Coming out in India
I’ve probably been bisexual my whole life.
I’ve probably been bisexual my whole life. I mean, sure, there were the schoolgirl crushes on other girls, but that’s fairly normal and doesn’t necessarily indicate bisexuality. But there were other incidents, of wondering what it would feel like to kiss a girl, or a glance that lingered just a little too long; of being fascinated with a woman’s body coupled with curiosity about what boys looked like underneath their clothes.
I didn’t do anything about my bisexuality in my teens; I harboured crushes on boys, and sometimes they were reciprocated. I kissed a boy when I was sixteen; it was raining outside and it was cold, and our combined breath fogged up his glasses as we kissed, our eyes firmly closed, our hands clasping each other’s. That boy went on to become an official boyfriend and the relationship lasted a few months. It was a magical time, but at the back of my head, I still wondered why I wanted to kiss girls as well.
Fast forward to eighteen, and a holiday in Europe before college started. I was on my first unsupervised night out with friends, and a pen friend I’d met for the first time in Munich. It was a little wild because we were young and free; I tried German beer for the first time (and hated it; I would only develop a taste for beer in my mid-twenties), and danced with boys I didn’t know at a nightclub. Men kept coming to our table – I guess the fact that four teenage girls were out on their own was enticing; I was battling an anxiety attack because I wasn’t dealing with crowds very well (I blame my small town upbringing) and at some point I excused myself and hid in the women’s toilet. I put the seat down, sat on the toilet, and pulled my knees up to my chest. I heard people coming in and leaving; the flush went off periodically in neighbouring stalls, and a couple of people tried the handle to the stall I was in, but for the most part, I was left alone in peace, which was what I wanted. So much for my first taste of freedom, I thought wryly. I couldn’t handle it.
At some point, I began to cry softly because – and I am so embarrassed to type this – I wanted to go home. There was a knock on the door of the stall, and a voice inquired hesitantly if everything was alright. I stayed silent for a while and then I tremulously stated that I was not exactly alright, and a conversation ensued through the toilet stall door. After about half an hour of this, I unlocked the door and left the stall. The girl who was waiting for me on the other end made my heart skip a beat; she was the sort of girl I’d always wanted to meet, and physically (androgynous, short blonde hair, a nose ring) she ticked boxes I didn’t even know I wanted ticked. I think I stammered.
The long and the short of it was that Heidi (for that was her name) and I escaped from the nightclub and went to hang out at what she said was one of her favourite spots. That spot happened to be a rooftop garden in a building she used to live in, and we spent the night on the swing that was hanging there, talking the night away. And just when the slivers of dawn began to rent the sky, she leaned forward and kissed me. That kiss was full of promise, and took my breath away; it was everything I’d been fantasising about my entire life. It was soft and gentle, yet passionate, and so different from kissing a boy. It was one of the best experiences of my life. We ended the kiss with a giggle and hugged. Unfortunately, it was my last day in Munich, and I had to head back to the hotel or my grandparents (with whom I’d travelled to Europe) would be worried. There was no point telling Heidi that I would see her again. Both of us knew we’d probably never see each other again. But we’d shared a special moment that nobody could take away from us.
That experience was important, life-changing, and soul-affirming. It felt like a piece of myself was slotted back into place; I didn’t realise just how much I’d longed for that validation, and how glorious it was that it finally came. The only thing I knew for certain was that I didn’t want to go back to the confusion and silence of my earlier teenage years. I thought I was alright, but it wasn’t until I met Heidi that I realised I’d never been alright. I’d never been whole.
I was nervous about telling my mother and my grandparents the truth about who I was, but I reasoned that something that was such a huge part of me wasn’t something I wanted to gloss over or hide like I was ashamed of it. I confess that it hadn’t even occurred to me that they could, potentially, refuse to accept me. I was loved, and I reasoned that that love was all-enveloping and that I would always have it, even though I wasn’t straight. And it is a testament to how much I am loved that apart from a few moments of mild shock on the part of my grandparents, and a barrage of questions from my mum about how I knew, and finally if I was sure about this, they were accepting of me. I had been nervous for nothing; I was still Awanthi, and I was still loved.
My mother ended up throwing me a surprise coming out party, and my friends came to it; it was a joyous occasion, and when I look back at photos of that night I can still experience the relief and happiness that I felt in that moment when all the people I cared about were making an effort to show me how much they cared about me. I feel as blessed about it now as I did then.
It was only afterward that I realised I was in the minority, that people the world over experienced rejection and censure when they came out to people in their lives. It was pre-internet when I came out, and I lived a pretty sheltered life. It was only when I began travelling around the world a few years later that I began to understand why people kept their sexual identities a secret. I understood the fear and loathing that people experienced, simply because of how they identified. I learned about the cultures around the world where you could be killed or imprisoned simply for being gay or bisexual, and I began to understand that people stayed silent not out of shame, but out of fear. It broke my heart.
It still happens now; there are still cultures that punish people for being gay. People still fight hard for their rights; it’s not too long ago now that the Indian Supreme Court decriminalised gay sex. We’re heading in the right direction but there is still such a long way to go. There are still so many horrible stereotypes applied to homosexual and even bisexual people. It is only by speaking up and speaking out (those of us who can) that we can begin to make a difference, and it’s why I wrote this essay today. What I wish for people the world over is as joyous a coming out as I experienced, and for the taboo surrounding homosexuals and bisexuals to disappear.