While questioning my gender and understanding the ‘concepts’ of masculinity and femininity only came to me years later, that was an eye-opener for me.
[Trigger Warning: Mentions Of Abuse And Assault]
When I was a teenager I thought there were two kinds of queer people. One, who are born that way; two, who were ‘made’ gay by their circumstances. I thought I was the latter.
I was abused for several years as a child, where I was made to masturbate for him. I obviously didn’t know that word back then. I suppressed the abuse and forgot about it for 6 years.
I remember watching heterosexual porn for the first time and feeling complete fear that a ‘dick’ was being used to have sex. Though I knew the ‘purpose’ of the penis in a sexual act, I didn’t know how it was used. I felt such fear that I decided I will never have sex with men since I will have to deal with ‘it’ again. I ‘decided’ I will only love women. I could romanticise about men, but could never be with them.
I remember once in the school bus, where suddenly, mid-conversation with a 9 year old boy (I was 13) I realised that he was gay. I don’t remember if it was something he said or something someone else said, but I was suddenly terribly uncomfortable. Only today as I write this that I realise that it wasn’t his queerness that made me uncomfortable, it was my own. Until this date, every time I meet someone who is queer, I have this intrinsic fear that ‘what if they get beaten up!’ And this fear comes from one, the lack of positive representation in the media and two, from the abuse I faced, that any form of sexual expression might lead to any or some kind of abuse in return.
When I was 14, at a friend’s 15th birthday party, I woke up with a start, remembering the abuse I went through from age 5-9. It could be repressed no longer. The incidents lay in front of me. I didn’t know what to do next. At that time, I suffered from ADD (oh, the irony!) and used to attend counselling sessions with a psychologist to help me focus better. I had an outlet, a ‘safe’ person to talk with.
However, when I graduated from school, I wanted to go ‘far away from boys’ and anyone from my school. So I enrolled in Sophia College for Women. An all women’s college run by nuns. But what I saw there baffled me further, there were women, dressed as ‘men’. They wore shirts and pants, shoes from the men’s section, had short hair and rode bikes. They had girlfriends who were more feminine than me. While some of my friends called them ‘girl-boys’, I couldn’t help but feel fear for them, thinking, ‘won’t they get beaten up?’ This was the first time I moved from feeling fear of someone’s queerness but for their queerness.
While questioning my gender and understanding the ‘concepts’ of masculinity and femininity only came to me years later, that was an eye-opener for me. At that point I couldn’t fathom how people could be so comfortable with their sexuality? All the stories I read in the media almost always interviewed people who realised that they were gay at the age of 6 or 8, and since I didn’t realise it then and ‘suddenly’ felt things towards women now, means that I am not ‘truly’ queer. I am a victim of my circumstances. What I didn’t understand back then is that at the age of 6 or 8 I was being abused. I didn’t have time to sit back and analyse towards which gender my body would erupt into goosebumps for. I didn’t understand that being heterosexual (I really don’t like the word straight, hence I use hetero everywhere) is something that had been ingrained in my brain. Everyone I knew was heterosexual, my family, my friends (some of whom have since then come out as queer), my celebrity idols, my storybook characters. The only queer representation on television that I remember is Bobby Darling. Was she a man trying to be a woman or was she gay? Back then, nobody understood the distinction between gender and sexuality.
I used to stay up nights trying to ‘straighten’ out my feelings, wondering if I liked girls only because it was more convenient. How does one truly ‘know’? I remember Neil Patrick Harris coming out as gay and living with his partner David Burtka, (my only queer ideals back then) I used to imagine that they would come visit India and I’d bump into them, we’d become friends, and then they would tell me how one knows whether one is queer or not.
In my very first month in a co-ed senior college, all my feelings for women were put on hold. ‘I guess, I like men after all.’ Boys to be more precise.
‘So the whole crushing on women thing was just a phase?’ I forgot my queerness like it was a bad dream (I wasn’t familiar with bisexuality at the time). During my time in college I used to go to therapy for depression, made peace with the penis, it wasn’t an enemy anymore, just another overly sexualised organ of the human body. Then one day, a close friend of mine said, that I only bother with boys because I am secretly gay and when I am 21 I would realise that.
She was pretty much on point. However, she said it in bad taste. She said it to hurt me and humiliate me. (I felt hurt and humiliated since I was still uncomfortable with my sexuality). Following that statement by her, I had an argument with her boyfriend who thought being gay was unnatural. However, he thought I was straight. He thought, since my parents were divorced, and the ‘absence of a male in my life’, I am trying to find comfort in men. That explanation can also be applied for men who like men, he explained, ‘If you look closely, you will notice that these men also have an absent father figure, hence, they like men.’ (That is quite a theory to come up with, I applaud his creativity).
In my final year in college, along with 3 friends of mine, we started a support group, The Circle, where people could come and share their stories of abuse, vent or simply lend a listening ear. It also helped me be the Neil Patrick Harris of my own life. The more I shared my story, the more I realised how much the abuse I faced shaped my life, with the kind of people I liked, the gender of the people I liked, the kind of relationships I held, the kind of relationships I didn’t hold.
I moved to Delhi after graduating and started interning for a human rights organisation. We had some amazing training sessions where I was first introduced to the ‘fact’ that there are more than two types of genders and that there are more than 3 types of sexualities. I was introduced to ‘pansexuality’, a sexuality I have come to identify with. My project topic was Understanding the Transgender Community in Delhi and explaining the Differences between Gender, Sex & Sexuality. I watched more than 50 videos and read over 80 articles in June of 2016, everything always left me breathless. People shared their stories of how they realised they were queer at the age of 50. People spoke about how they didn’t feel they fit in as being a man but that they were ‘gender fluid’, something I identify as now, as well.
I called up a friend of mine from college. She identified as gender fluid, so I asked her more than a million questions. I told her about everything that I had learnt, I explained to her that I am scared. “What if I am beaten up?” and she said “So what? It won’t change who you are.”
Read here about another gender fluid Indian: Lavanya Narayan
‘So what’, precisely. This is now ingrained in my brain. I write this to tell my story as a queer individual. I was and have been scared for far too long. But I cast that fear aside and wish to celebrate this day with my friends and family. I am a gender fluid pansexual person, and I couldn’t be prouder to call myself a Queer Indian.
This article first appeared here.