While women were earlier defined as the better halves of men, pillars of support or background figures in any tale of bravery and success, when we think of ‘womanhood’, our perspectives have to stretch a little beyond the binaries that have existed for centuries around gender and sexuality.
Three years ago, in 2018, the Supreme Court struck down the provisions under Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that barred same-sex men and women from freely practising their sexuality — even if it involved two consenting adults.
In this context, Patriot asked two queer women, Sagarika and Jasmine, to share how they explored their sexuality, their dating experiences, the support networks of Delhi, and how their ideas of womanhood shape their lives. Sagarika is a bisexual woman living with her family in the city. She is currently a student at St. Stephen’s College.
Jasmine, also a student currently enrolled at the Ambedkar University, adds that her idea of sexuality and gender is fluid and shifts between being bisexual or a lesbian.
“I suppose, in the city, it’s very natural to be holding a girl’s hand in the metro than a boy’s. Initially, it wasn’t the easiest considering there was always this apprehension of what it’d be like if someone found out. However, as girls, it was easy to pass affection off with other women as being purely platonic, even when it’s not,” says Sagarika.
She adds, “I think my realization that I wasn’t straight came much later than it comes for most people. It was only after I started seeing friends being open about their sexual orientation, that I could even think of exploring or experimenting with my sexuality.”
Speaking about how her idea of her sexuality gradually changed, Jasmine says, “I used to always have ideas about my own sexuality being different while exploring stuff, but I always felt a sense of guilt around it.”
She narrates the interesting story about the moment when she discovered her sexuality.
“I was in the school library one day. I must have been in class 9 or 10. I went there for a book reading club session when I came across a girl who introduced me to the concept as she talked about her own experience as a bisexual woman.”
“It was at that moment that I realized that it’s okay to be this way. That we can do this. A light bulb went off and I realised that this is not a big deal. This was all back in 2014 or 2015.”
Finding allies and support networks
Jasmine found it relatively easy to explore her sexuality with the help of her friends and the queer collectives at her university.
“Navigating Delhi, trying to create romantic relations or even identify other women who might be lesbian, having the courage to go up to a woman and ask her if she was by any chance interested — all this has mostly been through my networks,” she says.
She adds, “It is very liberating to be around people with whom we can talk to about our sexuality and choices even if they do not get it. Their ability to have a conversation and change the air of the room for a moment makes a huge difference. I only found acceptance from my closest friends. For example, the person who was talking about her sexuality in the reading session back in 2015.”
For most parts, Jasmine has felt like she has treated this like a very private affair, and she still does so to a huge extent. “It is a constant battle deciding where you feel safe to come out. I have not come out to my parents yet, whereas on the internet, I feel more like myself and I see myself being different in such spaces.”
According to Sagarika, her peers and friends have had a huge role in making her comfortable with her queer identity.
“While people who don’t belong in the same age group are trying to share in the sentiment, their learning and upbringing often betray them. In my case, my parents have a default response that usually goes along the lines of: Being gay is all well and fine, as long as you’re not gay”, she says.
Sagarika is thankful for the good relationship she shares with her parents, which at times makes her feel like they know everything about her — except the most important thing.
“They don’t know who I am, which feels unnatural because all other parts of my identity like caste, class, religion, etc, are derived from them”, she comments.
Dating in Delhi
Talking about dating opportunities in the city, Sagarika tells us that there aren’t enough spaces where you could romantically be affectionate towards someone of the same sex and not be riddled with this sense of anxiety about what is going to happen if you get “caught”. Thus, dating in such a scenario, in the conventional sense of the term, becomes extremely sensitive.
“For me, it is not the most enjoyable experience, because the anxiety seems greater than the joy of loving freely”.
She also talks about how perspectives around physical appearance still haunts many queer people — something which echoes in Jasmine’s dating experiences.
“I struggled with body dysmorphia for a considerable part of my life and being hyper feminine and submissive was the only way I could make sure I was coherent with my gender identity. So, even a split second of attraction that I had with a girl was always pushed down and disregarded from myself because it made me feel less like a woman — at least as someone who was younger.
That, thankfully, isn’t the case anymore because I have realised there is no correct way to be a woman. Gender, much like sexuality, is also a spectrum”, Jasmine remarks.
For dating and going out with potential partners, Jasmine relied on apps like Tinder, however the experience was quite problematic.
“On Tinder, I saw that a lot of straight women pretend to be interested in lesbians and bisexuals, when in reality, they are only looking for threesomes. Something that really struck me is that even queer women at the end of the day say that it was a really great experience”, she says.
Speaking about another dating experience, she mentions the time she met a 27-year-old corporate woman who invited her for dinner. While Jasmine agreed to the date, the woman kept asking her to share photos of her full body.
“Although I am a chubby girl and I have often felt conscious about it, I do not try to hide it. So, I did share a few more pictures apart from the images that I had already put up on my profile”, Jasmine recalls.
But soon, Jasmine became uncomfortable as the woman kept insisting for more photos. “I felt awful. I had such high hopes from dating in a queer space, but I realized everyone still has their biases”, she said.
“I have always had a preference for men, but then bisexuality is very fluid in that sense. You might be a lesbian for three years or three days, or a straight person for five years or four days. There are days when I also feel ‘tomboyish’, although I don’t like this word. The masculine parts of myself are inclusive of my womanhood too. It is all a part of my womanhood”, she adds.
Being a woman in Delhi
“I feel like it is a constant process. You cannot stop defining yourself and who you are, whether as a man, or a woman. I am a single woman who lives away from her family, and only with a dog. Often, I feel the pressure to sneak in boys but I don’t because of the landlord and other restrictions”, says Jasmine.
While she has tried not to be too anxious about it, she also feels like she does not want to hide the fact that she occasionally entertains the company of a man. Even the guys have been more conscious about it and they are concerned whether the landlord might mind their presence, she says.
When asked how her choices or sexuality impact her womanhood, she asserts that “I could be hiding these things but I feel that sometimes you have to make a choice on whether you can afford to do things and face the consequences. Maybe womanhood is more about expanding the idea of womanhood instead of narrowing it down to what makes one a woman. I still deserve respect irrespective of my choices and sexuality preferences. It does not make me any less of a woman.”
The barriers more or less remain unchanged for queer women in the city. If nothing, the pressure only gets heightened under the sexist gaze that shapes the ideas of a modest woman, more so if one is queer and proud about it.
For more stories that cover the ongoings of Delhi NCR, follow us on:
Shruty covers stories related to migration, gender, sexuality, development and education in Delhi NCR at the Patriot.
Email ID: firstname.lastname@example.org