Sayantika & Nick, also known as #TeamNiSa, both working in the field of marketing, are the modern day Romeo & Juliet, or, Juliet & Juliet, if you please, of the agency life! This amazing couple found each other, loved each other and continue to be each other’s support systems.
Read on to see how this enemies-turned-to lovers pair is navigating their lovely lesbian lives and what are their thoughts on being a part of the LGBTQIA+ Community in India!
At what age did you realize that you are attracted to women?
For me, I think back when I was a teenager, I had this huge crush for 3 years, on a girl who was a senior in school. Literally gave her a Valentine’s Day cards and I made her fill up my slam book; even got her a band for friendship day. I even bunked assembly once to stay back & give her the friendship band. And then I stuck my hand out and said “Happy Friendship Day”; she put her hand out and said “Pehena Do” (Put it on). I melted and was like “Aaj toh mera SRK moment ho raha hai!”
So thinking back on my crush for three long years, I knew I liked women but back then I didn’t know this whole terminology; growing up in the 90s and early 2000s I wasn’t familiar with it. Also, I went to a girls school. So a lot of people just used to say “Oh, it’s a girl crush” & “It’ll pass” & “You’re in a girl’s school, these things happen.”
24 and Lesbian:
I didn’t pay much heed to it. Back in high school, I assumed I was maybe Bisexual, because I dated a guy. It was when I was 24, which is pretty late realization, but, late than never, that I realized I’m a lesbian. When I was in Bangalore, I hung out with this one girl, who was also a lesbian. And then I got to know the whole Bangalore community. I never dated her, but she kind of became a friend, mentor and she helped me figure things out.
Once I came out, I went all out! I binge watched every episode of “L Word”; joined the community. I went to pride, I hung around with everybody. So I pretty much went all out. It was like a sudden epiphany for me.
I started playing cricket for my school team when I was in 6th grade, or so. I bacame the captain and went on to represent the Bombay team. So that got me a lot of fame. When I had started playing, I had no one to form a team with, so I requested all my girl-friends to form a team. And they were all super-impressed with my game. So I started to get a lot of attention from the girls, and I was really enjoying it. After ebery match the girls would get something for me; or if I had to go for tours, they used to write me letters; something I never used to get from my idiotic boyfriend! That’s when I realised that this is also something.
Coming out is a big step. How did you manage it?
I think the biggest coming out, is coming out to yourself. And when I had that moment, and it told me that “yeah, you’re a lesbian”, I was like, “Damn, I need to scream this through the rooftop!” I really went above board.
Coming out to my parents was one of the most crucial coming out for me. Actually it happened in a very funny way. I didn’t come out to my parents they outed me to themselves. So, I’m a spoken words poet and I was writing a lot of queer poetry. My parents have read these articles, they have watched my spoken word poetry videos, they’ve seen me perform. So they had an inkling and my friends group at that time, all of them were queer women. Me being not so subtle at all, I told my parents that all my friends are queer I just didn’t tell them I am.
So, my parents and I had gone to Goa together for my birthday, in October, five years ago. We were talking about this article I had written for Deccan Chronicle and this lesbian couple who was featured; they were a friend of mine. One of them was butch and the other one was femme and my mom’s idea of a lesbian was somebody with short hair and looks like a boy. So she looks at the femme and she goes, “So she’s a lesbian because she’s with her”. I said no, she just is ’cause she likes being with women so she’s a lesbian; whether she’s with her, no one else, single for the rest of her life; she still is a lesbian.
So my mom looked at me, full deadpan expression and says, “So you like women, you’re a lesbian” and I pause for 2 seconds and then go ‘uh huh’ and then she even asked me about the girl I was dating at that time. She knew all of that. She just figured it all out. I guess I‘d not been as subtle as I thought I had.
After a few long conversations, a little crying, and asking me not to put this on social media; my parents are cool about it now. They treat Nick like they’ll adopt Nick and abandon me. They completely pamper her, they take her shopping and my dad even picks out clothes for her.
