Pansexual and Proud

Sexuality and the City

Pansexual and Proud

Illustration: Mudit Ganguly

Iwas just another 15-year-old boy when I first discovered that I wasn’t a straight heterosexual male. Upper- caste, Brahmin, surrounded by upper-caste Brahmins with unidimensional ideas of sexuality. I would be 27 by the time I could embrace my alternative sexual identity.

It all started with cross-dressing. One night, my cousin came home for a sleepover. Creepy as it sounds, I knew I had to try out her lingerie – you can’t afford to shop when you are 15! I picked out her black bra from her bag, went into the bathroom, and wore it. It was a moment of utter relief and elation. I pulled on a shirt over it and imagined myself having breasts. I remember sitting on the pot, feeling as if I had just regained a phantom limb.

I kept the bra for the next few days, growing bolder by the hour. I ventured out, wearing it under my shirt. In hindsight, it was such a risky situation – if my parents or neighbours had discovered it, I’d likely have got a thorough whooping – but I loved the feeling. I felt liberated.

From then on for the next two years, I cross-dressed regularly. In the afternoons, when I was alone in the house, at nights when everyone was asleep…. I lost count of the number of hours I spent in women’s clothing departments at malls. I raided my cousin’s wardrobe where I found some breast enhancers; I’d wear her make-up. As I grew older, I graduated to buying thongs, body shapers, stockings, even hairbands and clips. I even went and bought nipple-tassles (I know, men tend to overdo it) and in the process, I discovered that half of Hill Road sells these goodies. In my head, I wanted to look like Rashida Jones.

I presumed that if I was cross-dressing as a woman, I would also be attracted to men. But when that did not happen, I realised I probably wasn’t bisexual. I treated the cross-dressing as a phase, as a way to release my sexual energy, because I was still wanking off to videos and thoughts of women. I’d dream of women dressing me up before making out with me.

Then, around the time I turned 17, I watched some pornography featuring trans people. Just like the way I stumbled on to cross-dressing, this was a moment of revelation. Unlike most other people around me, I felt no aversion in fantasising about transgenders and transsexuals. That night, I stepped out of the house (wearing a bra) and took a walk near the red-light area in Mahim, where you often see a bunch of hijra sex workers. I knew I didn’t want to engage with them in any form of sexual activity – it’s an unsafe area and I did not want to be in a stick-up. I also knew that I did not want my first sexual experience to be with a trans person, but I desperately wanted to observe them. I came back home afterwards: quiet, sated.

Pansexuality is a more complicated idea than straight-up heterosexuality or homosexuality, but that’s only because we’re conditioned to think of desire and attraction wearing blinders.

All of these facets of my sexuality remained under wraps. I began to date women regularly, and for a long time I did not have any carnal thoughts about men or trans people. Even the cross-dressing became less frequent. It was like a schism: When I was with a woman, I’d lose myself over to her completely. When I’d stop dating, the other feelings would return.

In late 2008, when I was around 21, I fell deeply in love with a woman. We were together for more than four years. During the time we were together, I could not think about anyone else – but there was a strange restlessness. There were all these other aspects to my sexuality that my partner knew nothing about. I was at a real crossroads and I did not want to hold back such an important part of my life from the person I loved.

That’s when I took the decision to tell her.

One day, as a joke, I wore her nightie. I hardly expected it, but she was very turned on by the sight of me. When I told her about my cross-dressing and attraction to other sexes, she was most accepting. It was a little like the relationship between Gerda and Einar in The Danish Girl, where one partner helps the other embrace their sexual identity. This revelation also injected an electric impulse into our sex life – we began to role-play often after that.

Despite such a fulfilling relationship, we broke up soon after, for reasons that had nothing to do with my sexual identity. There’s a huge misconception about people who identify as bisexual, pansexual, or sexually fluid. Other folks tend to assume that you want to have sex with everyone and everything and can’t be committed to one person.

In 2014, about a year after our break-up, I began to have lucid dreams about going down on a man. There was a guy in my office who would constantly hit on me; he’d always tease me and say, “Tu dega kya?” I brushed away all his proposals until one day he asked me again, and this time, I did not say no. We got really drunk that night – drunk enough not to stop ourselves. We went to a lonely spot in the building, and I gave him the first blow job of my life. It was terrific! I felt another burden lift off my shoulders. Since then, he is the only male partner I have had. We don’t have a particularly great emotional connection – he is a friend who also happens to be my booty call.

It’s taken me time but over the years, I’ve come to identify as a pansexual. I believe that everyone has a sexual identity spectrum, and it all boils down to how much your exposure to these conversations, whether you have the inclination and the right network to help you explore other aspects of your sexuality. The more I read up on pansexuality, the more I discovered its many sides: Even within the ambit of pansexuality, I realised people could prefer men over women, transsexuals over men, hermaphrodites over transsexuals. Just the way I know that my most intense emotional bonds will be formed with women despite all these disparate components to my sexuality.

It hasn’t been easy explaining – most of all to myself – what the boundaries of my sexuality are. Yes sure, pansexuality is a more complicated idea than straight-up heterosexuality or homosexuality, but that’s only because we’re conditioned to think of desire and attraction wearing blinders – there is little to no scope of overlap. There would be no such ruptures if you were free to pick whoever you wanted to love.

The assumption is that once you identify your orientation, you must stick with it. Why? Your thoughts and personalities evolve and change and expand over time. Why must your sexual orientation remain static? As I have evolved, I have come to understand that I am attracted to the phallus, not the body that it is attached to. I routinely swipe right on trans people on Tinder. That I also have a slight emasculation fetish.

I suppose I can think this way because I am lucky to be surrounded by open-minded, supportive people. When I came out to a small group of close friends in a dingy bar one night, I expected lots of questions and curiosity – maybe even a dramatic recoiling. All I got from them was, “Great. Beer’s running out; let’s order another round.” My cousin whose lingerie I used to borrow just told me to always have safe sex, no matter who I was doing it with. Perhaps their straightforward acceptance is the reason I am not a tortured person. I have not spent hours in my bathroom palpitating in a corner or gone through nights weeping into my pillow.

But this is also how we are trained to think of sexuality, attraction, and desire: As a nuisance, as a bother, as something that ought to be treated with suspicion and dread. Not something that can bring us succour or empower us. I find that my sexual identity apportions me comfort, instead of holding me down as I see with so many closeted people around me. The fluidity of not having to conform, helps me step outside of my personal boundaries. It also makes me a more accepting person. I love that.

Veer’s name has been changed because he did not wish to be identified.