If someone asks me right now how queerness feels like, I’d say grief. I know there’s joy, there’s love, there’s care, defiance and a whole lot of celebratory emotions, but through them all runs this pervasive sense of loss and sadness that underlines this day-to-day life and my sense of being. I do hope though that my answer changes in the coming years; I achingly hope for it.
I was 13 when I first made out with another girl, but it took me turning 23 to accept my queerness. I did not know the word ‘queer’ then. I would soon learn about it all, courtesy of the wide newspaper coverage of 2013 Supreme court judgment that recriminalized homosexuality.
However, that was not my first introduction to the community. And for some reason, the incident is still very clear in my memory. My mother, an older cousin and I were watching television. I was really young then, probably too young for them to consider my presence there. They were watching this news channel’s exposé of the ‘scandalous’ story of two women running away together. What made the exposé ‘news-worthy’ apparently was that after months of the couple being together, one of them falls in love with a man and leaves the other woman for him. I don’t remember much of their story afterwards but I do remember the cousin’s smug reaction to that and my mother’s matter of fact reiteration ‘tabhi to hum khein, ehi hota hai ee sab me’, which roughly translates to: ‘This is what happens in these cases, I knew it’ .
I don’t know if that incident shaped my notion of sexuality in any way. I didn’t know the term for a woman loving another woman. I also had no idea whatsoever about bisexuality (or any ‘sexuality’ for that matter), but subsequent to 2013, I did learn about all that, in terms of practicality and otherwise.
I still wonder though what took me so long to see and believe myself. Some of it was obviously the internalized homophobia but a lot also stemmed from disbelief.
I remember looking at those colorful pictures of Pride Marches in the papers. The bright but defiant faces, people protesting the law and celebrating themselves, I was more in awe than anything else. It just never occurred to me that people in small towns also do love or queerness or revolutions. It was one of those things, something amazing and rare but one that only happens in movies, books and big cities.
Later, when I grew out of that and started living in a big city myself, a lot of inhibition came from the faux gate-keeping. Even when I was very sure of my feelings towards other women, I hesitated to identify as a part of the community because I felt I wasn’t oppressed enough for I had the ‘choice’ of loving men. I see the fallacy of that choice now and also my own narrow understanding of myself. The clear realization of my imposter syndrome came when I met my current girlfriend. I was very much into her but still would feel very apprehensive because of my lack of familiarity with the ‘urban queer culture’ which also dominates the virtual queer spaces. She on the other hand could be called a ‘queer culture geek’, if that was to be a thing. I laugh and cringe now at how poorly I was trying to be a ‘cool gay bitch’ and imitate things I saw queer people say on the internet. Luckily for me she’s also the most honest and incredibly wonderful person. Her love for me and the way she saw me definitely helped me grow more confident in my own skin and queerness.
Another odd experience has been the process of or at least the feeling of closeting backwards. I did not really have a lot of experience with being in the closet. As I myself was not addressing it, the idea of coming out to someone else was farthest from my mind. And when I was ready, the internalized biphobia and bi-erasure in society ensured that it doesn’t happen. I did try on some labels early on but soon realized, like David Schitt (from Schitt’s Creek), I’m also a ‘more into the wine and not the label’ person. I do have a strong affinity for the word ‘queer’ though.
With not needing to come out, I also never felt the need to hide. But as I’m becoming more and more aware of my queerness, I also equally feel more conscious of the straight gaze. Coming from a background where even (heterosexual) love marriages within the same caste still remains a taboo and arranged marriage is the norm, I’ve no idea what the ramifications of my coming out would be. Based on the only time I’ve heard anyone talk about queer people back home, I guess it would be denial. Yes, I’m talking about that news exposé incident. However, the coming out of my inter-faith, very queer and very poly relationship would be a complete different story, which I don’t think I’m still ready to think about. So for now, I hide. I am very actively in the closet.
Closeting is rough in general, but especially in a pandemic, when you have to share the same space with those you’re hiding from. Also anguishing is the growing distance from friends, the micro-aggressions and the sea of un-understandings. I try reading more queer-histories, the history of my own people but that also gives me grief. The pain of their struggles and persecutions, the loss that comes with knowing how much you don’t know about your own people and the learning of queer spaces you never had access to. I imagine there’s joy in found families (i.e. if you manage to find one), but also cannot stop thinking about the sorrow of severing ties with the family that brought you up and the one you were supposed to look after.
Do I think of the other life? Where I’d have never left my village and grown up to be the most obedient and supporting wife to the family I would’ve been married into. Yes I do and most of the time it makes me sigh with relief, ‘thank god! I didn’t’. Other times, I envy the peace of mind of my friends from back home, who still fit in easily there. At the same time, I also know, even if I had a choice to do this all over again, I’d do it all the same. Might be a little bit more kind to myself this time.
So, yes, Queerness is grief to me but Queerness is also love, and love doesn’t always work the way we expect it to. It’s like James Baldwin said, “Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up”. I don’t know how I’m going to grow and where I’m going to go from here. The thing I do know is if my 13-year-old self could see me today, she’d be awed, ecstatic and proud of how hella queer they’ve grown up to. And this knowledge gives me joy, pure-unadulterated queer joy.