Even with the revocation of Article 377, being of the LGBTQI community in India is rife with social and political issues. In this piece I discuss how in my experience being a bisexual woman has you reduced both within and outside the community.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
When I was in kindergarten my mother was called in to school because I wouldn’t stop asking the girls in my class to marry me. I don’t know how my teacher would have framed that complaint and I don’t remember how my mother handled it at that moment, I only know this because it was repeated to me as a funny tidbit about my childhood. My first real memory on the subject is from a summer afternoon when I was seven, I had just asked my mother why I couldn’t marry a woman and she had just told me that if I did that she would send me to America for treatment. I didn’t know what the treatment was for and I didn’t quite understand why it would be found in America but somehow my mother’s response to my question did not cause me to believe I had a disease. I just thought it was strange that America has treatment facilities for marriage.
As a teenager I had my first sexual experience with a woman, and it felt as natural as it had with any man. The nature and circumstance of that experience made me realise that there were many women, especially young women, in our country who were exploring themselves sexually with other women because of the socially-sanctioned proximity and that they considered it safer than engaging in their sexuality with men. For me, it wasn’t borne out of a concern for safety or a desire to preserve my traditional virginity, for as long as I can remember, I have wanted to be in love with people of all gender-based persuasions (or none) and of any sex. I thought it was just that simple, because I did not understand the politics of sexuality that plague our society. I understood the essence of intolerance that was fed by homophobia but I couldn’t quite fathom, in my little world where love was all that mattered, how that impacted me. Even with my mother of the belief that if you’re gay you need treatment in America, I couldn’t fathom how I could be a victim of homophobia.
According to me, my first brush with sexual politics came when I was in college and in an actual relationship with a woman for the first time. We met online because that is just where most gay people meet, the internet is essentially a fully-equipped playground for misfits, and she told me that she could only date me inside my house. We couldn’t go to bars, we couldn’t meet people together, I couldn’t tell people we were together and I couldn’t expect that we would love each other on a long term basis. I told her I wasn’t okay with that.
“How does it matter to you?” She said, “It’s not like you came out to anyone.”
She was not wrong about the fact that I had never really “come out” to anyone, but she wasn’t right about how much it mattered to me. I never came out to anyone because I was never in. I was always open about who I dated. I never used gender-masking pronouns in reference to people I dated. If asked to declare my sexual orientation openly, I would do so accurately. When in discussion about romantic interests, I expressed mine freely. I specifically never hid my sexual orientation because I wanted to never have to come out. I didn’t put myself in a box, and I am not okay with brandishing to society when I come out of a box that was never there. She didn’t see it that way. I thought she might be the only one with that view.
However upon navigating the gay community in various cities India, I noticed something that exists in every community, a hierarchy. It was incredibly to important to have a coming-out story to get to the top of the pyramid. It was incredibly important to go to protests and community-bond. Like many hierarchies this one too, is unspoken but the degree of your gayness is measured by how much you have suffered for it. This is not their fault, it’s a symptom of a socio-political environment where romance is not allowed to be free of politics because at the heart of the romance is a community that is still fighting for equal rights. My idea of equal-opportunity gayness is incredibly Utopian and cannot be realised until members of this community are being attacked for who they are and denied their rights. That’s fair. It is a bit flippant to prioritise dating when people don’t have basic human rights but it was never my poltics that were the problem, it was that I didn’t display them. I am a vocal ally of the LGBTQI community and in my work as a journalist who is informed by her ideology, I believe strongly in inclusion and representation in all forms but I don’t go to protests. I don’t post rainbow flags on instagram because I had never even used it until a week ago. Loving women is part of my identity, but the politics of it isn’t. Identity is important and how you identify matters most within tight-knit communities.
Identity is a big part of sexuality and both within, and outside, the gay community, bisexuality is in many ways considered a crisis of identity. There is a well-known adage that bisexual women will end up with men and so will bisexual men. I don’t know about the men, but for the women I will say this, a lot of us end up with men because dating as a bisexual is a zero sum game and you get all the losses. In my experience of dating women for a decade as a bisexual, there is a few types of women who contact me most frequently. It’s either women who assume you are also closeted and want to be your secret lover, some of these women are married and others are usually single and disappear after you speak to them once, or it is women who are looking to experiment but are heteroromantic. The final category is couples looking for threesomes because you know, porn (and you’re the unicorn). Everybody expects bisexual women to be pornographic objects that are promiscuous and flaky, but the reality is we are crumb-covered control freaks like everyone else. This oversexed, undecided image of bisexuality puts us up on the dating market as a sexual-fantasy tasting menu. It’s fun to be the “experiment” the first two times but then you just want to make an omlette and have a fight. Then there is no one there. Just you and your bisexuality, shaking hands after a photo-finish.
And so you marry a man.
I married a man I love deeply and enjoy waking up to every single day. I didn’t want to marry him because I don’t feel like it proves I will love him forever but I did because his job only allows him to cohabitate with his wife and I was tried of sneaking around like a criminal. He also has a son from a previous marriage and being his wife puts me in a better (but not good) legal position with regard to co-parenting. I married him because it made life easier but as far as my sexuality goes what I was saying when I married him was that I am now heterosexual. I was saying now that I have married a man, I have decided with finality that I am no longer interested in women. Except, I never decided that. I realise that a large number of people practise traditional monogamy however I have never wanted that. I have always wanted to date people of different gender-based identification at the same time so I have and I let that identification inform the decision of who I would married. I married a man who brings his own set of similar desires to the table and that is what makes us compatible.
Except that is not what anyone hears. Most people would see this relationship as either fundamentally wrong or headed for divorce, and nothing I can say would convince them otherwise. There are others though who see it and see live pornography. They think poly-leaning bisexuality somehow means threesomes.The curse of the threesome never stops following the bisexual around. There are others who consider it a jaded form of modern-living. Then there are those who you want to date and unfortunately a married bi-sexual is not a viable contender for the cheaters or the lifers. In concept those that don’t despise it find it so fascinating. They are unable to see how turning my sexual identity into a commodity that represents progress and fascinating immorality is ultimately part of the fabric of a culture that does not allow freedom to prosper.
“It’s so cool your husband is okay with it,” that’s what they say.
Yeah, my husband is okay with it. Very encouraging, even. Now, may I introduce you to the invisible woman on my arm?