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It wasn’t just that I was not seen as attractive (because that is subjective overall, color aside); it was that I was wholly invisible during that high school process of exploring sex and romance.My friends flirted, dated, and hooked up casually and significantly.I would spy him coming back from class and get the jitters. Everyone turned to do their own individual nitpicking before agreeing that, yes, Chaya does look a little weird. Sometimes people looked “less Indian” than other people. But the others seemed to understand something about the final comment that I missed.

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And it was like a stain that spread over the years.

Simultaneously, growing up in an affluent WASPy enclave of Westchester County and a school system where the only ethnic minorities aside from myself and a few Asian Americans filtered in from another district only after eighth grade, I experienced the opposite around my day-to-day peers.

A “you are like that, and that’s bad.” The concepts of good and bad within Indian society, particularly when it comes to women and girls, are built around virtue. This is widely known to be the case in India itself, where women’s lives and choices are largely restricted and controlled supposedly for their own safety.

But in reality, these protections are meant to hinder their sexual freedom, not ensure their overall wellbeing.

I was unaware of this at the time, but in not embracing what would have actually been healthy, human sexual experiences, I was doing the balancing act.

I was donning the mask of asexuality that Melissa Harris-Perry refers to in her book Sister Citizen when she says that black women throughout American history have had to conceal their true identities and desires in order to fight vicious stereotypes about their hypersexuality.

Then, a few years later and in a new place, when my sister told me that Indian girls who date black guys are sluts, which I sadly learned was indeed the popular perception, I remained a virgin, almost sitting out college hookup culture altogether.

In the segregated campus social dynamics, I had what a male friend called a “reverse reputation” in one circle, while the Indians still looked upon me as a bad seed. Because I hung out with the Alphas and went to “black parties” on the weekends.

And that external gaze is powerful: the invisibility desexualized me. Two, specifically, over four years of high school – not exactly like I rotated through all of the Harlem Wizards or something. Not exactly the stuff nice little Indian girls are made of.

I was brown; they were the other brown people around. But what’s more memorable and noteworthy than these actual relationships is what people on the outside believed about them, something that follows me to this day after a fierce drawn-out battle in adulthood with my family over a boyfriend, also black, whom I was with for six years and nearly married. I silently accepted the loud assertions that “Chaya loves black guys!

And when it came to white people, I think I continued to feel overlooked, but even this was changing.

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