For much of the world, June traditionally means Pride Month, which traditionally means parades and parties. But as this year's parades and parties have been cancelled, we're taking Pride online. Over the next week, VICE is releasing a series of articles to celebrate the LGBTQ community, talk about the various challenges they're facing, and champion the individuals and collectives who push for greater visibility and equality.
The first time I looked up anything sexual online, the first words I typed were “hot girls without shirt”. I didn’t know why I was doing it, except that I liked what popped up after that a little too much. I was old enough to enjoy them, but not old enough to understand that society dictated girls didn’t conventionally spend so much time looking up other girls. Like everyone else, I had my own share of sexy thoughts. But, unlike most girls around me, my sexy thoughts saw a cast featuring both men and women. I didn’t know what it meant then—still truly don’t truly know what it means now—but I’ve finally allowed myself to question.
See, I grew up with enough internet to know what homosexuality meant, but not with enough people who truly understood it. As I spent my time hearing my school walls echo homophobic slurs like “chhakka” and “lesbo”, I somehow came to believe that these words were normal. And while I knew I’d never personally ridicule anyone for their sexuality, I had heard how people said these words—if not with disdain and contempt, then at least with mockery and sarcasm. I had heard all of that and just knew that as someone who craved acceptance and validation, there was no way I was going to allow myself to be attached to anything like that. So I told myself that while there was nothing wrong with being queer, it was that I just preferred not to stray from my assumed extremely heterosexual status.
And so, I turned myself away from anything queer that came my way. That included giving up on googling “hot girls without shirt”. That also included not consuming queer media and literature. “It isn’t that I don’t like it, I just don’t prefer it,” is what I repeatedly told myself. When you tell yourself something many, many times, the lines between fact and fiction blur enough for us to sit in fake, comfortable versions of ourselves. And while there were times I knew I was not being honest with myself, I just wasn’t brave enough to examine any of my feelings yet.
I specifically remember my internalised homophobia and self-denial being at its peak when I was watching Alex Strangelove. In this Netflix movie, a guy, who’s seemingly happy in a relationship with a girl, ends up falling for a gay man from the other side of the town and leaving her for him. I got into the movie knowing where it was going to go, but halfway into it—around the scene where the guy starts realising his feelings for the man in front of him—I shut my laptop. My heteronormative lens just couldn’t make me understand why he did that when he had something so seemingly perfect in front of him, but something deep inside me also feared finding out why.
Funnily enough, while it was queer media that intensified my fears, it was also queer media that began the very long process of breaking my walls down. One fateful day last year, I chanced upon this queer story on the internet, which I would never have read if it wasn’t from a fandom I was very involved in. But my curiosity got the better of me and I ended up binge-reading the entire thing. It had everything that I was apparently so afraid of: queer people falling in love, having sex, and living their lives. Before I knew it, I started wanting more of this normalcy they depicted. And so, I kept reading more such stories, one after the other, telling myself it was just for the plot. I had realised heteronormative settings weren’t doing it for me anymore, but I still lived in denial about this being much more beyond just the plotlines.
And then, the best possible thing happened to me. I went to college and met all these amazing people who were so open and comfortable with their sexualities. One day, I sat next to someone who has now become one of my closest friends. She spoke with me about her ex-girlfriend. I didn’t know it then, but this simple act of her discussing her queer relationships set the ball rolling. I soon met many more people, who all broke down my mental walls bit by bit: a male friend with whom I went to a protest and on the way back discussed the cute guys we had met, friends who’d post photos of them doing some not-so-heterosexual things, friends who’d retweet queer tweets. I also went to my first pride parade ever last year in Delhi and was genuinely so overwhelmed with the sheer amount of love I could feel in the air. That was the first time I perhaps realised that not only was being here not as shattering as I thought it’d be, but also that I genuinely wanted to be here— here, with them. Seeing people just be themselves, I finally wrapped my head around the idea that I, too, could unwrap my messy ball of emotions that I had been ignoring for so long and figure myself out.
So here was the unfiltered truth: I enjoyed looking at girls. For so long, I used to look up women while searching for porn and tell myself that it was because I wanted to be in their position, and feel the same ecstasy they seemed to enjoy. It is only now that I’ve allowed myself to question if that was really true, or if I just wanted to be the one who gave them that ecstasy. On some rare quiet nights when I would allow myself to wonder about it, my tendency to fantasise about both genders would give—still gives—me hell. I mean, I thought about both of them, but it didn’t have anything to do with my romantic interest. So, what exactly was I?
Sexuality became something that I agonised over a lot. While a lot of it stemmed from my tendency to overthink, I also felt not thinking about my sexuality was a disservice to the community and my identity. So once I gave myself the freedom to at least be curious, one of the first articles I read was on women talking about when they realised they were bisexual. My first reaction was to be stupefied at the simplicity of their answers—imagine, all these years of personal agony and conflict just to read “I don’t know, I’ve never really thought about it so seriously; I have just kind of gone with the flow”. But then, I also wanted to empathise with the girl who wrote that, because queerness really wasn’t—and shouldn’t be—that big of a deal. And it absolutely sucked that I had to agonise so much over something that was still just one small part of me. My discoveries about myself would sure make me a little wiser, but none of that would change who I essentially was as a person. Right?
In a utopian fantasy, I wouldn’t have to agonise over this so much—we all would instantly know who we were, and heterosexuality wouldn’t be the norm people were brought up with. But since life is not a fantasy, I agonise, a little bit every day, without reaching any conclusive answers yet. However, now, I agonise while reading queer literature and guides and watching queer movies. The more I read, the more I know that I don’t quite know. And while not knowing is scary, it is also so, so liberating. I used to think about sexuality as something very inherently sexual, but I’ve now come to know that is not the case with everyone. The more I read these days, the more I understand that sexuality is a spectrum, or a rainbow, if you may.
Regardless, I still have a long way to go. On some days, even googling the words “questioning my sexuality” makes my heart palpitate. And truth be told, I am still scared—albeit irrationally. A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have had the courage to write this; a few days ago, I wouldn’t have added my name to this piece. But life is just a continuous series of discoveries and this is just one of the many, many that I’d be making. I’m just glad that I have reached a point where I now know I would be there for myself, regardless of what I figure out.
So from the girl who shied away from watching a guy leave his girlfriend for another man in Alex Strangelove, I’ve become the girl who cried when the two girls realised they liked each other in The Half of It. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt, it is how essential it is to normalise queer relationships in popular media. And what I am a little proud about is just the fact that I have finally given myself the liberty to think about my sexuality without being bound by my mental blocks. I don’t know what I’ll learn or what it will take to go public with what I’ll find. But I’ve just started questioning and reflecting, and I think for now, that’s enough. Baby steps.
Follow Satviki on Instagram.