bounds. “You’re happy! Aren’t you?” said mother. But that was it.
In the years to come Alex would continue to pursue theatre, dance and music but as Alex – a regular heterosexual man. In time, he developed his skills as an artist but no performance electrified him the way performing Nagavalli did.
Alex moved away from home to Trivandrum to pursue a Masters in Business Administration. It was here for the first time that he went on a date with another boy. But, his religious upbringing caused him to deny the possibility of being queer. In 2012 Alex moved to Bangalore from Hyderabad for career opportunities. The performing arts continued to remain an essential part of his life.
Independent and fearless in the big city Alex opened himself to the city’s queer community. His experiences and sharing in the community gave him the courage to finally accept his identity as a queer man. In early 2014 Alex finally came out to his friends and family about this sexual orientation. His close and trusted friends were his pillars of support especially when his family took their time to come to terms with the news. This was a difficult time. But it marked the genesis of another journey.
The new found acceptance of his sexuality and an unexpected run of events with the movie Mrs. Doubtfire led to the birth of the gorgeous Mayamma. Mayamma was the missing piece to Alex’s persona as a performer.
In 2015 Alex, took the stage by storm. This time not as Alex but as Mayamma. The acceptance Mayamma received encouraged the already imaginative Alex to work tirelessly on developing and defining Mayamma’s personality. His journey of denial, experiments, discovery and acceptance of his sexuality aided in this creative process. Like the velvet mole, Alex had burrowed inward and outwards to understand the spectrum of gender and his own sexuality. He now better understood patriarchy, social expectations and oppression of women. Alex believed that Mayamma had to stand as an inspiration for those who struggled like him because of their gender or orientation.
Like Nagavalli, Mayamma was flawless. She owned the stage, rocked her saree and wig. She was gorgeous inside and out. She had heart, humility and sophistication. Mayamma inspired her audience to love their bodies and accept their imperfections. Her narratives exposed patriarchy and shed light on the endearing strength and power of women. At every performance Mayamma inspired courage and self-love. Her every dialogue bore the depth of her soul.
Now, back in the greenroom Mayamma smiled to herself as she took off her wig. She had arrived. She was the perfect gender illusionist. Queen of the stage. She was now THE EAGLE OF THE ROCK.
About the writer:
Chryslynn D’Costa is the co-founder of Serein, a consulting firm working on diversity and inclusion in the Indian workplace. We look at all aspects of diversity beyond gender like class, language, PWD and LGBTQIA. D’Costa wrote Alex’s story during her Masters program where she did extensive research on gender and sexulity education. She compiled a resource on stories that provide a lens to the spectrum of sexuality in India