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From guilt to freedom

‘Am I only capable of being a wife to a man and a friend to women?’ – a question of a teenage girl, who is targeted by the society when she performs these roles the other way round. Her sexual urges are being suppressed, sexuality stigmatized and her basic freedom to achieve this is somewhere locked up.  She would look into the mirror and feel disgusted by her own reflection. She would tell herself again and again “that is not you, you are pure. This can’t be you“, but could not help those ‘pleasant’ thoughts to come into her mind – of her and a woman connected spiritually by heart and body.

For the first time in school when I found out that lesbianism was real, it was through pornography, which made me feel that I was wrong and dirty. At the age of 12 I felt as if I was living two lives – one of an ideal stereotypical girl and other of a criminal because of my sexual preferences. The fear of being rejected by the society held me back – ‘what if people don’t accept me?’ I would pretend to be ‘normal’ to feel validated and belonged. But for how long would I have to play a role of someone else? I had started to internalize my feelings of sexuality and my urges. Every day when I would go back home, I would not feel the peace within. My home did not give me comfort or security because I was not feeling comfortable with my own thoughts. I felt different and not belonged but I didn’t have words to express these feelings. All I did was cry in the washroom about myself, wipe my tears and open the door with a broad smile on my face.

As I learned the art of language, I started to put my feelings into words and then words to meanings, and deeper I went on to gradually identify myself. These words took form of the heaviest tag I had ever attached to myself – “I am a lesbian”. I hated myself for being what I was. There was no one in the family like this and I thought I would destroy the reputation of my family. Also because I thought it did not exist in reality and I was the only one.  It was when I saw lesbianism in porn, I got to know that it actually exists. But this did not make things better. I was taught by the society that sex is dirty and when I saw the projection of my true feelings in it, I felt guilty, filthy and dirty. I wanted to die. I just was not able to control my sexual urges. I could not divert it to something ‘normal’.

A scream stuck in my throat, “Yes, I am a lesbian and I like girls! “and it constantly haunted me and pleased me at the same time. But I could not gather courage to express my feelings, my urges. I had no right to do that. Being a woman, I only had the right to be a wife to a man – The only way I could maintain my purity in culture.

My question is ‘what is pure’? When a man and a woman are together, they are pure. When a man and a woman bring a new being into the world, its pure. Its spoken about. What if this relationship is imposed and not consensual? What if a man or a woman impose themselves, their power over a person? Is the act of ‘making love’ still pure? In giving in to power, the victims lose themselves and their identity. Imposing dominance over another person is always a crime, may it be in a heterosexual or homosexual relationship. I bring this question in because till a year back, homosexuals were criminals. The act of homosexuality was a crime, even when there was true love, right intentions and consensual sex. A time when even beasts who assaulted someone was left to rage more and we were caught behind bars for just loving someone genuinely. The only ‘problem’ was we loved someone of the same sex as ours. The problem was not in us but in the minds of people who tagged us as criminals, not knowing what aftermath a real crime brings.

When I went to college and studied subjects like psychology and history, I realized that I was not wrong. I was definitely different but not wrong. I was apart from the majority but I was normal. it was not a psychological or biological disorder. Many in the history have been homosexual too but their sexual preferences did not snatch away their talents. I was slowly getting on terms with my sexuality as I saw people accepting others the way they were. It was a gradual process, the experiences I had before had drained out the courage in me and I was not ready to tell the world that I was different because like me I knew people were taught that my sexuality was wrong.

I started to tell my friends about it who accepted me completely but something that would take the most courage would be to tell my parents about it. I would shiver even at the thought of it. A lot of times I ended up just crying and telling them nothing because I didn’t have the courage to do so. I loved my parents too much to lose them or to disappoint them. They had never expected anything from me but to be a good human. But being lesbian was the biggest secret of my life and for 7 years, I lied. It had become too much for me to hide the secret anymore so at the age of sixteen I told my parents about my sexuality, after a long journey of identifying it myself. I remember the date – 8th August 2016.