Till date, I haven’t faced any negative remarks on coming out. People have always lovingly accepted it. In fact, I remember when I came out to my guy best freind, he said that it doesn’t change you as a person. You are my Nick only. it doesn’t change you as a person and I love you as a person; so it doesn’t really matter.
How difficult has it been for you to live in a society like ours, where LGBTQIA+ people are usually not accepted whole heartedly?
I remember when I was in college and I felt very alienated. It always felt like my classmates, the people around me, even though they knew I was gay they just didn’t want to let me talk about it. Even simple things talking to your friends about boyfriends, break ups, first date drama, all that jazz; they would talk about this all the time and whenever I started talking about my girlfriend or my date or anything about my feelings about a girl they would say “Yeah we know you’re lesbian, we don’t want to hear about it.”
And that is really not acceptance, its tolerance. I don’t need you to just tolerate me I need you to accept me for who I am.
Whenever we tell people we’re lesbians all they’re asking us is “How do you have sex?”. Either they’re saying it or I can literally see that it’s in their mind. This level of fetishization of lesbians stems a lot from porn. Lesbian porn is literally one of the most searched porns in India it’s the top one. I know it’s called sexual orientation but it’s not just about the way we have sex; it’s the way we love, it’s who we want to spend our lives with, its who we wake up with, its who we go to sleep with, who we want to build a family with; and all of that is erased and brought down to the simple point of how we have sex.
You have your fights, you have your disagreements we have all the same things that straight people do. It’s not any different; it’s two people in love, it’s two people in a relationship with all the baggage that comes with it and I feel like there’s complete erasure of our identity and just brought down to sexual nature of that identity.
We’re not even given simple things as marriage rights. And many straight people are so clueless about this. I have had straight people “straight-splain” it to me saying, “No, you don’t know. You can get married now that section 377 has been decriminalized.”
Like, yeah sure, I don’t know about my own rights!
Marriage rights are essential
I strongly vouch for marriage rights because I feel it’s very important. Sometimes people from the community themselves don’t believe in it. They feel like marriage is a heterosexual construct. But I feel it’s not a heterosexual construct it’s a heterosexual privilege, that comes with a lot of legal financial social ramifications. For instance, suppose my girlfriend and I, have been living together for 20 years. For all intents and purposes, she’s my wife. Let’s say 20 years later she is in the ICU for some reason. I would not be considered family by the hospital; I would not be allowed to sign any of her medical documents, take any of her medical decisions, even go see her in the ICU because only families are allowed. After 20 years of being with somebody who is my wife, I would be considered just a friend.
And for so many of us families cut us out. If say your partner’s family doesn’t want you to see them when they’re ill, you can’t do anything. You have no legal recourse. Because of such reasons, marital rights are important. Even in a lesbian relationships there’s domestic violence and you can’t seek a legal recourse for that. If you want to have a child together, you cannot co-parent. If you want to open a joint bank account, you can’t. Having joint medical insurances, joint finances for the future, nothing at all!
An there is social acceptance, of course. Lot of times when your marriage is on the rocks or something you have family and everyone like helping you out trying to help you figure things out here we have nothing there is no scaffolding holding us together how much harder does it make it for us?
It is said that there are gender roles in a lesbian relationship as well. Do you think this is true?
I disagree with the statement that there ‘are’ gender roles; because that makes it a universal truth, which is not the case and should not be the case at all. To say that there are gender roles would imply that there is such a thing as certain gender roles- which is to say that to act a certain way to wear a dress or to cook is feminine or to be the bread earner of the family is masculine; that notion in itself doesn’t exist for me. Those are gender stereotypes, not gender roles.
The reason people say “man” & “woman” in a relationship is because they are inherently prescribing to gender stereotypes. If I wear a dress, I’m the woman, and if she has short hair and wears shirts, then she’s the man. That is not the case. Both of us are women, and we identify as cis-women, and that is what our gender is.
