Opinion

Unpacking My Closet

Story By| Shawn 

Image credit| A Bigger Splash 1967 by David Hockney

I am unpacking my closet. Yes, I am. For weeks after returning home, my luggage sat in the living room unopened. Everyone who walked past that blue unsightly case, I assured them that, eventually, I will reckon with its contents. I assured myself, too, that I will reckon with the fact of having returned home—upon a weekend’s notice—after four slow years spent making another world, with the fact that my closet requires unpacking.

Here I am, then, unpacking my closet. The clothes smell of the detergent I used only in college; it smells nothing like lavender, which is what everyone in this house smells like. There are the large sweaters that I push to the back of my wardrobe, the plain t-shirts in every tasteful colour that I hang up and order according to some private chromology. There are the dri-fits that declare my every collegiate affiliation, those I keep within reach. Then, there comes the point in every initially-unremarkable unpacking that you realize, remarkably, how much more has to be unpacked. I remove a jacket, its cloth set alight with red and yellow flowers leaps—its gaudy brass buttons, the swerve around the neck, the frills—out like fire to the eyes. I file it in a stack of clothes—extinguish it—before the fire goes out of control. In this household, fires tend to go out of control.

I bought the women’s jacket from a thrift store in Omotesando. I don’t buy clothes because they are a women’s X, I buy a women’s X sometimes because they look like a men’s X. No one would do a double take—the tag on the X and I are in on a secret. This time, the women’s jacket would not keep her mouth shut. I bought it, shut it in my closet. I’ve worn it once or twice to an end-of-semester dinner. I’ve paired it with a pair of pink pants, red sneakers, and the black styrofoam protective wrap you see around wine bottles for an avant-garde visor. For two years, I have not brought the jacket home, nor the look. Like I said, my closet needs unpacking.

On the weekend we were given before heading, inevitably, home and to the rest of our lives, I spent most of it packing. I am guilty of hoarding, and Marie Kondo will not stop me. I keep every piece of ephemera because it reminds me of something, so the pastel cotton string that I got as a wristband to a queer performance is going in the luggage—although I’ve lost it now. But first, it goes into a pile on the floor, along with a flyer featuring the powerful Dr. Menaka Guruswamy—she led the fight against Section 377 in India, and was invited here for a lecture—a pin that says “The Gay Agenda,” pamphlets I picked up at Action for AIDS, boxes of contraceptives, whole reams of capstone drafts about AIDS in Singapore theatre, a roll-up of David Hockney’s A Bigger Splash, a set of make-up brushes in a Cedele cup…how could I leave these behind, Marie? But you can’t bring them back like that, I said to myself, so I slid the flyer into a book, dispersed my old drafts within other boring but hoardable papers, gave away the condoms (I had no use for them anyway, in these socially distant times), and asked a friend to keep the brushes for the time being. I decided that no one would understand the Hockney anyway, and found a place for it in my room.

There is something melancholic about it though, the Hockney on the wall. There is a big splash of foam in the middle of a swimming pool in front of a yellow diving board but no figure, no gangly limb. The swimmer underwater is implied only by the splash—a vivid white spray, the scene rendered presumably only milliseconds after he (as I imagine) slides below the surface. There is all the excitement, the athleticism, and the erotic charge of the dive, but no diver. I can hear the tight body slap onto the water, but see no tight body. All I am left to behold is the white spray—not the spring of the body, not the goggled boy in a swimming cap. Even the yellow diving board is motionless. 

Anyway, I digress, but I am still unpacking my closet. After all, I’ve spent all my teenage years hiding in it—surely I get a shot at an unbolted life in my twenties? And I have, in this queer world I have made with others where a dining table, and an academic lecture, and a bedroom, and a poster in the lift, and a rock climbing wall are all acts of intimacy. In these walls, I have scandalously scanned a page out of Eve Sedgwick’s Tendencies and attempted to circulate it like samizdat. I’ve walked into a room full of us, and believed I have walked into the general meeting of the most progressive, most criminally intimate political party. Heck, in these walls, I have unpacked my closet for politicians who claim to be the most politically progressive, yet still would not support the repeal of a most regressive law. Yes, we spend our twenties unpacking our closet, which is a metaphor for the education we receive here.

I reach the final articles in my luggage and everything has to find a home here. I am returning to a home where I have learned to rein this body in and be mindful of everyone else; yet, I am returning to a home ready to get to everyone in Zumba class, on the big screen. There are no occasions to dress up; many occasions to dress down then. The dining table is a dining table; I share a room with my brother. I let my guard down as to what I am watching on my phone, the topics we discuss at dinner. Somehow, the unbolted energy of the past four years is still in the air, and like the boy in the goggles and the swimming cap, I can’t see myself and I am swimming underwater and I am making steady strides.

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