Did you ever have a moment in your life when you questioned your sexual identity? A moment where you thought to yourself: I wonder if…?
I remember having this conversation with a friend of mine a long time ago and he was adamant that he’d never questioned his sexuality ever. He was straight and had never “doubted” it, he said. To my mind that was a bit of a cop out because what he was saying was that he was running with the default answer as he’d never bothered to so much as pose the question much less answer it.
We went back and forth a few times and it finally ended with him asking me why I was so determined to make him think about it. Did I want to tell him something? We both laughed and that was that. For the record, I was never that interested in his sexuality (or lack thereof) – I was just interested to see how freaked out he was by my suggestion that he might have considered something other than heterosexuality for so much as a second. I’m yet to find an Indian man who’s A) had this moment or B) is willing to admit to it.
Maybe it’s because we don’t grow up with gay classmates or see gay celebrities/people in public life the way they do elsewhere. At least, we didn’t have gay classmates when I was in school. We used to have kids that others would mock as being gay in that quasi-clever thoroughly mean way that kids develop on the playground, but that’s a completely different thing.
If you were tuned in to current events then you might have heard of Ashok Row Kavi, the man who for the longest time was the (sole) public face of homosexuality in India. If you watch a lot of movies, then you might have come across Bobby Darling, a man who keeps hitting on (and gets rejected by) almost every Bollywood hero in almost every Bollywood movie that’s running low in the comedy department and needs a gay man to make fun of. Or, if you’re into gossip, then you probably have an opinion on whether or not Shahrukh Khan and Karan Johar are totally on the down low.
Growing up, ‘gay’ to us meant the hijras, castrated men in drag, who for some reason thoroughly terrified all the boys. Man in a dress with no penis = TERROR! You think I’m kidding but all the Indians out there know it’s true. Or else it was some guy in the movies who minced about and spoke in a falsetto and fluttered his eyelashes at our manly hero who lost no time in beating him down to reinforce his manliness (but not very hard because heroes are always very kind to those weaker than themselves).
You’d think things are slowly beginning to change given half the people I know from India are all living in the western hemisphere, but you’d be wrong. I remember this Indian kid in Michigan who discovered halfway through one semester that his roommate was gay. Apparently the guy was very withdrawn and would disappear for days on end – turned out he liked boys and wasn’t sure if this kid would mind if he brought his dates home and finally came out and asked him.
You’d have thought he was escaping the clutches of a rapist the way he ran out and told us all about the nightmare his life had suddenly become. In retrospect, everything took on overtones of a come on that he had missed in his naivete. He changed his clothes in front of him, he asked him if he’d like to go out for coffee sometime, etc. And the thought of his roommate bringing someone home… Could he have done what I did with my (hetero) roommate i.e. respectfully suggest that he was uncomfortable sharing a room with a stranger who was having sex a few feet away from him? Yes. Did he? No. It was easier to just find another place to live and figuratively wipe his brow than examine his homophobia.
Indian women on the other hand are a completely different affair… at least, the Indian women I know best. My girl friends run the gamut of religions, levels of education, income, and liberal and conservative thought. And all of them, at some point, at least fleetingly, have wondered if they were inclined towards women.
I don’t know what they’d have done if any of them had decided in the affirmative, but I find it interesting that they were at least willing to ask themselves that question and admit to it. In mixed company.
Perhaps this is something related to my generation and those younger than us, perhaps women forge such serious emotional bonds between themselves that it seems a little bit more intense than the ones we might share with our boyfriends (none of them were married when they put the question to themselves), perhaps the next-to-complete silence on the subject of lesbians in India has had the unexpected side effect that we don’t have to struggle against aggressively negative stereotypes that suggest by surrendering to our sexuality in this manner we’re threatening our very gender identity, perhaps women are just more attractive all around , I don’t know.
I do know that having asked myself this question, life is then easier for me in at least one respect. I may not know exactly where I’m headed or what I’m doing with my life, I don’t know where you’ll find me in thirty years’ time and I have absolutely no idea what they’ll put on my headstone but I do know which gender to hit up for some nooky. That’s something. I have an answer. And as Broom at Closet Confessions put it in this beautiful piece, not all of us are that lucky:
I’ve nearly always called myself “bisexual” on this blog but the honest answer is – I don’t know. For starters, if I’m gay it means that the my marriage was a complete sham. I spent many years of my life with the ex. I thought I was in love with him. I dreamed and hoped that we would have a good life, kids, grandkids, the whole nine yards. I loved him in the best way I could. The sex was good… Somewhere along the way I realised that something fundamental was missing. I didn’t know what, but I knew there was. Was that “something” a woman? I don’t know. When I’m with The Girl, I feel complete. Again, I don’t know if that’s because she’s a woman or because she is the kind of woman she is.
I read that and thought to myself, I wonder how that must feel. Not so much falling in love with somebody of the same sex, but to feel the kind of love Broom describes so vividly. Everyone is so hung up on sexuality, but I’m so much more hung up on the emotion that she feels there because I’ve never felt that with another human being. But at least I have some hope of finding it someday. How about those people out there who will never get to experience it because they’ll spend their lives looking for it in the wrong gender?
And when people are willing to consider alternate sexualities, it’s all for the wrong reasons as Sakshi, over at To Each His Own, says:
I too get asked questions doubting my sexuality, every now and then. I have noticed that if you are single, never been married and shudder at the thought of marriage – people for some forsaken reasons get inquisitive about your bedroom habits, like “dal mein kuch kala hain” sorts. Simple explanations like “I am not ready for a lifelong commitment”, isn’t good enough and so the only foreseeable conclusion is – either you are involved with an already committed individual or you are gay (and in some cases, both).
I’ve never gone through that myself but it sounds pretty irritating to say the least. Should people then get married to prove their hetero-ness? To ensure there isn’t any “talk”? What is the expectation here? Makes you think nostalgically about the days when an unmarried girl only had to deal with whispers that said there was something wrong with her horoscope.
I have gone through a variant of it though – I say variant because both these reactions stem from the question: “What’s wrong with you?” – where someone or the other will come online and say, “I disagree with you but I can’t explain why and I see you’re a woman so – LESBIAN!”
I paraphrase, but you get the gist.
It never seems to enter their tiny minds that I don’t think “lesbian” is a dirty word. They think it’s a dirty word and so they use it. Which proves they have no idea how to fight. Go back to school, dumdum, some five year old is waiting to kick your ass and teach you better.
Of course, I can be flip about this because it’s not my sexuality they’re trying to turn into a slur. Had I really preferred women, having people fling “lesbian” in my face like it were a crime of some sort (oh wait, in India, it is a crime!) wouldn’t exactly make me feel wonderful, you know?