I was a horrible pervert – a woman pervert! – and I was ashamed of myself. I looked at other girls out the corner of my eye. I thrilled if I brushed against one, accidentally, oh so accidentally. I wanted to hold hands, I wanted be her best friend, I wanted her to think of me at night, in the morning, looking forward to seeing me in school, I wanted her to take every breath thinking of me, as I swore I was thinking of her. I was a dirty, filthy, freak and I should never have been born.
If I wasn’t feeling like shit because I was turned on by girls (one girl in particular), I’m sure I would have found something else to hate myself for. I was young, female, loud, and had a body. Society does this to you. It moulds you till you are all soft woundable spots, and then it makes you kick yourself.
That friendship was maintained by her emotional labour, dealing with my whims and turns, but it took years for me to get over my fear of this desire. I went to an all-girls college, and every day I panicked. I would do it again. Someone would know.
Shall I tell you of my boyfriend, whose best friend I fucked silently after we broke up, pretending we weren’t having sex – it wasn’t sex if a penis wasn’t involved. Shall I tell you what it was like when she died, she killed herself, her official boyfriend allowed to mourn her while her parents stared at me with unforgiving eyes? Shall I tell you that two years later this boyfriend married a girl whose horoscope didn’t match his, but he married her anyway because he was such a rebel?
Throughout that non-relationship, I obsessively read and re-read Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, with its electric, joyous, marathon lovemaking – one single scene! – between two cowgirls. I wanted that. I would tell you I was only reading it because it was interesting, but I lied. I was an accomplished liar. I wanted Bonanza Jellybean. I wanted my friend to want me like I was Bonanza Jellybean. I wanted to love in the sunlight instead of under the sheets, holding my tongue.
Many years later, I told someone, I’m clinically depressed, and they replied, I’m not surprised. In retrospect, neither am I.
These loves, consummated, silenced – they are, I suppose, reason enough to have a mental breakdown, to say, I cannot handle the world. Maybe it was this trauma, or that. (Take your pick!) My therapist – a gem of a woman – didn’t give a fuck I’m queer. Bisexual. Pansexual. (Fry me up some bacon, baby.) She cared that I hated myself, that I was angry, that I couldn’t sleep at night, that I didn’t want anything. A very dear friend of mine says, I Don’t Think You’re Driven By Sex, but sometimes I look at the deep void within myself and it’s not that I’m afraid of sex, or don’t need it, but sex won’t be enough. Sex won’t make me a Real Girl again. If I ever was.
People will tell you depression is a big cloud over your brain. It is a large dog that pulls you down. It is a fog over your thoughts. For me, depression was a hole in my body. Right under my navel. Every day I would cook up some spirit, some zest, in my bones. Every day, my little hole would leak all the life out onto the ground. The ground does not need someone’s metaphor for life. Every moment of attraction. Leaked. My latest girlfriend, reaching for touch. Leaked. What it feels like to say, I don’t love you.
It feels awful. There’s no excusing it. How can you not love? Your entire philosophy, your activism, your organising, is that we must be allowed to love. 377 was only one of the things forcing us into a closet, and I’ve been so clear, for so long, that I will not go back there. It is sinful, to not be in love.
I look back now at the girl I loved, the one who killed herself and I want to beg for forgiveness. What if I had said, hey, this is sex? Hey, I love you? Hey. I’m yours. This is happening. In a cold country far away, I read Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith and I was enthralled by Sue and Maud. I was beginning to experiment with the phrase “I am Bisexual”. I wanted to say it with the same unquenchable outburst as Sue’s “You pearl, you pearl, you pearl.” Had I ever called her anything? The nicest thing she ever told me was one drunken night, when I forgot to flush, “Your wine smells like pee!”
Maybe we wouldn’t have made it anyway. Her boyfriend was a sweet, sweet hunk of a man, boring but decent. (I value decent more now than I did then). Maybe today, a year from what is hopefully our final goodbye to 377, we would be acquaintances at worst, or just another couple of friends who were once lovers in queer women circles of sisterhood, love, and drama. Maybe she would be a banker. (The ultimate sin!) Maybe she would be married. With children. (In her absence, I invest these hypothetical babies with far too much sentiment.)
My first reaction to all the joy of that final, please be final, day of 377 was not joy but anger. We had been cheated. They told us we were too few to be given rights, and they had taken those rights away. They made our brothers and sisters criminal for loving, for fucking – for taking some joy in this shitty world where everything is so hard unless we hold on to each other. (We have to be able to love each other. Not just the love of the romantic, the erotic. But to love another and say, we are the same, we are so different. You are my friend and that makes you my family.) I wanted more than a judgement gone right. I wanted an apology. I wanted a time turner. I wanted the last five years back.
Maybe I would have been the one to drift away. Too tired to love her, too tired for sex, too tired to leave a message, too tired to respond to a message, lying that I was fine, I was fine, I was fine. Maybe I would be her sad story. Maybe she would assemble all the disparate bits of me into a coherent story. This is what Rohini thought of 377 and the closet. This is her unprintable thoughts on the Trans Rights Bill. This is her arms, held out, and these are her tears. Like a very patient grandmother she would create the jigsaw of Rohini and I would have something coherent to say today.
Happy birthday, my family. We are born every day.