Caught between two worlds: A bisexual girl's story
Editor's Note: In the wake of the Section 377 ruling, LGBT visibility has been at an all-time high in Indian media. But it's worth noting that even now, perhaps especially now, many LGBT Indians are still unable to come out. And within the community, some are more invisible than others. This is the story of one such person, a bisexual woman, who wishes to remain unnamed.
I'm from your average South Indian second-generation urban middleclass family that expects a centum in maths, saves funds to pay for my education rather than my wedding (MS, not Mrs, as an uncle jokes).
Traditional doesn't mean a prudish attitude. I grew up hearing all sorts of sordid tales of the female reproductive system from women in my family, because, apparently, the grandmothers who urge everyone to procreate are rather knowledgeable about the whys and wherefores and how, and have little else to talk about. Safe sex and STIs weren't novel western concepts to me, as a result.
But given all that knowledge, I wasn't really the experimenting sort. Casual sex was something we watched on Friends and were content leaving it there. Our world was the JEE, sitcoms, 'NSync, where to find Preity Zinta's crinkled Lakshya skirts, and maybe some ogling at the fine young men from the all-boys college down the street.
So now that we've established that I'm not your local pervy edgy loose forward pubgoing woman who is against tradition, but is also not your jasmine-flowered, anti-Western Cultured innocent lass, let me get to the crux of the matter.
Sixteen-year-old me denied her feelings towards other women for the longest time until she couldn't anymore. I found myself hiding from other women for fear that I might betray my feelings. A wrong brush of the hand, a wrong glance, and I feared I would be shunned. It didn't help either that everyone liked making lesbian jokes. The Isha Koppikar starrer Girlfriend had made the idea of the pervy lesbian (who needed counselling to get straight) popular.
Maybe, I reasoned, maybe it's just because I am not meeting many goodlooking men. Maybe it's because a boy broke my heart lately. My best friend, who I confided in said it might just be a phase, like for the protagonist of a Sidney Sheldon novel. Maybe it's just that women's bodies are so sexualized in the media, that when you see a woman, you are reminded of sex.
Finally. 'You've never been with a man, so hold off your judgement on whether you're a lesbian or not'.
That should have calmed me down. But it didn't. I grew more anxious. I felt claustrophobic. Strained. I felt like a filthy pervert who couldn't think beyond people's bodies. I hated myself.
And there wasn't anyone I could speak to regarding this. My best friend, though supportive, was kind of dismissive. My parents would freak out and wonder where they'd gone wrong. My female friends would squirm and gossip. My male friends were outright homophobic.
Not that I wanted to speak to anyone. It felt like speaking it out would somehow make it real. And I still needed to figure things out. Even in the unlikely incident of being wholly accepted if I came out as a lesbian, I didn't want to do that; I really did also like men.
Besides, where would I look for like-minded people? Today there are a million fora on the Internet. Pre-PageRank however, the Internet was a shady place. If you googled for gay folk, you'd only find a zillion pages of profiles of people on some hookup forum. And would I want to talk to anyone? I didn't think so. Back then, the LGBT activists on TV were so defensive and aggressive that I feared (maybe irrationally) they'd convince me I was lesbian even if I was not.
If only I'd known of the word 'bisexual' then, it would have made my life a lot easier. But that would take a few more years.
I moved to the United States for higher studies. We were told counselling and therapy were free at my university. I decided to walk in one day. The kind lady heard out my concerns, didn't interrupt or diagnose. She told me that the term wasn't just 'LGBT', but 'LGBTQ', where Q stood for 'Questioning'. I had an identity. She matched me up with an LGBTQ buddy, who turned out to be an older lady with children.
In the months that followed, my buddy told me about her own coming to terms with being a lesbian after two children, what her identity meant to her, and things like that. I met many people in the community, talked to them about their experiences, and attended many events. Not once did anyone try suggesting to me anything about my identity. They only said it's my journey and my job to figure stuff out.
I grew less guilty about my feelings for women. The voices in my head asserting that I was a pervert calmed down; I had met way too many ‘normal’ people of varied orientations that I couldn't consider myself any less normal anymore. Heck, my department's dean was out and proud.
And just like that one day, while at an LGBTQ event, I remarked to someone that I was bisexual.
Since then, I've worked towards coming to terms with that identity. I worked in a relatively LGBT-friendly city. I sought out other bisexuals like me. Most of them weren't 'out and proud' like those activists I saw on television. They were white, black, hispanic, Asian, young, old, married, single, what not, and they still had the same concerns as I did - do we come out to our parents, (when) do we come out to someone we've been seeing, reasons for obscuring our identity at work, how to seek out others like us.
Of course, my struggles are far from over in the US. I still see people get discriminated against for their sexuality. It is as simple as insubordination stemming from lack of respect. It is as gruesome as attacking a woman walking back home from the Pride parade. It is as common as casual 'fag' jokes, and being someone who passes for straight, I hear a lot of them. There will always be bigots.
The difference between the US and India? In India, the law is on the side of the bigots. In the USA, I can sue and win for being discriminated against. In India, I'd probably be harassed legally if I were to speak up.
That's not all the damage Section 377 does.
As a bisexual, I face discrimination from both the gay community as well as the straight community. I'm either seen as liking girls for attention or because I'm a homosexual in denial. And everyone failing to understand that just because my love knows no gender doesn't mean I'd never get enough and resort to promiscuity. These are issues bisexuals worldwide face.
Section 377 makes it harder because it gives LGBTQ causes a stigma that makes conversation and education that much more difficult. My parents and I have always been close, and I want them to know what it feels like to be me. How do I do so without their being traumatized about their daughter's "lawbreaking" and "mental illness", and panicking about my safety? It is very easy to call my parents intolerant, but in their time they were pioneers too, campaigning against dowry, supporting intercaste and interfaith marriages, and generally being loving, just and kind people who just want their children to be safe.
The other issue with calling people like my parents intolerant here, is that we are alienating them as a whole. No narrative seems to validate how they feel. In doing so, LGBTQ issues will always remain a remote western import. It bothers me that we don't see enough homegrown pro-LGBTQ movements, we're only aping the West. That's a problem for people like me. I don't buy the idea of casual sex, nor do I want to hurt my parents. I completely understand how hard it is for my parents to stand in the face of so much hate and questioning from society in their twilight years, and it isn't fair to subject them to that.
Down the line, I'd just probably marry a man, one who's okay with my identity (a tall order unfortunately), and be no less happier than I would have been with a woman. And probably be out only to my spouse and a few friends who don't think my sexuality means my husband is cuckolded. I'm lucky that I don't have to rock the boat too hard to find happiness.
So why am I writing, you ask? Because I think it's important to put the idea out there that there are many different kinds of Indian people who are LGBTQ, and we all come to terms with our identity in different ways, and we don't all have to be rebels, or subject ourselves to experiences we aren't comfortable with to solidify our identity. And that it's okay to put other concerns over your sexuality if you want to. That the problem is not with you in not rebelling, but with society that makes it so hard for you to be yourself.
I dream of the day when Shaadi.com offers same-sex partner-seeking options and where people don't have to jump through so many rings of fire - societal, political, legal - to just be themselves.
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