When I was growing up, I, like most Indian kids, didn’t see anyone around me that wasn’t heterosexual when I was growing up. There was the obvious exception of Dostana, the horribly problematic Hindi film that featured two straight men who pretend to be gay. As an 8-year-old, I realised that it was okay for men to love other men but I didn’t know women could love other women too.
My best friend asked me, when we were twelve or thirteen, either one of those curious ages, “But how do you really know you’re straight?” Something inside, beneath and around me shifted, but I didn’t address it.
I found out about lesbians and bisexuals and other women who love women in the context of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. So, it was scary. Every time my brain tried to consider the possibility that I was attracted to women, I shut it down. I saw being attracted to girls as something that would endanger my future. I didn’t know that I could have the kind of happy ending that I saw in movies if I was a part of the LGBTQ+ community. I was young and being different meant being scared.
As the months passed, I was running out of reasons to convince my brain that I was heterosexual. The only straw I was holding on to was that I knew for sure I’d been attracted to boys. I knew I liked them, in the way that the movies told me I was supposed to. But I didn’t know how to tell the difference between really wanting to be friends with a girl and being attracted to her. I did what any Gen Z kid does, I asked the internet. It said, if you think girls are pretty, you’re a lesbian. But all the girls were pretty. All the songs were about how pretty women were and all the heroes in the stories were vying for them and it made sense. It made sense to beat people up to save the girl.
Bisexuality only “clicked” when I was introduced to Halsey’s music by the aforementioned best friend. Her music videos would feature both male and female love interests and so would her lyrics. It also helped that she was talented and absolutely stunning. I finally knew what being a bisexual woman looked like, even if it was on the other side of the planet. I was 14 when I started saying to myself “maybe I’m bi.” It felt like a sudden realisation back then, even though it had been a long time coming.
I guarded the secret fiercely. Knowing myself meant that the fear that was just a whisper before had exploded into a constant thrum that ran underneath my daily life. It was lonely. Having to hide an important part of yourself makes you lonely, even in loud friend groups and crowded rooms.
I wasn’t planning on telling anyone, it was safer that way. But in 2016, I told my best friend, accidentally. I knew he was accepting and he had never done anything homophobic, but in the few seconds between me coming out to him and him saying “this doesn’t change anything, it’s really cool”, I was sure I’d lost him. A wave of relief washed over me and after the rush faded, I felt safe, for the first time since I started to figure things out. I told a couple more friends at school and I told my younger sister. The warm feeling, of being accepted and safe, in my chest grew and I cherished it.
I moved to a different city to go to college in 2018 and I did not hide my sexuality. When people asked, I’d tell them I was bi. I was extremely privileged to be in a space where I was able to do that, where people didn’t assume my sexuality. But since I didn’t have any friends from the community while growing up, I found I didn’t have the words to talk to other bisexual people about these experiences, none of us did.
But the words came and so did many important conversations. There have been infinite moments over the last two years that made me feel like I belonged – hugging a batch mate who was crying tears of joy on the day of the 377 verdict, another friend asking “how do I know if I’m bi” at a cafe, juniors that weren’t afraid to be “too gay”, allies that apologised sincerely when they messed up – I found myself making sure anyone who came out knew they had someone to talk to. I found myself actively creating and fighting for a safe space, and I wasn’t doing it alone. What the movies won’t tell you is that being LGBTQ+ isn’t just about love, it’s also about friendship. It’s about finally having someone to talk to – when you can’t tell if a girl is flirting with you, when you don’t know how to deal with internalised homophobia, when someone threatens your safe space, when you’re stuck at home in the middle of a pandemic with homophobic parents or when you want to scream about how hot Zendaya is.
As I write this, I don’t feel unsure of what I’m saying or scared of being hated for who I am. I have said all of this over the past year to someone and I have felt safe every time. The world continues to be an unsafe place, but I have a chosen family. As the pandemic has gone on, I’ve been able to feel safe and loved even on my worst days. There is a lot about my life right now that 13-year-old me wouldn’t believe, but I know she was hoping against all hope that being bi wouldn’t be lonely. In a shitty year, I can find hope in knowing her dreams have come true.