It starts off like a trickle down the side of your bathtub. You see couples in school every day, exchanging glances, clasping hands briefly, lips rarely finding cheeks, and a smug air of contentment firmly in place – something even school rules can’t forbid.
Just a trickle of unhappiness, not even enough to graze your toes.
You see them on television, you read about them in young adult romance novels (spoiler alert: your reading taste will dramatically improve over the next two years), you hear about them over the phone whenever a friend has a lover’s tiff.
But it’s suffocating, and suddenly the water’s up to your neck. Limbs flailing, you don’t know how to breathe. You’re drowning in your own unhappiness and nothing that society has taught is helping you stay afloat.
You don’t know why when everyone seems to be trying their hand at ‘relationships’ (side-note: you’ll be sceptical – even two years later), you feel uncomfortable even at the thought of it, like wearing an itchy, starchy Diwali outfit that chafes your skin. You start to despise yourself, your personality (“I’m not girlfriend material”) and your looks (“am I too dark? Too chubby? Is my hair too short?”). Shocking, when you realise two years later, that it’s not any of these things.
You were unable to let your walls down because you knew, instinctively, that you weren’t clear about something. Boys felt right, but you felt like there was a certain deficiency, almost like a phantom limb, constantly nagging you anytime your hormones jostled for the reins.
You’re bisexual. It takes two years of experimentation to realise that your ‘Girl meets Boy’ could just as easily be ‘Girl meets Girl’.
You now had two issues at hand: how do you tell people? Your family?
And, now what?
You tackled the second one first, because the first one drained your face of its colour if you thought about it for more than twenty seconds at a time.
When most people had gone through the more juvenile dating rituals back when they wore uniforms, the first awkward ‘I like you’, the milkshake dates, the walks back home, you now had to give yourself a crash-course in romance. You were wary of the typical girlfriend or boyfriend stereotypes, because unlike women who love men and men who love women, you could simultaneously agree and disagree with both.
You’re suddenly forced to deal with the tropes of bisexuality; you’re greedy, you’re indecisive, you haven’t met the right man/woman, you think it’s ‘edgy’, you want threesomes, you’re just ‘horny’. You turn to literature and pop culture, and find strength in bisexual icons (thank you Oscar Wilde, Virginia Woolf and Walt Whitman).
The first issue inevitably sneaks up on you during an argument on bisexuality with your mother. You argue so passionately, that when it’s her turn to talk, there’s a lull in the conversation. She asks quietly, if you’re bisexual. You know you only have a moment to say ‘no’, otherwise it’s no longer believable anyway. But as you prepare yourself, lips shaping a monosyllable of dissent, you feel that rejected 17-year-old, that suddenly-hopeful 18-year-old quickly acquainting herself with LGBT culture, and suddenly your 19-year-old mouth says ‘yes’; you were vetoed into this confession.
The outcome is a lot less hellish than what you’d been predicting. No dramatic excommunication, no domestic fall out, just a lot of curiosity and some delicious familiarity. ‘Do you have a crush on that boy?’ turned to ‘do you have a crush on that girl?’ and endless curiosity, questions that you don’t have the answers to. Yet.
Your friends’ reactions are varied; shocked, disconcerted, apathetic, pleasantly surprised, thrilled. You’ll later realise that the ones worth keeping around won’t even be fazed by this.
You’ll look back at the women who made your skin burn just by their presence, the ones who made your mind hazy with a smile, the ones who made you more self-conscious about your hair, with a different lens now. These were early signs, shrouded in a heteronormative mist that you couldn’t decipher. You finally acknowledge that your woman-crushes aren’t just a Wednesday trend.
You’ll have higher expectations for the men you meet; how is it possible that someone who’s privileged enough to love and be loved by women treat them so poorly? It’ll be amusing and pleasantly odd to bond over ‘chicks’ with your male friends and boyfriends.
Your knee-jerk response of discomfort, revulsion and frustration to romance has an expiry date. You’re going to fall in love, lust, convenience, more lust, and it’ll be okay. You’ll hurt others’ feelings and have yours crushed too, but that’s okay. You’re not an all-knowing being, you’re still a bisexual fledgling who has to fight her heteronormative upbringing every day.
But you won’t ever drown again. You’ll know how to swim.
A 19-year-old whose body houses the spirit and chronic knee pain of a 90-year-old, Mihika can most often be found taking a me-day off from college, all because of one tiring week she had in 2013.
Featured image credit: Jiroe/Unsplash