A series of tweets about a lipstick-wearing boy who was lovingly supported by some family members after he was ridiculed by others is being widely shared on social media.
Diksha Bijlani, age 22, is from Allahabad, India, where she lives with her family. When her 9-year-old cousin, who, she says, is “effeminate” — a fan of painting his nails and wearing lipstick — came to stay for the summer, he became the butt of cruel jokes in a household she describes as “stereotypical alpha male-centric.”
So she decided to do something about it.
The boy, whom Bijlani affectionately calls “Little Cuz,” saw his mom getting ready to go out and tried on her lipstick. Lipstick is widely known as a confidence booster, but when you’re a boy in a conservative household, it can create quite the opposite effect: Someone in the house made fun of Little Cuz for wearing the lipstick, driving the boy to hide under his bed.
That’s when Bijlani and her 21-year-old brother sprang into action: They grabbed the same melon-pink shade and spread it on their own lips.
“We said, ‘Look, we’re all wearing lip color!’ He peeped out and saw my brother wearing it and he smiled,” Bijlani shared with Yahoo Lifestyle. “He saw my brother with it and the cousins around us clapping. So he slowly slid out from under the bed and posed for us too.”
Seeing the support of his family gave the 9-year-old confidence to come out from under the bed, and Little Cuz then began to confidently flaunt the lipstick to other people in the house.
Bijlani’s story has received overwhelming support online. “I feel content and uplifted to have shared this small act of thoughtfulness with those who may have still been looking for ways to undo the conditioning of gender binaries but unsure how to,” she says.
Nevertheless, Bijlani knows there is still a long way to go, even in her own family.
“There were mixed reactions,” she explains. “My mom was OK with Little Cuz wearing lipstick but offended at my brother wearing it.” She adds that the teasing from the other family members stopped, but no older men were at home when it all happened; they did see photos but did not comment.
Bijlani credits her passion to embrace everyone’s choices — regardless of binary gender roles — and her liberal mindset to her university education (she will start working on a master’s degree in public policy at Harvard University this fall) and the fact that oppression existed at every level of her life when she was growing up. “It began with a regressive convent school, to a small-town mindset to grow up in, to a patriarchal and gender-role-infused family. Most of it was my school, though, an all-girls school that was deeply homophobic to me and deeply limiting in my ambitions.”
Bijlani wants to send a message to other young folks like her, who are part of a conservative family but have developed more liberal beliefs: “The toughest fight you are going to be involved in is the one between your activism and your love for your family,” she says. “Choose the right way out. Choose the way you will not regret for the rest of your life. Choose the way you would want your kids to see. Freedom often comes at the cost of relationships.”
And as for Little Cuz? He learned a valuable lesson in not conforming to what society says he should or should not wear.
After the lipstick incident, Little Cuz picked up a pink bicycle. When an uncle ridiculed him, he had the perfect reply: “Gender is not real. Yesterday, elder brother and I wore lipstick with our sister. Ask them if you don’t believe me!”
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