Can I be honest here? Completely honest? I’m scared. Absolutely terrified. I’m terrified of writing this. Each word, each letter is hard to write, heartbeat pulsing in my ears. The page is adjusted on my screen so as to hide the title — what if someone were to walk in and see? Not very dissimilar to the kind of fear that springs up whenever the apps customary *trrrinck* notification pops up when I’m around people; heart in my fucking mouth.
But, I think, there is a sense of determination that accompanies this fear, wrestles it to the ground, spits in its face, scrunches its nose up with purpose and lets it know its place. I choose to embrace this determination to write about what I am going to. Let’s hope it endears. Fingers crossed, eh?
We truly do… live in a society. Tired paradigms and hierarchies of gender ruthlessly roll out Machiavellian machines who are taught in the womb to subscribe to the normative. Do I sound bitter? Very possible. I have every right to be. Growing up, in a middleclass-uppercaste household, queer has been anything but pleasant, shielded though I was by my privilege.
When I was smaller, 11-ish, my brother found on the dabba family computer, in the cursed history, a Google search titled ‘yaoi manga’, Japanese comic books that feature sexual romance between guys.
“Do you know what this word means?!”, he asked, absolutely fuming. I immediately shook my head, instinctively, eyes welling up with tears (I’ve always been easy to cry).
“Don’t ever search this again. Got it?!”.
Of course, a lot has changed since then. He has apologised multiple times and there’s no one I’d trust more than him. When I came out to my brother, I also confessed that I’d been too afraid to go for Pride until now, too afraid to wear what I wanted. “Bhaap!”, he frowned, ”I’ll go with you next time. It’s alright, you don’t have to worry about what you wear, I’ll wear it for you”. I’d say things have definitely changed, yes.
Back to my childhood: Fast-forward to the 9th Grade, having an absolutely gargantuan crush on my then best friend’s ex-girlfriend. A sticky situation for a teenager to be in, especially when it came to him figuring out his sexuality. ‘Alright, so you pukka like girls then. Decided!’, I’d repeat grimly to myself through the day.
Simultaneous bullying over effeminate mannerisms only helped concretise these vile thoughts (they reinforced so many tendencies of self-hate.) In fact, I’d have you know, I’ve practised “the right kind of” hand gestures and repeated words and sentences — in an attempt to manifest my inner Salman Khan — for hours on end, the masculinity leaving an acrid aftertaste in my mouth.
I remember, in the 5th Grade, I was confronted by these two classmates, “Wheat ko hindi mai kya bolte hai?” they asked, faces lit up with idiotic smirks. I replied with an innocent, and rather honest, “Pata nahi?”. To this, in a show of absurdity that continues to baffle me to this very day, one of them cracked up saying, “Gayhoon! HAHA! Tune ‘gay hoon’ bola! Tu gay hai!!”, shoving me to the floor. Not the most traumatic of incidents, not by a long shot, but it never really left the recesses of my mind.
The average Indian school is, as most never really realise, all sorts of problematic: It’s an immensely casteist, transphobic, homophobic, classist environment; slurs are flung around in competitions that rival Chimpanzees with their faeces. It conditions you to believe in a certain way, that anything flouting the rules of the club deserves punishment. The circuits in your brain are arranged and rearranged until there is nothing left but absolute adherence. Textbooks, media, history, even children’s stories — nothing can avoid the inevitable absorption into the gendered, heteronormative matrix.
So you can only imagine how hesitant I was when introduced to Grindr. I saw it on a friend’s phone — clearly he exhibited none of the qualms I did — and was nervously drawn to it. Just the idea to be desired, gosh. It was enough to convince me. I installed it on my brand new phone, my first ever, the minute I was safe from prying eyes, fortified within the comfort of my locked bathroom. Fuck maths homework; this was more important. I’ll just take a look at it, I thought, of course, I’m not going to actually meet anyone on it.
I started small, treading the waters with caution, keeping my profile completely blank in (overwhelming) fear of discovery. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Grindr interface, it’s arranged in a grid, with three profiles per row placed in ascending order of proximity. It doesn’t work like Tinder or Bumble, in the sense that you have no autonomy in who gets to send you a message — everyone is fair game. Most texts follow a similar pattern, usually along the lines of sexual preference, availability of “place”, geographic location, and other such inane enquiries.
At first, it might strike one as odd, but it normalises into a tired ritual fast enough. No, the real thing that bothered me, then as much as it does now, is how violently masculine the space is. I was pretty shocked, and honestly uncomfortable, going through profiles on the app: I imagined it to be kinder, at least to some extent? After all, didn’t we all know exactly how the other felt? Instead, I found myself working through the same experiences I had to endure in school; repulsive hierarchies of hate established through bigotry peppered through the grid in the form of profile bios. “Only masc”, “no girlish or shemales”, and the more refined “Don’t text me if you ‘type lyk dis’!” being by far the most common, right up there with flauntings of caste statuses and blatant Islamophobia. I continued to use it, I didn’t know any better! This was all I got and I was going to work with it, eventually (and with great apprehension) putting a photo of myself up.
In retrospect, it disgusts me. I was a 16 year old, the physicality of my teenage-ness was glaringly obvious. Back then, though, it was a different story altogether. I was desired. For the first time in my life, another person wanted me! The novelty! The joy! It’s indescribable. The messages flooded in, I had to mute the app, it just made so much noise! It was perhaps this euphoria, borderline mania I daresay, that compelled me to finally meet someone one fine day. I approached it with anger almost, ‘Why shouldn’t I?’ I thought, all the others can! I deserve this. Just as much as they do.
I will admit that I have had the oddest relationship with sex. I rarely found it enjoyable, quite possibly because of the way I was introduced to it — first-time fantasies devolved into objectification; the sex happened to me, not with me.
How consent worked was not something I was familiar with; I did not know that ‘yes’ or ‘no’ was even a choice — if someone wanted to do something to your body, you let them. After all, they expected you to, didn’t they? You didn’t want to disappoint them, how could you?
There were instances when I braved my own self-doubt and expressed discomfort or denial, only to be met with non-compliance (which is honestly the least triggering way I can frame it). Why go back to it then? If it hurt me so much why did I keep fucking? I’m not quite sure, I think it came from the fact that I used to feel so… alone. Trapped in a terrible void where no one understood me. It wasn’t teenage angst, it was something else entirely, something inscrutable, a sickness infesting the system, an all-encompassing rot. For the longest time I have been a shadow — a pale facsimile superimposed over the fabric of reality.
Fortunately, there have been major developments in desire since then. My agency has slowly begun to fall into place. I am slowly coming into existence, true and unfettered, as I learn and unlearn, immersing myself in the warmth that is my community, my friendships, my kithkin.
I’m not quite sure how to put this exactly but there’s always been a ‘what if’ hanging about in the back of my head, especially resurfacing whenever I talk about the lack of sex-ed, in school and otherwise, with friends. It’s such a stigmatised act, more often ignored and outlawed than dealt with, leaving us to navigate its alleys solo, something that is both daunting and immensely dangerous; it’s a cruel world we live in, innocence has no place in it. Perhaps this isn’t meant to be a given though, perhaps we must actively cultivate spaces where we’re allowed to be naive — where others learn to not hurt — and don’t have to pay with pain, with trauma, in exchange. We deserve it. I deserve it.