Okay, so it’s taken me 35 years to ‘get’ that I’ve always liked women. While it’s one thing to be a late bloomer (that could be cute sometimes, in the ‘awww, really?’ way)… it’s a completely different thing to be a total tube light. But the news is: this tube light is now ON (the ‘CEMA bulbs aur tubes’ TV commercial flashes before my eyes, with Sridevi in her tight frilly costume, and the entire jingle threatens to stay on repeat in my blank white mind).
Though it does little for my self-esteem, I’m kinda hoping that writing this is going to have some pseudo-cathartic effect on me, without having to pay any shrink a dime. I mean it’s not like I have a problem. I HAD a problem, several in fact. But that’s all in the past now, and it would be interesting to see if there are others who went through similar stuff, which is why I’m writing this here. Look forward to your responses.
So, as it happened… my mum died – suddenly, impossibly, unbelievably – just before I turned 16. Nice age to take off. Nice age to come crashing down. I chose to take off, and came crashing down anyway. I’m amazed I can actually write about that phase in this detached way now, because the truth is I was in shock for the first ten years after it happened. I didn’t go through the ‘normal’ stages of grieving and a devious part of my mind took over and decided it was all a bad dream. So I grew up overnight to fill her ‘large’ shoes in the joint family that she had held together all those years. I tried to be a companion to my father, a mother to my brother: the intervener and resolver of conflicts; the shopper for groceries, cleaner, cook and manager; the upholder of faith and hope; the pillar of strength; the half-baked child-woman.
Of course it didn’t help any that the joint family was soon split in two, right through the middle, though we were staying under one roof. A home that had echoed with laughter and love was now riddled with mistrust, hostility and aggression. To cut that short, it was a terrible time and I was intensely lonely. My father, brother and I never wept together, never let on that we missed mum unbearably and we all cried silently late into those nights, waking up with wet pillows and heavy heads – afraid that the slightest show of emotion would set the others off. Perhaps that did a lot of harm. We needed to grieve. We needed to console each other. We needed to be children with a father, we needed a sense of family, but we ended up being three adults, each coping on their own in the dark.
I entered my first year of junior college, and was instantly drawn to one of my professors. She and I became very close. I sought a replacement for my mother; she was nurturing and kind enough to fill some of that space. But soon, attraction reared its ugly head and I found myself wanting more… I wanted to touch her, wanted to be held, wanted to kiss her. In my heart it was purely an extension of the nameless bond I felt with her. Physical intimacy seemed to me like the natural next step in the relationship, an innocent expression of the love we felt for each other, and yes… devastation began right about then.
Of course that ended miserably. I was bruised and broken but my search continued. For more than a decade after that, I searched and searched some more. I was always drawn to older women. I had left childhood at the door like hastily discarded slippers when I stepped into sudden adulthood. I was comfortable with silence. I didn’t need small talk. I could introspect deeply and had developed a keen awareness of my inner world. I enjoyed conversations with older folk, and could hold my own. I could understand ‘adult’ concerns and read emotions sensitively, and could also offer advice. Boon or bane, I have yet to figure out.
With all the women I met, this pattern repeated itself – I brought out the ‘mother’ in them, they gave unstintingly. I reciprocated as any good daughter would, but sooner or later the water would turn muddy: attraction would sneak in, uninvited. I could never understand it. Was I naïve, or plain stupid? I was idealistic and unconventional. I despised labels and definitions. I was at ease with fluidity and vagueness – in my mind, relationships could not be put in separate containers but were just at different points on the same continuum: friendship, affection, compassion, caring, love, loyalty, responsibility, commitment…. and intimacy. Intimacy was the most obvious and natural fall-out of a relationship that was so intense and so close. I couldn’t imagine it any other way. Some women responded tentatively, curious but unsure of themselves. With one it became a highly involved relationship – physically and emotionally – that lasted over a year, but there were too many complications there, not the least of which was the fact that she was married. It took a long time to clear the debris from that one, and bizarre as it sounds, I still didn’t get it.
I was so caught up with trying to fill the mother-shaped vacuum inside me, I failed to realise that this attraction to women was a separate phenomenon and needed to be understood as such. All I can say is it was hellish. A spate of tumultuous experiences: attraction, rejection, longing, pain, intense emotions high and low, confusion, exasperation and no resolution anywhere on the horizon, one way or another. Of course I needed help, and got some too. But somehow I never managed to isolate my being ‘gay’ from all of this. Was it denial and self-defence? Was it pure ignorance? I really can’t say – the boundaries blurred just there.
While all of this was happening, I went through the rounds of ‘finding a guy to settle down with’, and though I dated a few and checked many out on even matrimonial sites (yes sir), I never liked anyone enough. Somewhere lurked the crazy idea that maybe marriage would solve ‘the problem’. There were enough men, including some who are still good friends, who would have loved a night in with me. But I would laugh and joke and keep away, having learnt from a few experiences that men don’t take rejection well. In bed with a man, my body would feel numb, my mind would be blank and I would blame it on too much alcohol and call it a night. I felt no attraction. I wondered if I was frigid. Sometimes I would play along and get into the act, just so it’s not a total loss for him. But my soul was never in it. It didn’t touch me.
Then, the turning point: I had a ‘bad’ mother experience, which shook me up enough to make me end my search. It was complicated, but the best part was that I was cured. I stopped looking for my mother. Thus cleansed, I went on to get involved with a man again, completely missing the point yet again. It was like getting a foot massage when the pain is really in your neck. It was still lights-out inside me, and in spite of the struggle and trying to ‘love’ him and to feel desire and all the rest, I felt distant: well-meaning but disconnected. I even moved in with him, and set myself into almost ‘wifely’ duties, thinking it would help. While I totally enjoyed doing up the apartment and shopping for stuff and putting it all together down to the last detail, gosh the relationship sucked. I was relieved when it ended, though I still miss that apartment… (tch tch)
So how did I see the light? Ah this is the nice part: Oct last year, at a friend’s place – a chance encounter with her friend who was visiting from elsewhere, staying just one night. It’s a night I’ll remember for a long time (I should leave that description for another post). Suffice to say that she decided to stay another night. If I hadn’t been quite so taken aback, it would have been even better. It was fresh and new, lighthearted but deep and more importantly, it was completely devoid of baggage. It’s all so clear in my memory: the uncertainty and the subtle hints; the penetrating gaze held unflinchingly; eyes that were feeling every inch of me; sparks flying in electric arcs between us; all that alcohol and not the mildest kick; all my senses alive and alert to her next move, or the deliberate holding back of it…. And all this before we even touched. Of course, my dear friend went off to bed at some point so we were left to each other. And no, we didn’t get any sleep that night… or the following day…. or the following night.
That was it. The penny had dropped. And in doing so, it had ripped through my body and grabbed my soul with both its shiny little hands. I was more alive than I had ever been. I was relieved to be free and off that bloody fence. Felt fabulous. Still do. And starting-trouble notwithstanding, this is one happy tube light!