By Rohini Banerjee for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Editorial Note: Every time around Valentine’s Day we celebrate only one kind of love — the heterosexual kind — and queer love is hardly mentioned. Not all romantic love occurs between straight men and women, and there are so many alternate forms of love that are equally beautiful but law and society denies individuals the right to express it freely. So, this year on Valentine’s Day here’s a series that celebrates all love as equal and explores the experiences of couples and individuals who identify differently. That they are sharing their stories is a strong sign of how the #Windsof Change are here, and how more and more people are refusing to let silence be their only option. Even while anonymous (their choice, no one has the right to ask otherwise), it is heartening to have them share their love with us which is sure to give others reading these stories some hope too.
Bhavya and Nisha (names changed) are a polyamorous, lesbian couple based in Mumbai. Now, many may wonder how the words ‘polyamorous’ and ‘couple’ can fit in the same sentence. A polyamorous person is one who experiences romantic attraction towards multiple people (often at the same time), so how can they be in a relationship? This notion is completely wrong. Polyamorous love is as strong, as committed and as valid as any other kind of romantic love. Just because they can be romantically attracted to multiple people, does not mean that they love any partner less! Following are Bhavya and Nisha’s take on love, sexuality, relationships and each other:
How did you meet, and when and how did you realise that this was a deeper, romantic connection?
Bhavya: We met on Tinder. I was kind of hesitant about using it at first. I really didn’t think I could meet any interesting people on it but then a friend egged me on.
She had expressed how much she liked to play Scrabble and, being the romantic (deep, deep inside) that I am, I wanted to go on a date that was different and unconventional. We first had an awkward dinner during which I was trying to figure out how we could play Scrabble and then, thankfully, remembered that I had a set at home. I really connected with her on our third date and got to know her quite a bit by then. She was about to leave the city on a trip and I realised I would miss her. That’s when I truly acknowledged my feelings.
Nisha: We met on Tinder, being the fiend for online dating that I am, and hit it off immediately. We played Scrabble on our first date, in order to do something ‘out of the box’. I think it was after I slept over at her’s for the first time, and we just talked throughout the night, learning about each other, that I realised how this had the potential to turn into something really amazing. I knew I had to take things further.
Being polyamorous is universally negatively perceived because people think that those who are polyamorous cannot have lasting and faithful relationships. What would you say to counter this argument?
Bhavya: To me, polyamory is really about giving yourself to all your partners. By definition, it means loving more than one person without preference to one partner over the other. This doesn’t mean that the relationship can’t be meaningful or serious. Since we live in such a monoamorous world, it’s considered impossible. But consider this, almost all of us, at one time or another, have had a crush on, loved, or romantically cared about more than one person. This is no different. It’s been proven that polyamorous people can have long relationships and even families with their partners.
Nisha: I think we need to rethink what we consider a ‘relationship’ and value human relationships for what they are, as opposed to constantly focusing on what they could be, or how to make them fit within a certain appropriate idea. To me personally, committing to a monogamous relationship does not come naturally, I feel like I have to place many restrictions on myself and it often does not feel right. This seems to go against the idea that monogamous love is the ‘natural’ and appropriate way to go. I don’t think it impacts the intensity of my feelings, and even if it does (or even if it seems like I don’t seem to ‘love’ the way you expect me to), as long as I’m satisfied, I don’t see why it is a bad thing. I don’t like to force myself to feel or act a certain way.
How is it like, being polyamorous and queer and living in a country like India, which often doesn’t acknowledge alternate sexualities? How do you counter homophobia?
