By Pragati Kulkarni
Illustration by Krupali
I’m 28 and I recently realized I’m bisexual. Yes. Up until a month ago, I thought of myself to be a heterosexual. I have lived thinking of myself as that ever since I’ve felt what attraction or love is. For 5 years now, I have also been in a long-term relationship with a cis man and it continues, alongside the realization.
So, what changed? I’m not really a fan of social media algorithms, but this time, I’m really thankful to Instagram for suggesting the page of an amazing content creator. And well yes, no prizes for guessing, she is a woman.
I know this is all sounding very juvenile. But remember the way we would drool over Salman Khan in O O Jaane Jaana? Or how Milind Soman has served to awaken sexual feelings in women over many generations? I felt the same heady feeling rise inside me when I was watching the said content creator on Instagram and I realised I could have sexual feelings for women.
It took me days to come to terms with it. At first, I said to myself, it was because she danced really well. Then, I blamed her song selection for the videos she put up, all the classic growing-up hits which could make anyone super-nostalgic and get them hooked. But I gave in and accepted that, despite everything, what really drew me to her was her alone – her smile, her expressions, her energy and the persona she projects. I slowly started daydreaming about being with her, going on dates, cooking for her, and other such usual stuff I imagine whenever I’m attracted to someone. These thoughts became so involuntary that I had no choice but to accept what I was feeling. And in the hope that the woman I’m crushing over does read this, just to clarify, I request you to please consider all of this as a compliment, and just, mere pyaar ka izhar, if you will.
Yet, this isn’t the first time I have felt attracted to women.. I’ve had momentary crushes, both for fictional characters and real women. I’d also liked a woman seriously about 2 years ago. But, since it was the first time, I found all kinds of excuses to not accept that I also like women. Afterall, she was the first and only woman I’d liked and it is really easy to rationalise one’s queer feelings as ephemeral , when one has lived with heterosexual feelings for close to a decade. Also, as women, we have so many easy intimacies. We often appreciate each other, contrary to the popular belief that women are jealous of each other. And even though I could see I appreciated her differently (read romantically), I wasn’t quite convinced nor was I ready to redefine and relabel my sexuality.
I mean, look, I grew up in Dombivli, near Bombay. It creates a misconception of growing up in a metropolitan culture. Dombivli is pretty conservative, as is my family. My sister and I pretended, in our initial libido-fueled years, that we in fact have no libido. This is not unique, as most people have experienced or continue to experience this in our country. So, yes, family, community, society, culture, religion, state and all other such institutions conspire to stunt our relationship with our sexual feelings. Later, these feelings are given ‘appropriate form’ – marriage, and a heterosexual one, even if a ‘love marriage’ is accepted.
Bollywood love stories have been the only respite for me in learning about and imagining love and the love they center and romanticize, is heterosexual love. I can’t help but blame Hindi cinema because even though everything that I’ve learnt about love and romance has been from there. So yes, it taught me to have love-feelings, but mirrored them most, when they were heterosexual feelings.
I’m one of the privileged to have had English-medium education since primary school. I also studied gender, feminism and related themes for 2 years in college. I remember reading an essay by Adrienne Rich, where she speaks of how lesbian existence is rather more natural than heterosexuality. Reading Adrienne Rich and others, although unsettling, fascinated me, and changed my view of sexuality fundamentally. However, it is one thing to read about something and accept it in theory, and a whole other thing to feel it in your heart. I think that with my current state of being, with my overflowing love and feelings, I think I’ve finally understood what Rich was pointing at.
But here is what I did not have – sex education of any kind or in fact, any conversation at all about sex and sexuality until much later in my life. I was very shy and quiet in school, and could never open up enough to talk about sex or attraction with anyone. I wasn’t part of any giggly conversations about sex among friends, and rather plunged straight into engaging with it academically later in college. Thus for me, projecting my desires into daydreams has been an important gateway. And both daydreaming as well as learning about gender during college have been extremely liberating, but again my feelings were limited to heterosexual love and attraction and the journey to opening out has taken longer than it might have, if many of the things I mention above had been a natural part of our surroundings – more queer love stories, more sex education.
When I initially started accepting my bisexual feelings, I was gravely riddled with a feeling of loss of an alternative life I could have had. I don’t know why, on the day I accepted that okay, this is me who also likes women, I spent two hours crying. I was angry, upset and annoyed with myself for not knowing this earlier. I’m lucky to be with a partner with whom I can communicate these thoughts. I also have a caring friend and a sister who are both supportive. I wonder what my life would have been had I realized I’m bisexual at 14. I know for a fact that it’d been harder for me to accept my feelings. I would’ve been completely stressed and alone to feel all that I’m feeling today, and maybe would’ve even tried to suppress it as the 14-year old me would’ve definitely thought of it to be wrong. But, maybe, I’d have also eventually come to date women? Maybe I’d have had my first kiss with a woman? Maybe I’d have had loving relationships with women? Was there a whole sexual life I never had, because I thought having a sexual life meant conforming to certain norms?
And so, the lingering feeling of loss remains, It is true that I’ve become somewhat sexually aware of women around me, but at the same time, my affection for my partner isn’t affected by the change I feel in my sexuality. There are times this dichotomy confuses me. Then again, there is comfort and liberation in learning, connecting and accepting who I am and how I feel. So, perhaps, as of now, I’ll take each day as it comes and continue to daydream though, only this time the dreams will certainly be more colourful.
So, gratitude to those, who were not held back by everything that could hold you back in the world, from finding your own sexual self – the bold, confident, queer women icons who can inspire us to be unapologetically ourselves, or maybe (as happened with me) even trigger queer love in us and change the world’s definition of love and our idea of ourselves. I am extremely happy and lucky to have found such an icon today (yes, I think she is pretty iconic). Like Fleabag says, albeit in a totally different context, (please pardon my exaggerated reference) I think sometimes: ‘All the love that I have for her, I don’t know where to put it now.’ And as a master of daydreaming, I do occasionally picture my crush coming up to me and saying, ‘I’ll take it. It sounds lovely.’
Pragati Kulkarni currently works for an NGO in Madhya Pradesh. She dreams of a day when she can grow her own food, learn to stitch her own clothes and read all the books she has collected.