Sexuality and Society
Updated: Jul 12, 2020
I have always known where I come from. If someone were to ask me, I could tell them down to the exact village in India. I am a Telugu Vaidiki Velanadu Brahmin from the West Godavari District. For most of you reading this, that description won’t mean anything. For some of you, you’re nodding as you think to yourself, “Aha, I know who you are.” I once thought the same, equating who I am with where I came from. Because I’m a brahmin, I believed I had to act, think, speak, and live a certain way.
With that came a set of norms I never questioned, such as my sexual identity.
As I grew older, I realized I didn’t have crushes like most of my friends did. I learned this with Anna. I always wanted to be near her and I found myself longing to touch her. She made me feel lighter with butterflies dancing in my stomach. Even my mother commented that my friend brought out a side of me that was rarely seen – one that was so incredibly happy. I didn’t know I had a crush on her; the possibility didn’t even occur to me considering the heteronormative environment I grew up in. Part of me must have known though, because after we lost touch, I didn’t feel like I was allowed to share that part of myself anymore. Some part of me recognized it as wrong.
It wasn’t until I was on a date with my boyfriend at the time and mentioned an actress I found attractive that he said to me, “Is there something you want to tell me? Cuz you know, not all women are that attracted to other women…” that I stopped to think “…am I bisexual? Is that even possible?? But I’m INDIAN.” As if being Indian meant that I was from a different planet, from a race that was resistant to homosexuality. I had been conditioned to believe that Indians couldn’t be LGBTQ+. This was an affliction that only affected outsiders. Westerners. It never crossed my mind that I could be a part of this community.
Embracing this realization, I came out to people close to me, starting with my siblings and friends. Thankfully this just confirmed to me how wonderful and supportive they all are. Not only did they assure me that they still considered me to be the same annoying sister I always had been, they continue to offer me a safe and welcoming environment. Thankful for that support, I practiced vocalizing my feelings. “Sooo…I’m bi…?” turned into “I like women,” which eventually became, “I like dudes, and I like chicks.” Yes, my language evolved along with my level of confidence.
Unfortunately, my Indian friends did not share the support of others in my community. They were raised with the same misconceptions as me, commonly responding with “But you’re Indian!”, “I’ve never met an Indian one before!” (Apparently Indians are in short supply despite having the second largest global population) or “Really? But-but-and you just go around telling people?” (cue major eyeroll here). I was expected to hide away who I was, because I wasn’t “normal”. How dare I embrace my sexuality if I’m not heterosexual?
When my friend’s mom found out, she refused to let her college aged son hang out with me, because clearly, I had loose morals. This opinion, unfortunately, was held even by people my age, of my generation.
One of my college friends, we’ll call her Radha, refused to be alone with me, for fear that in the two minutes we were in the bathroom together I’d seduce her, or infect her with my bisexuality. Many of my male Indian friends approached me for threesomes, despite the fact that I was in a committed relationship and made it clear that I was not open to being with other men.
I learned, after some time, that the people I called my friends were, in fact, gossiping about me and my “loose morals” while spreading rumors about how I would meet men and women online and bring them back to my room, presumably to have my way with them. My entire first year and most of my second year was spent being demonized by roommates and “friends”.
These were young adults that were born and raised here, in the United States. Many of them had friends of other ethnicities who were part of the LGBTQ+ community. Yet, despite that, I was still considered to be “less than” because of the fact that I’m Indian, and “Indians don’t do that.”
Fast forward to now, eight years later. The guilt was so ingrained in me that it wasn’t until just a couple of weeks ago that I came out to my mother. Although my mom has been generally understanding and supportive, we had never talked about something so contrary to the Indian culture. I knew my mom would love me no matter what, but the Indian mentality was so deep-rooted in me that I was hesitant to bring it up. A part of me still believed there was something wrong with me and telling my mom would make it that much more real. Shame is such a difficult belief to overcome.
She asked me, “But what does that mean now? You’re married, so you’re not *that* anymore.” No. No, Amma. Marriage does not change one’s sexuality. “Why is that important? It doesn’t change who you are; it’s just one aspect of your personality. You’re still the same person.” This is why I love my mom. When I told her about the problems I had in college, she nodded as if that were to be expected. “It’s because, Narayani, you’re so confident in your sexuality. People don’t expect that, they don’t like that.”
What is it about our society that we are so intimidated by a confident woman? Is it truly so frightening that a woman should embrace her sexuality? I would love to imagine a world in which I am applauded for my conviction, rather than scorned.
Even now, as I write this article, I second guess myself. How will this affect my family’s lives? Will my parents and grandparents be shunned in their respective communities? Will I?
And then, as an afterthought… Does it matter?