Bhavya: Coming from the [United] States, I found it extremely difficult at first. Heteronormativity is so rampant in India. I grew up in a place that was so accepting of who you were and really found myself there. After years of ‘not fitting in’ I finally had an identity. Returning to India was difficult and by difficult, I mean panic-inducing. People would stare, talk, laugh about my haircut and my general ‘boyishness’, which led me to become more and more withdrawn. I slowly made friends and came out to them. I was surprised that they were so accepting, even though sometimes they had horrible things to ask. “Have you even tried it with a guy? How do you know if you haven’t?” is the worst. “How do you know you’re straight?” is my usual response because I’ve known about my sexuality since I was 12. I don’t think I would have ever ‘chosen’ this — it happened to me and after years of struggling with the idea, and I’ve finally realised I’m proud of it. This is not a life someone would just randomly choose or not have deeply thought about.
Nisha: It can be stressful and upsetting, and I think we also live in constant fear of some of the very real, horrifying consequences of having this kind of relationship. I’ve ensured that I surround myself with people who are positive and accepting of the way I am, so in a way, I am actually sheltered from the worst of it. But if I encounter homophobia I make it a point to have a civil discussion with the person (unless they appear to have violent tendencies). It seems to be a fruitless endeavour but I feel like it’s the right thing to do.
Share some anecdotes about your coming out stories and/or about how you discovered your sexuality?
Bhavya: Like I said, I grew up in the States. I always knew I was different before moving there. While in India, I thought I was a freak. I had feelings that no one else seemed to have but moving to the States helped a lot. It is where I learnt the term, found out that the idea existed and really became okay with myself. My friends there knew I was queer before I did. I had a huge coming out planned. Heart in my throat, I told them, and got, “We figured” in response. My friends were accepting before I was of myself — even after I struggled with the idea for a while. I came out to my parents when I was 18, ready to head off to college. They thought it was a phase that I would grow out of a couple of years later. Eight years down the line, they’ve given up on the idea. They love me and accept me unconditionally and I’m ever grateful to have such a supportive family.
Nisha: I’m a bisexual woman. I know I have always been strongly attracted to women, perhaps even my first spark of arousal was because of women. I never really pursued this desire at that time, because when I was growing up, it was considered inappropriate and pretty much inconceivable. I’m surrounded by people who are much more accommodating now and am very glad I’ve had a chance to explore this side of myself. For the most part, everyone I’ve come out to (except my parents) has reacted positively — most of them just said, “of course, we knew that and are very happy for you.” My parents don’t like to have this discussion and pretend to be blissfully ignorant.
What is one thing that you love about each other, and one thing that annoys you about each other?
Bhavya: I love the fact that I can have endless conversations with her, they go nowhere but they say so much. In that sense, I really love her brain. It’s intelligent, sweet, even childlike at times. I love how she gives herself away in parts, like an onion. You are left with the anticipation of wanting more but when the time comes for it and not too soon. When she likes you, you know it because she swamps you with affection. She truly and genuinely cares about people. She’s so open and free and brilliantly herself. I think I’ve crossed the ‘one thing’ limit now.
What annoys me is I don’t get to see her often. To be quite honest, this is nothing to do with her directly. She can’t help it. If this were a more open and sexually free country, she would be able to tell her parents and her family would be okay with it and she would be able to spend more time with me. Until then, I’m always eagerly waiting for the next time we can see each other.
Nisha: Just one thing? Okay, I love that she cares so much about the stories other people have to tell and how good of a listener she is. How non-judgemental she is and how well she asks questions. Her perfect curly hair is a close second.
What annoys me, it’s hard to say at this point. I remember, in the beginning, though, that her texts to me seemed like she was disinterested and I wasn’t sure whether she liked me or not. But that was just her way of texting and I’m over that.
With Section 377 being reconsidered by a 5-judge panel, do you think there’s hope for queer love to be accepted and treated with equal respect in India?
Bhavya: Time brings progress, unless we live under authoritarian rule, which we thankfully do not.
Nisha: Always! I like to think we all live in constant hope, otherwise, no one would bother to work towards change. Pride parades are so much more prominent in the public eye now and I think, for the most part, there is, at least, an acknowledgment that alternate sexualities exist, whether people like it or not.