EXPLORING MY SEXUALITY UNDER CENSORSHIP
I DIDN’T KISS ANOTHER GIRL UNTIL I WAS 25.
Two years ago, I realised I was in love with my best friend.
My entire life I had been waiting to feel all these feelings for a boy, and there I was, feeling so many things for a girl. Despite the enormity of my feelings, I tried to convince myself that ours was just a special bond that extended beyond the ordinary bounds of best friendships. All I did was speak to her, or be with her or think about her all the time, and yet, I lived in denial. We were soulmates, the universe had brought us together and this was some cosmic magic, I would tell her—but never the simple words I have romantic feelings for you. Until, of course, I couldn’t do it anymore. I had to admit to myself that I was pansexual.
Our friendship fell apart and at twenty-five, I decided to finally explore my sexuality. Prior to this, I had never kissed anyone.
My former best friend, the woman I had feelings for, had no clarity on her sexuality. This is why our confusing situation-ship lasted for about three years. It was heavily romantic, but both of us never explored anything sexually. When it finally became too much to bear, and when I finally realised that I was hurting myself by being in this situation, I jumped the boat and broke up with her. I understood then that I landed somewhere on the asexual spectrum, and that I never truly have been attracted to anyone sexually, not even her. This didn’t mean I didn’t crave sexual experiences—but what exactly I did want remained a big question mark for me.
Never been kissed… at twenty-five, this was a huge deal for me. I never thought my first sexual experience would be delayed for this long. A few years ago, I had lied to my closest friends and told them I had kissed a boy on a vacation to Paris. It was probably the only time I lied to my friends, but the idea of not having been kissed made me feel like I was someone who was unwanted, or maybe that because I was plus-sized, I was undesirable.
Post break-up, I met a bisexual woman and for the first time in my life, I experienced sexual tension. It was not at first sight, rather a build-up over the course of a few weeks and after having been friends first. I was excited and nervous about every little move that I had to make. Suddenly, likes and comments weren’t innocuous anymore. They were a way by which I was trying to tell her that I was into her—I imagine this was what it feels like to be sexually active teen.
And then she invited me over to watch Carol—and I think we all know where a night of watching a slow burning romantic movie like Carol would lead anyone when there is sexual tension… What was supposed to be a kiss turned into a night-long make out session.
When she kissed me, the first thing I realised was that I was definitely into women, but my relative asexuality had made it difficult for me to know. Everyone felt like a friend. I didn’t look at people and think, “Wow, this person is so hot, and I am so attracted to them.” When I would consider people in terms of aesthetic appeal, it was not in relation to my own sexuality.
For my entire life, I thought about how maybe I am yet to meet someone who would set my body parts on fire or something like in books or movies. But the culture of sex and romance puts so much onus on the beginning, and too little on the middle. This was probably the reason why I never kissed anyone until 25-year-old. Even then, I had actively decide to pursue it, because I was embarrassed that this was something I hadn’t experienced.
My sexual attraction worked on a progressive scale, where the more I saw her, the more I started finding things about her sensual. Suddenly the lace on her top would be my new favourite thing to look. In fact, what was supposed to be a casual relationship couldn’t be, because it was hard to be with other people at the same time. I soon discovered that sexual attraction in my life has to be cultivated. I can’t ever be randomly into someone. For me, it takes so much more than just bar hopping or hoping someone cute notices you.
In India, being queer is not only a sin, but it is also a crime. Queer men and women are forced into unwilling marriages, and exploration happens mostly in dark alleys. My internalisation of society’s hatred for our community flooded me with denial. My uncle and grandmother often called me a lesbian, in an attempt to shame my non-feminine approach towards life. My mother thought I was having hormonal issues because I didn’t like jewelry and shopping like other ‘normal’ girls.
Not only is the Indian culture anti-LGBTQ, but it also heavily censors love, even between married couples. Love, at any age, has to be hidden. People are prying and they threaten to expose you as if loving someone is something to be embarrassed about. Loving someone can become exhausting pretty quickly in a culture like this. Slut shaming will come with the territory of loving someone before you are of marriageable age. Kissing someone comes with guilt and is something that is almost never done in public.
With all this censorship, it was probably unfair of me to expect that I would have had sexual experiences during my teenage years. Even now, despite being twenty-five, and despite meeting a girl under the pretence of friendship—I still have to be vigilant. Nobody can know, is a constant thought in my head. It’s hard to be giddy with excitement when you know the consequences of your desire could be as severe as being cut off from your entire family and extended community.
* * *
When it finally came to exploring my sexuality with my girlfriend, I felt as if I was committing a crime. I was—and I still am—scared. Scared of people figuring out that we are not just two friends. In the society that I live in, she’ll be thrown out of her house, and I’d be thrown out of the family. It’s not an if but a definitive consequence.
Our own friends, who don’t know about us, often use homophobic language and make fun of the entire notion of queerness, as if it is something disgusting. I think that if we were to tell them, they would understand, but not before they would pass a fair share of judgment. Even though I am more open about it with other friends, my partner knows that she eventually will have to get married into a conservative Hindu family. She cannot risk exposure, having accepted that this part of her will remain a secret for her entire life. And this has influenced our romantic life as well, as we are always aware that our relationship can end suddenly. Getting too attached seems like a risk, and it all comes with a guarantee that we will have to eventually part ways.
For me, it feels like things are just beginning. The moment I had my first kiss, I knew that it was okay if the process has taken this long because what mattered now was this moment. I am exploring what a lot of my peers started exploring a decade before me, but I am not embarrassed by it anymore.
As a plus-sized, queer Indian Muslim woman, I carry within myself a myriad of intersectionalities. All the aspects of my identity played a role in repressing my sexuality. But now, they inform my liberation as well.
As a Muslim, I refuse to believe that God will look down upon love, in whatever form it exists. As a feminist, I recognise that bodies are beautiful just by the virtue of their existence and what they do for us. As a pansexual, I cannot be anything but grateful for how my sexuality allows me to be attracted to people not on the basis of conventions and norms, but for who they are. And as an Indian, this aspect of myself has brought into my life an entire community of people.
My identity makes my sexual experiences complex and beautiful at the same time. And experiencing these desires in my adulthood makes me cherish them more, and treat them with a certain respect that I might not have given them during my teenage years. Or maybe age doesn’t really matter, as long as you can find, in life, an opportunity to be true to yourself. Maybe that is all that matters.