I was in my 20s when I first acknowledged my queer feelings and identity. Growing up in a small town, especially during my adolescent years, I was confronted with numerous existential questions. I knew I was different from my peer circle but could never put a finger on how and why I am different from them. I never disclosed this to anyone and kept it with myself.
Life became furthermore complicated when it came to dating and romance during my teenage years. It brought me tremendous pressure. My peers during their teenage lives were already dating and exploring their romantic interests. Some even started forming strong romantic bonds. Especially among boys, the one who dates the most girls became the mascot of alpha masculinity. I don’t know if other people in my peer circle felt the same way I felt. Even if they did, I didn’t know of it then. I wasn’t aware that dating people of same-sex was normal and valid as there were hardly any queer relationships or stories around me. All I saw were heterosexual relationships and their celebration.
Bullying and shame never left my side, perhaps due to my having conventionally effeminate characteristics or not being on par with socially acceptable levels of masculinity. Back then, l was not exposed to what the words gender, queer, gay or transgender meant. If I had met any other queer person or had attended a talk or session in school around sexuality, that would have remarkably helped my self-esteem and confidence while growing up. My limited exposure to narratives of queer sexuality pushed my emotions into a never-ending internal turbulence; a turbulence unbearable for an adolescent person.
Soon after, when I entered my college life, I tried getting into a few relationships with the ‘opposite sex’ but always withdrew myself prematurely because of my internal conflict. Masking and trying to be someone else felt easier than sharing my thoughts with my friends. I even fell for a few men. They came closer and then abandoned me making me feel unworthy, unlovable and unacceptable, wreaking havoc on my mental stability. I passed my college days too, nothing had changed but time had fed the inner turbulence to grow substantially. I knew it had grown beyond of my means to calm it down.
Now I have graduated from college and begun my professional journey. It was in my 22nd year that I met one of my friends who was an out and proud queer and my life took a revolutionary turn. I was fascinated by him; he felt like someone who had never existed before in my part of the world. One thing I remember is that after meeting him for the first time, I felt valid and seen. One day, we were chatting with each other and it led to our discussion on sexual and romantic attractions. I remember trembling with fear, the childhood trauma that was holding back so many painful memories took on a physical manifestation. I was not able to breathe. Maybe I didn’t know how to process those long-suppressed feelings that were too complex to put in words. Or maybe I got too comfortable in masking my identity that I never wanted to leave that comfortable space. But soon I started to access those feelings as I felt safer. I had this insatiable hunger to learn as much as I could about the LGBTQIA+ community as well as the gender spectrum. It made a significant difference to my personal journey.
And now, the suppressed identity and emotions kept as a secret inside me for all those years, wanted to relive those childhood days, those teenage years that I had missed out on, once again. My inner child who had missed out on some beautiful days of their life demanded to bring it back. The trauma which induced within me, as a result of forgoing such formative experiences, was enormous. I felt like I had missed out on my authentic adolescent self and regretted it knowing that it will never come back again.
By the time I realised my queerness and fully embraced myself I was at the peak of my career. I was all set to start on an alternative career path, which again none of the folks in my circle ever chose to travel. I was working in the grassroots of India carving out my niche in the development sector. My work demanded me to stay and work in the rural space of the country where dating another person was far more difficult than navigating my life in a hinterland. My newly-found second adolescence wanted me to restart my dating journey. In its interest, I took breaks to travel, visit urban spaces, and started meeting people as well as potential dates. It was hard to manage until my colleague suggested joining a dating app.
The idea was intriguing. Dating apps made it less challenging to reach out to people than to meet them physically. I could feel the caged butterflies, hopes and my un-nurtured teenage self finally coming out. I met men who liked me, complimented me, who had romantic and sexual conversations with me. I met men whom I liked, fell for, built bonds, had sex. Everything seemed very new as it was happening for the first time. I was experiencing the timeline of my life in a manner that was not linear, but as if they were occurring in parallel.
However, I didn’t have the privileges like my peers who already had experimented and explored their share of teenaged days of forming early romantic bonds. I felt like a 14-year old teenager in the body of a 23-year-old person when it came to building new connections, and exploring romance & sex. It made me very conscious and I started hiding it from my dates that I was a newly out queer person in the world. I hid my feelings again having internalised bullying and judgement about my newly-found dating world and only showed those parts which I thought would be acceptable.
By the time I experienced rejections, ghosting and heartbreaks, my peers had already experienced it and moved past it. They already had learnt, grown and adapted around it organically. The experience did bring privileges to them because they started navigating relationships and connections way before I did. I felt alienated to share with anyone what I was going through.
While I was toggling between my publicly visible timeline of a 23-year-old person and my personal timeline of a reinstated teenager, I could feel my childhood trauma coming back to haunt me. I had passed the bullying phase in my life but its trauma travelled with me. It made me insecure, vulnerable and brought a feeling of unworthiness. I guess all the men who were responsible for bringing this into my life while growing up, made dating men even harder for me. To feel worthy and wanted, I started blurring out my boundaries and normalising the heteronormative notions of dating. The desire for love and attention that was long due to me was overpowering my lifestyle and thought process. The bare minimum efforts from my dating partners were normalised by me. My insecurities never let the power dynamics in those connections be equal. I felt I was overburdening myself by putting myself up on a pedestal every time. I felt obliged to serve the male gaze as if they were doing me a favour by giving me their attention.
But sooner or later, I moved through the older layers and patterns. I had my share of learning the red flags of life, conflict and relationship, though in the hardest way possible for me. I learnt in an unpleasant way about the experiences of heartbreak, flirting, having sex, reciprocating a compliment, communicating my emotional needs, much later in my journey as compared to my cis-het peers. I am still exploring and learning it but now I know how to take care of my needs, process my emotions and sense the red flags. I grew around my grief and tried to heal on my own as much as possible. I am still trying my best to learn how to set boundaries, how to address conflicts, how to communicate when I am interested and when I am not.
Now, I am in my 3rd year of celebrating Pride month and am consciously aware of myself and my identity. I am happy to have embraced the queer messiness and for affirming myself. There’s still a lot of unlearning to do, plenty to explore, an abundance of growth ahead and numerous unhealed trauma to resolve. But somehow I feel like I have navigated the second adolescence of my queer life, having entering into a new phase as an evolved version of myself.