It was the nineties and I was around six or seven, when I first kissed a girl. She was my neighbour and we were playing ‘houses’–short haired me was the husband, my long-haired friend was the wife, our Barbie dolls were the kids. The game was straightforward- I went to work, she cooked, I came back from work, we ate and went to bed. Research indicates that child sexuality develops from as early as seven or eight years of age. So, we pecked each other on the lips. My friend didn’t object or act alarmed. So we did it several times again.
She was complicit and also discreet. She didn’t question me when I asked her to show me her underpants. I didn’t flinch when she put her finger down there. I cringe now but back then, this was innocent and exciting.
As my curiosity burgeoned, so did my guilt. Or was it fear? I knew instinctively that if an adult caught us, the consequences would be severe. I made it clear to my friend that this had to stop. She agreed. Two days later, we were back in my parents’ room, kissing on the lips. I still remember her breath smelt of fish. I was aroused and nauseated.
Puberty hit at 13. I began noticing boys. I learnt about the male and female sex organs and how babies were born. I also continued looking at the athletic girls with flat chests and pixie cut. When you are young, you don’t have the critical faculties to understand that stereotyping based on someone’s appearance is wrong. But something about these sporty girls was fascinating. The word ‘lesbian’ was already doing the rounds of the school corridors, spoken in hushed tones and stuck to some of the girls like the scarlet letter. I was careful to not get branded.
Despite what was going on inside my head, my stance was of indifference rather than condemnation—‘I don’t care if someone is a lesbian, I’ll never be one.’
At 17, I got into college and encountered Mrs Dalloway and my emotions found a home. A year later, I came across the girl who made my heart pound faster every time I saw her. Two years were spent just staring at her. It was pure Petrarchan adoration. This time, I was not worried about being branded ‘the weird one’. I am 32 now and the thought of her still makes me smile like a lovesick teenager.
In 2009, the Indian High Court read down section 377, the law that punished same sex relationships.
On a rainy day in 2010, my friend, Priya and I were texting.
‘You’re single, she is single. Do you want to talk to her?’ Priya said in reference to her friend
‘Is she even into women?’
‘Yeah, she is gay, and frustrated’.
Up until then, my fascination with women had been in the realm of ideas. I hadn’t dated a woman though I had a few dalliances with men. So, I leapt at the opportunity. I was not looking for a relationship. I was also not looking to experiment. But subconsciously, I was fetishizing the idea, perhaps even unknown to myself.
Priya gave me her number (let’s call her Kari) and I sent the first text. Soon, we were texting every day–about books, music, hobbies and friends. Kari was well-read, hardworking and ambitious. She was shy but had strong opinions. And she was beautiful. After days of texting, I asked her to meet me for a coffee. She wanted to know if it was a date. I wasn’t sure.
Kari was in love with a woman before who had left her for a man. What followed was a shaved head, months of heavy metal and a general mistrust of people who could swing both ways. She feared being used for just a drunken night’s experimentation. She also told me about her tortured relationship with her father, who was diagnosed with clinical depression. The doctor had cited Kari as the trigger. She also told me about her father’s several debts and her mother’s ill-health. Meanwhile, I was coming to terms with my parents’ marriage hitting a rough patch. But my mom and dad doted on me though they were becoming insufferable to each other.
In hindsight, I shouldn’t have pursued Kari romantically. I didn’t have the financial or even emotional acumen to get involved in something this intense. But back then, nothing could have been more romantic than two troubled souls getting together and finding solace in each other. My ‘saviour complex’ wanted to fix her problems.
The first few months were blissful. Kari introduced me to new authors, took me to places in New Delhi that I didn’t know existed. My first drunken night out was with her, as was my first sexual experience with a partner. I introduced her to my parents as a ‘new friend’. They liked her. We made it official to our common friends. I was ‘in love’ and happy.
Because homosexuality had been decriminalised only recently, the newspapers would occasionally carry features on same-sex couples committing suicide or eloping, or opinion pieces by bigoted politicians who said homosexuality was a disease. I destroyed the pages that had such stories so my father wouldn’t be able to read them. I was hoping to set up a home with Kari in the future so I didn’t want my family to have any kind of negative impressions about same-sex relationships.
Eventually, I began to feel the weight of her emotional baggage. The main issue was her father. Their arguments were frequent, sometimes unwarranted but almost always rabid. As a result she would either cut communication with everyone or be in a bad mood for days. To keep her away from the acrimony at her home, I would invite her to stay over at mine, more nights in a row than my parents found acceptable. Most of our weekends were also spent together—window shopping at the mall or eating out. Once she suffered an eye injury on her way to work. I kept her with me till she was fully recovered. I had no answer when my dad asked why I had to take care of her when she had a family of her own.
I was still a student back then and my obsession with Kari was creating a rift between dad and me. He felt I was investing more time than necessary in my ‘friendship’, rather than finishing my studies and finding a job. A part of me agreed with him. There were days when I felt a sigh of relief when Kari was unable to spend time with me. When the fights got progressively worse, I would put my phone on silent just so I could miss her calls. I know now that when you look for ways to avoid being around your partner, there is something wrong with the relationship that needs to be addressed.
But back then, as an immature 20something, I had internalised the idea that I was the privileged bisexual and Kari was the lesbian with the troubled family and more prone to persecution. I was ashamed to admit to myself, least of all to her, that I needed some space. I realised much later that my thinking was skewed. Kari was not a hapless victim that needed to be protected. Even though I was in love with her, it was not my job to fix her life. Interestingly, she never asked me to either. But because of a misplaced sense of self-righteousness, I didn’t set boundaries early on and failed to manage her expectations. Or maybe, she did take advantage of her gayness? I would never know.
The relationship eventually ended and a few years later I moved to the UK.
What I am going to say next will perhaps be met with a lot of censure. But if the end goal is acceptance, then there should be space for all kinds of discourse. So here goes: I am that bisexual woman who at this point only wants to have sex with other women. If I meet you at a bar or at an event and we connect, I will be honest about this and if you want the same thing, then tag along. ‘Are you disillusioned because of one bad relationship?’ you might ask. Not really.
I come from the land of the Kamasutra but my culture is taking baby steps when it comes to sex and sexual expression. The expectation of me is to marry a man and be part of the heteronomy. I have already broken several expectations: been with a woman, been with a man, still not married. I don’t think I have the courage to make my alternate sexuality official. But who knows what happens five years down the line. I don’t know I am figuring this out like everyone else. LGBTQ will be the new normal when our generation has children and we share our stories with them. Till then, let’s start by at least being honest to ourselves. Sure, we bisexuals have more options but that doesn’t inherently make us untrustworthy. Allow us our uncertainties and doubts. People don’t have to agree with our choices but we shouldn’t be stigmatised because of them either.