The day changed my life. My parents have supported me throughout my life and this time it was the same. My mom says “When Ria came out about her sexuality, it did not disappoint me even for a second. Although if she would not have turned out to be a good human being, I surely would have been disappointed. My only repentance is that I could not help her out in the struggle she had faced before – with herself, friends and society. I would have tried my best to protect her from them“. My parents since then have been constantly making themselves aware about the entire LGBTQAI+ community, understanding their lives and struggles. Through this course of time they joined ‘SWEEKAR- The Rainbow Parents’ group for parents of LGBT+ children and became active members of it, where they completed ‘Prabal’ – a parents empowerment programme conducted by The Humsafar Trust in Mumbai. My parents say, “It is easier to hate than love. We so easily get instilled with hatred for others on the basis of differences in caste, colour, religion, gender, sexuality etc. We feel if all of us accept humanity as a religion it would become much easier to accept love. “

Now that my parents had accepted me, I started to look for someone I could share my life with – a life partner. Unlike many people I did not want to play around with love, I wanted a commitment.  This another journey, a search for my better half taught me so much about myself and about life. The most important thing it taught me was self-respect. I was desperate for love but I saw that there weren’t many women who were vocal about their sexuality. And this made me feel that an opportunity lost would make me remain single forever. I dated a woman who cared nothing about me. She would dump me when she wanted to and get back again as per her wish. It came to an extent where she would scratch me if I did something against her wish and that was when I raised my voice for myself for the first time. This had made me lose faith in true love. But as some people say ‘the supreme power gives you something in return when it steals something away’, I eventually received the most special gift of life. Three years back, I met my true love, my partner, Sanjana Sawant. Gradually through the years, I became a part of her and she of mine. This also made me feel the importance of sexual freedom for the first time in my life.  I saw how important the freedom to love was. I realized we had no rights – no rights to intimacy, neither romantic or sexual. Among the heterosexual couples around us, we had to hide our relation to get validated in the society.  Once when I just held Sanjana’s hands in public, people stared at us in disgust and conviction. A person came to us and asked “Are you both girls?”. They couldn’t digest the fact that a girl could hold another girl’s hands romantically. We were targeted for expressing our love by just holding hands while on the other hand there were heterosexual couples making love in public, which was considered to be normal. Due to this stigma about two women in a relationship, we were made to lock ourselves inside our houses. Even then we would receive messages saying – ‘this is unnatural’, ‘this won’t work’, ‘you can’t survive without a man in your life’ and the worst being, ‘an inferior gender with another is impossible’.  But we did not let that affect our relationship because we understood that it was a part of the journey that we had set for ourselves. There was a bigger dream, not just for us but for the rights of people who were facing the same. Sanjana at an interview said “I met my partner two and a half years back. My partner is a woman and we’re in a homosexual relationship. It’s only after meeting her that my concepts about sexual freedom changed. Now it’s more about empowerment than shame or hesitancy. Being with a woman has helped me to love my own body, to explore and accept it more readily.” She also said “I believe that this generation is bringing the initial change and many landmark decisions are on their way. Abolishing a section like 377 gives us the right to exist but it does not ensure that the stigma around the entire community goes away. Stigma will be abolished only when the minds of the citizens change and they become genuinely sensitive to the cause”.

I want to marry Sanjana and create a beautiful world for both of us. We have created a bond which is much deeper than just ‘love’. It has respect, understanding and support. We both have our own independent worlds too but we always have each other’s presence in our lives which gives us an assurance that we are not alone. I might not marry her legally since our country does not allow it, but I want to do the rituals together. I have always had faith in the superpower but not religion. And rituals make me feel connected to the power. A marriage for me would be thanking that power for the opportunity of a spiritual connection with Sanjana. It will empower me and my partner. People don’t really understand the deeper meanings behind a lot of things and maybe our society does not too or else marriage would not have been an issue.

Though the years I started doing my bit for LGBTQ+ rights and people. From openly telling people about my sexuality on national television to taking sessions in colleges about the issue, public speaking has become my passion. And do you know what is the best part of my job? When people come out to me about their sexuality just because I had the little courage to openly talk about mine. That one figure to whom you can look up to is really important. I didn’t have one when I was growing up which made me feel lonely. I don’t want any other LGBT+ person to go through it and so my dream would be to reach out to every child in the country, making them know that they are not alone.

The generation before us who dedicated their lives to the cause created a world where we are not considered criminals anymore. But there is a long fight ahead. We, the LGBTQ+ community of India got our independence recently, while our country has been independent for 72 years. And the unfortunate part of it is many aspects of our freedom still stay caught up! Until all the people of the country understand that LGBTQ+ is not a ‘concept’, rather something that is innate in us, granting a law would be like absolving our existence. Till then our freedom is still in question.


Mx. Ria Sharma