When people fall pray to gender stereotypes, its not their fault, per say, its the conditioning. We don’t have real role models for lesbian couples. Growing up, you watch your parents, your grandparents, aunts & uncles, relatives, cousins; And all you see as a standard for a relationship is that between a man and a woman. On TV, in movies, you see the romance between a man and a woman. That’s how the hetrosexual gender stereotype is reinforced to such an extent that the conditioning does spill over into lesbian relationships. But, if we are more accepting and have more role models and media content of Lesbian relationships, then I think that this stereotype will slowly start to epp.
Lesbians are categorized into either Butch or Femme. Do you agree with this? Please elaborate.
Some people are against labels, some people are in favor of labels; I would like to say that labels are a very personal experience. If its a label you are comfortable with, then you yourself can prescribe to it- If it deeply resonates with you. For me the term Lesbian deeply resonates, and that’s what I use. But if labels do not feel comfortable for you, then it is not necessary to do so. You can be a woman who likes other women, without calling yourself a lesbian. You can be a cis-identifying woman who embraces her masculinity more, and not call yourself a butch. And that is completely OK. How you identify as, is completely up to you. They should not be imposed on anybody.
I honestly don’t believe in it. Because, looking at my own journey, when I was in school and college, I used to be a “hardcore butch” as they call it. Playing sports, having spiked hair, etc., you would always categorize me as a butch. But as I grew up, I started knowing myself better and understanding what I feel comfortable with. So I don’t mind wearing a girly top today. I wouldn’t like to be classified as a butch. I think it keeps on changing. It depends on what phase you are in your life, how you feel, what is your mood like.
What do you think of platforms such as FSOG?
I love it. First off, I find your name so punny-so cool!
I think we need more platforms and more content from platforms like this, because unfortunately, the major media houses, the major production companies or even Bollywood for that matter, except for that one odd movie, they have not really jumped on the bandwagon for LGBTQ rights. or even so much as disseminating information on LGTQ rights. Unless that’s the case, acceptance cannot happen. One thing I’ve realized is that information is really important for straight people to come to terms with the fact that we exist. Because we have platforms such as FSOG, trying to reach the masses, even non-queer people with the exposure and the understanding, it is easier to say “You need to accept us” & “We need our rights.”
I think its a great initiative. The more the awareness, the more the acceptance. The more you are exposed to it, the more there is awareness, the acceptance becomes easier and normal. We need more voices, more content, more sites and apps, more participation in mass media.
Is there anything you would like to tell all the straight/cis-gender people out there, with regards to the LGBTQ+ community?
I hope for a day when there is no divide, where I have to say ‘straight/cis-people’ & ‘LGBT people’. I hope for a day when we are just ‘people’.
We do not want special privileges, we just want equality. We just want to be treated like you are.
Try hanging out with us. We are no different!
What would you like to advise people who are struggling to come out of the closet and accept themselves?
So this advice comes from a really pained personal part of my heart: First off, don’t come out before you are financially independent. Because otherwise you are a little bit screwed. Just try not to.
Secondly, reach out to queer support groups, even if you are facing trouble with your family. There are queer support groups all across India. You can find them online, or on Facebook etc. There is ‘Yaariyan’, ‘Gaysi’, these people have LGBT advocates and people with experience each can guide you if you are facing trouble coming out or being pressurized by family.
Third thing I would like to say is, and this is going to sound a little controversial, but it’s your life. No matter what anyone has to say, you don’t have to give it up for anyone else. I know a lot of people feel they don’t want to hurt their parents; and I get that, but you can’t live with hurting yourself for the rest of your life. Because when a lesbian is forced into a straight marriage, for her, that’s quiet literally rape everyday. And that is not something anyone deserves, no matter what you are trying to do or how much you are trying to make your family happy. It’s not worth it. Please don’t do it to yourself. You owe it to yourself to love yourself before you love anyone else.
Just never shy away from feeling what your are like. Accept yourself first and it will be easier to accept yourself in front of others. Don’t be hesitant to accept yourself. As long as you accept yourself strongly, the world will accept you!