“I first came out as bisexual, then I came out as gay.” This is how almost every coming out video I had watched as a teenager went; this how I expected my sexuality to be as well. I expected to wake up one day feeling no attractions to men, and only loving women. But somehow almost five years after I started exploring my sexuality, that day has not come.
Even with the widespread homophobia in India, as a teenager, I simply couldn’t ignore my attraction to women because it was a complete lie that Dhunki was my favorite song for the music and not Katrina’s bad girl persona. As someone who had been the new kid too many times and didn’t have a close group of friends, I longed to fit in somewhere. I desperately wanted to be a part of the queer community. I took so many “Am I Gay?” and “Where are you on the Kinsey Scale” quizzes, modifying my answers to get the result I wanted. I thought of cutting my hair short, using apps to see how I would look with a pixie cut. I struggled to convince my mom to buy flannel shirts, wanting to drown myself in plaid. I ached to be more masculine, to throw away all my dresses and salwar kameez, anything that made me feminine. Because I thought that if I looked like the Tumblr stereotype of a lesbian in 2016, I would be happy. Changing myself to finally fit in somewhere would fill the void created by depression and loneliness.
But of course, I couldn’t ever “become gay” because I am not gay. We are born with our sexualities, our attractions as innate and biological as the color of our hair and eyes. So grudgingly, I stopped trying to be someone I was not and tried to focus on understanding who I really was. Exploring and understanding my identity is a journey that will continue for the rest of my life but is very scary because it began from a place of uncomfortable uncertainty.
After moving to college, I tried to attend LGBT events and discussion groups. I tried out dating apps, horribly failing to flirt with people, but still managing to go on my first date with a girl. I felt happy being a part of pride, happy being surrounded by rainbow flags. I was happy being queer on campus, but I was hit with the horrifying revelation that biphobia was a very real problem. The constant narrative of bisexuals being greedy and confused, the alarming number of messages from strangers asking me for threesomes, and my sexuality being treated a transition phase terrified me. I thought I had become comfortable calling myself bisexual, so why did I feel so confused looking at my pink, purple, and blue flag?
This confusion only grew when I started learning about the myriads of labels and identities that existed under the umbrella of the LGBT+ community. I became increasingly uncertain of myself, staying up late at night reading about the differences between bisexuals and pansexuals. For a long time, I had thought that bisexuals were attracted to their gender and another gender, hence the term “bi,” whereas pansexuals were attracted to people regardless of gender. The more I thought about this difference, the more it started to blur; these sexualities share so many similarities that they are often talked about as being the same. So many people have said that these sexualities are so hard to separate that they choose to label themselves according to which flag they find prettier. I had convinced myself that I had to be pansexual because I was attracted to so many people of different genders: men, women, non-binary people, etc. So, shouldn’t I be pansexual? Shouldn’t I prefer the vibrant combination of yellow, pink, and light blue instead?
But something about that didn’t sit right with me. Yes, I was attracted to many genders, but that didn’t mean that all those attractions were the same. I recently attended a livestream about “Understanding Bisexuality” in which one of the questions was the difference between bisexuality and pansexuality. Sonal Giani, an acclaimed Indian LGBTQ activist and filmmaker, answered it with care, explaining thoroughly that while these were sexualities that tended to overlap in many ways, they were also distinct because of the differences in attractions. Pansexuals feel attraction to many genders in the same way, which is why gender isn’t a defining characteristic of attraction, according to her. Bisexuals, however, feel different attractions to different genders; being attracted to women feels different than being attracted to men. I thought of my own crushes, all the people I had found attractive over the years. How the warm feeling in my chest on hearing a woman laugh felt different to the blush on my cheeks on receiving a compliment from a man. For the first time in five years, I was beginning to accept that I was not gay, not straight, not pansexual, but bisexual.
In the quiet of that night, I lay awake in bed thinking about this realization. We are taught monogamy, attraction, and commitment to just one gender from a young age. At first, it was just between men and women, which is now, thankfully, changing to include same-gender attractions as well. But still so much of the rhetoric within and outside of the LGBT community continues to be about single gender attractions. People like me, whose sexuality is more fluid, struggle to find our place in these communities. We struggle to put ourselves in a box, because sexuality is rarely spoken about as a spectrum. Our identities are not a box to be checked because all our complexities and vibrancies can never be fully expressed in a few words. Labels can be powerful and help us find community, but we should remember that we are more than our labels.
I have started to appreciate the intersections of all my identities: my race, sexuality, and gender, and how they all make me the person that I am today. Bisexuality is a beautiful and valid identity that should not be undermined or ridiculed because it’s more intricate. My views and my understanding of my sexuality change everyday because it is a fluid and evolving identity. I feel happier accepting this change, knowing that even if the world refuses to see me as nothing more than a part of their sexual fantasy, I am comfortable in my own skin. I am happy not labeling my preference, not defining my attractions, because they are just for me to know and for others to respect. I am glad that there is now more bisexual representation in media and music, and hope that this journey can be easier for the little girl trying so hard to fit in. I hope that she can also find comfort and acceptance on this beautiful spectrum of pink, purple, and blue.