I don’t know what I was expecting when I gradually started warming up to the idea of my bisexuality, but my love life was the classic crickets-chirping meme. I was generally challenged when it came to expressing emotions, but more so when it came to women. After my first heartbreak from a woman, I sat up and took notice of this odd habit.
Towards the end of my twenties, I found that magical unicorn—a queer affirmative mental health practitioner. Within the safe container of my psychologist’s office, I first wondered, “How come I had never had one of those dramatic infatuations for women that I felt for cis het boys all my life?” This question was also the primary reason my relationship with my sexuality had been regularly peppered with self-doubt.
I have often found myself disarmed with how easily my queer friends profess their attraction for a passing stranger on a street. The best I could do was acknowledge, after a respectable gap of 6 months, that the intense ‘feelings of friendship’ I was feeling for a friend—such friendships often crumbled under the weight of my unexpressed feelings—was actually that raging crush I never quite allowed myself to feel.
It was relatively easy to give in to my hormones when it came to masculine presenting people. I remember my initial months in an all girls’ school. Prior to my eleventh grade, I was bred in co-educational spaces. There was this ‘tomboyish’ person—short hair slicked back—with the most dazzling dimples. I remember following them once in a trance, like a creepy stalker, through the empty corridors. But every time I caught a glimpse of their maroon skirt, I would flinch. And if it was a ‘girly’ girl, I could only confess my attraction in hindsight or only when they were not real timey people in my actual orbit.
This pattern remained unnoticed, unchanged, until a heady autumn towards the end of my college. My then bestie forced me to read Jeanette Winterson. I ravenously devoured her words. “There is no discovery without risk and what you risk reveals what you value,” Winterson wrote. Beauty, and truth, I valued both. Ergo, I shyly began noticing women in packed sweaty buses, just like I had so far noticed the men. One such long bus ride back home, my head was deeply buried in my book, when the girl next to me dozed off. Her head flopped onto my shoulder. As if conjured by Winterson’s words, all the passion I had strove to push down the drains came out all at once as an intense sensory experience for this girl whose face I had not even dared to look at. All I knew was she was wearing a salwar kameez, a soft shade of pink, and I wouldn’t mind if her stop never arrived.
Every time I beckon that memory, a parasite sneaks in with it. The very same which led to a stiffness of feeling, whenever I would sense the slightest hint of emotion for any woman in my immediate vicinity. Since my adolescence, I fancied myself a poet, yet I struggled to feel the full potency of my emotions for women. Because the full potency implied platonic, romantic and sexual arousal—not always in that order. After many back and forths with my psychologist, I conceded that the pesky parasite who clawed at me—giving me tiny electric shocks anytime I tried to explore my feelings for anyone who was not a cis het male—was shame.
When I came across the character of Adam in the web-series, “Sex Education”, I was overcome with recognition. As Adam grappled with his bisexuality, feelings of confusion and shame mired him. Which he inadvertently projected onto Eric, the object of his intense amore. Amore is a better shape for what I feel in love – affection mixed with electric passion. But the latter part is often discomfiting to me because shame accompanies it. I don’t remember the beginning of this shame. Maybe it was the older cousin telling us about her embarrassing experience of watching the film “Fire”—which was one of the earliest cinematic portrayals of Sapphic love in an Indian context. Or the word ‘lesbian’ being underlined ‘dirty’ in red by a friend in the dictionary, or a culmination of many such homophobic micro-aggressions over a lifetime.
This internalised homo-negativity is incredibly tricky to spot in a culture that encourages heteronormativity. Our socio-cultural conditioning quite insidiously and systematically ingrains within us the belief that that sexual attraction towards the same sex is ‘dirty’ and ‘unnatural’. It’s easier, therefore, safer even for a bi or pansexual person to develop heterosexual feelings in a social setting where that’s expected and encouraged. However, the awakening of the ‘other’ part of us is laced with feelings of inadequacy, inauthenticity, and shame.
Feeling deeply and truthfully into my queer attractions was a muscle that had nearly atrophied. Though the shame was unconscious, the unlearning of it has been a very conscious effort. Now when I feel myself awkwardly shuffling around a woman, I embrace that discomfort too, instead of resisting it. That’s a risk I am willing to take to discover all parts of me.