Lesbian? Bi? Or Pansexual? Why I Refuse to Label My Sexuality


Lesbian? Bi? Or Pansexual? Why I Refuse to Label My Sexuality

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

I was 16 when a classmate unsurely asked me if I was a lesbian – all I could do was marvel at her bluntness. It was the first time someone had addressed me with the loaded term, and after recovering from the initial surprise, I asked her why she thought so. She nervously pointed at the girl standing next to me and blurted, “You act like she is your girlfriend. You dress like a boy and never let down your hair!” She sounded less upset about my sexuality, and more by my fashion choices.

It was only my second week in college and I’d already managed to tick off every box of the “Lesbian” checklist: Doesn’t like makeup, or anything “girly”? Check. Sporty and brawny? Check. Short hair? Check. Flannels? Check.

The words “tomboy”, “ladke jaisi” were liberally thrown at me throughout school and I’d laugh them off. At the end of it, these were just labels that ultimately failed to define me. By the time I passed out of school, I’d figured that something was different, I was not heterosexual and I wasn’t even gay. I was attracted to both girls and boys. Some bit of googling pointed out that I was bisexual. Fair enough — it seemed like an easy concept, and I adopted the identity without further questioning.

This label I wore wasn’t enough to shut my curious peers up, but more importantly it did not ease me up. “You’re doing this for attention, aren’t you,” an old friend asked me, which made me wonder if I should stay closeted.

By now, I had mastered the art of composure, despite the storm brewing inside my mind. My identity at home was different – or rather, same as the rest. Born in a religious Catholic family, I was expected to be like any other Eve, and at some point find my Adam. My parents don’t know any better, whose only exposure came from old Bollywood, where homosexuality = effeminate men. A woman being attracted to another woman, or both a man and a woman, is not something that happens in the world they inhabit – not even in the movies they watch, or the literature they read. So my unexpected and rather lame attempts at “coming out” – I jokingly respond when someone in the family asks if I have a boyfriend, “Would you like to meet my girlfriend?”– are laughed at. I’ve slipped in the “girlfriend bit” in a number of conversations but my mother has never turned around and asked me questions. Someday when she does, I hope she asks who the girl is and not who am I.

For the latter, I have no answer that would satisfy her yet.

All through the final years of school and the first few years of college, I told myself a thousand times that I am bisexual, as if to hurriedly fit myself into a box. Like if it didn’t identify myself already, I’d miss out on my membership to the LGBTQIA+ club.

It was only after I started degree college and found myself surrounded by a whole new and incredibly diverse bunch of people that I started to figure out what the cause of all that anxiety was. In my mass media classroom, everyone was woke and had strong opinions; they were unapologetic, loud, and accepting. Here I discovered even more labels: Genderqueer, asexual, FTM transition, intersex. And they all became a part of my vocabulary. The world was no longer black, white, or grey, it was a veritable rainbow of possibilities.

It took me some time and then I realised that gender identity and sexuality are the bandwidth of a spectrum that’s larger than life itself.

But the more I learnt about these sexual identities, the more confused I started to feel. While I spent more time in trying to understand these worldly terms better, I had deduced that my identity went beyond bisexuality and mere attraction toward two widely acknowledged genders.

I wasn’t ready to restrict myself to the bisexual box. And I did not care what flipping gender a person identified with. And that I thought was my personal awakening. While the term queer provided an escape to explore myself, I tried to find solace in pansexuality, needing something more specific, more grounded to help myself and others understand who I was.

And soon enough, I was that pansexual surrounded by a whole lot of friends, outside my woke media bubble, who wondered what the heck the term actually meant. And could I really blame them? I could barely figure out a way to describe myself, how could I expect everyone else to keep up? I had gone from “not straight” to bisexual to pansexual in a span of five years. Meanwhile, as the sharp definitions continued to cause me angst, my other classmates, who had also “felt different”, were able to be themselves.

Just trying to fit into the LGBTQIA+ community had left me overwhelmed. And I like many other confused souls turned to the internet – research paper, news reports and articles, and forums – for answers. And here I discovered there were others like me, exhausted with the endless, overlapping labels to choose from. It was disconcerting, draining, and none of us could figure out which letter in the acronym we were supposed to claim.

It took me some time and then I realised that gender identity and sexuality are the bandwidth of a spectrum that’s larger than life itself. Like the varying emotions that exist, humans are never in the constant state of feeling just one of the many. I could like a boy on one day, a girl on another, and a trans person the next. Io Tillett Wright, an American author, activist and a transman, equates identity to rigidity stating how settling for an identity can be a limitation to our future selves. After all the answer to “Who are you?” has never been one size fits all.

So, I dropped those limiting identities. People will catch up eventually, just as they had to labels like lesbian or pansexual. And even if they didn’t, it was okay. Not confining to labels, has, for me, been more liberating than trying to find my box. After all, they were more for the world than for myself, like how my mother labels those masala jars in our kitchen so my father and I know what they are.

So who am I, really? Occasionally, I may roll with “bi and fly”, “homiesexual”, or even “pan with a plan”. Sometimes I am “queer and here”. At this very moment? I am just me.