Growing up queer in India means that you had to be a little more careful about your love life than your token straight friends. You couldn’t stare too long, or linger too long. And if you looked anything other than straight passing, life was made incredibly harder - through no fault of your own. While I can sit here and list out everything that would make being queer as a young pre-teen harder, everything from caste to class to region, it does not take away from the fact that having that first crush experience as a queer person is beautiful and valid.
While some of us were lucky to have our first queer crushes and loves be the same person, it was not like that for everyone. We spoke to queer people who are now in their twenties about their first loves and crushes, along with the challenges that they faced, and how the journey of their firsts have shaped their identity and relationships along the way.
At First Sight
When I think of love at first sight, I always imagine a very Bollywood scenario – dupatta flying in the breeze, their eyes meeting yours, everyone around you fading out as they become the only one you can see – the whole shebang.
I was filmy enough to experience that, but in my case, it was more like bumping into her in the college corridors, while the backs of our hands ever so slightly touched. There was an undeniable spark from that moment. It is quite common for people to find their first crushes in school or college, as seen by our responders too. From meeting someone at orientation to brushing arms on the bus, to making friends with the mysterious new stranger joining the school in the eighth grade.
If you’re lucky, that crush is reciprocated. Unfortunately however for me and my responders, all of our crushes were unrequited. It was quite clearly the ubiquitous doom of any queer person to fall for the token straight best friend.
Before there are real people in the equation, however, most of us realise in childhood that there is something not quite regular about the people we watch on screen. While most of my friends were drooling over Aladdin, I couldn’t seem to take my eyes off Jasmine. This isn’t uncommon either – there is a whole slew of animated (and non-animated) characters that we felt attracted to, but in the only way we knew how i.e. admiration. I can name several that I have heard first-hand from my queer friends – Simba from The Lion King, Darcy from Winx Club, Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Shego from Kim Possible, and even Ms Bellum from The Powerpuff Girls (who, by the way, did not even have a face) the list is never-ending.
It is not till years later that some of us have the eureka moment and realise that, duh, it was a crush.
Internal & External Challenges
It’s never easy when you realise that the way you feel about your romantic prospects is different from the way most of your friends feel. It can be scary, ostracising, and often feels insurmountable. Realising that you’re queer at a younger age, and living in a conservative society, can lead to a lot of internal homophobia and repression. It takes some of us years of therapy and self-work to understand ourselves and our sexualities and to be okay with it. Coupling the conservative mindset, along with the quality and quantity of representation we saw in mainstream media, suffice to say our thoughts towards the queer community were already less than positive.
Realising in yourself a different sexuality brings internal and external challenges. For some, it might be easy to reconcile internally with the fact that we might not be straight, but it still poses an external challenge, like one of our responders’ faces. She is not out to her family yet and is unsure if she ever will be. Concealing a deep truth about yourself from people who you love can be damaging and isolating.
On the other hand, another of our responders said that once she was out she was supported wholeheartedly by her loved ones. It was internally that she struggled, saying, “I think the biggest challenge - even to this day - is the idea of labels and how the fluidity of sexuality fits with them. When the label of ‘straight’ applied to me for so long, I just assumed it was here to stay and would always be a part of my identity. After a long time spent reading, researching, and talking to her friends, she says, “I still oscillate between queer and bisexual as labels but even coming to a point where I could comfortably think about these labels was a ride.”
Despite all of this, there are so many things to be grateful for. Even though I went through a long phase of repression, there was no denying the way that I felt when I saw her for the first time. It was only then that I was able to reconcile my sexuality with who I was as a person. Even now, almost six years later, there is still doubt to work through. But I would not change that for anything.
Through Identity Crises and Queer Journeys
From being a young 16-year-old trying to figure out her sexuality to a quarter-life’d 25-year-old still trying to figure out her sexuality, it has been a wild ride. Since my first queer crush, I’ve gone on to have a first queer love with a completely different person. Since then I have found my queer people too, and there is no bigger comfort than a community that has gone through much of the same experiences as you.
As one of our responders puts it, “When one of my closest school friends told me they were bisexual, it felt like something clicked and I thought back to a conversation with a friend from my previous school. I guess it made bisexuality an option in a more real way.”
Talking to other people in the community, and practising the art of self-expression and self-improvement is extremely helpful. One of our responders puts it perfectly when they say, “To allow myself room to grow, room to change, room to understand me. No one person is a static version of themselves. And to allow myself the freedom to be fluid and dynamic, I feel more in tune with myself and my queerness.”
It is clear that our first queer loves and crushes have more of an impact on our identities and journeys than we think. They can either be affirming or leave you scared to explore your identity any further. But at the end of the day, it all turns out for the better. It may take months or years, but eventually, you understand why it happened the way it did – good or bad. During the pandemic, when none of us had any access to the outside world, many young queer kids missed out on the opportunity to really understand their sexuality or even come to terms with it. Many of us are still stuck in hostile situations and our only way of escape, for now, is the internet. So we hope this has been helpful to anyone trying to figure out their feelings and to remind people that there is a community there to help and support you, if and whenever you decide to come out.
Feature image credits: Manasi Patankar for Homegrown
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