Coming out in inverted commas because I'm unsure as to how I feel about the term. No one should feel obligated to declare their sexuality - it is a very personal thing. However, we live in a world where people are assumed heterosexual until they assert otherwise, and as such coming out is often a practical thing you have to do. How can we expect to obtain our rights, without first asserting that we exist?

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Coming to Terms with My Bisexuality, Part 2


I was painfully aware of my sexuality by age thirteen. I may not have known the word bisexual then, given my sheltered upbringing in Asia, but I had admitted to myself that I was unequivocally attracted to men as well as women. This admission, however, did not evolve into a full acceptance of self for years to come. I initially told myself that I could keep my attraction to men buried and hidden, and live my life pretending to be straight. 

I had not diverged from this mindset when our family moved back to Europe a few years later. It was here that I first learned the word bisexual, and realised that it applied to me. Finally, I didn't have to be the weird gay boy who liked women, which is how I had described myself till then. In a way, having a word to describe my sexuality forced me to face it. I began to scrutinise my attractions, and realised just how much they confused me. I was certain that I was attracted to both men and women. Beyond that, everything was a mess, and describing my attractions through a coherent paragraph of text is still too difficult for me. Simplifying greatly, I can say that my physical and emotional attractions towards both men and women fluctuated considerably. This was very frustrating and even today, my attractions towards the two sexes are not constant. But I understand what drives them better now, and am mostly at peace with their dynamic nature. I won't delve into this further now, as I believe the dynamics of my bisexuality merit a post of their own.

Unfortunately, the confusion from my fluctuating attractions persisted for a long time, and hindered my acceptance of my own bisexuality. However, my struggles were not just internal as my home environment presented its own set of external problems. I was challenged not by any form of homophobia, but rather by my parents' even more restrictive beliefs. According to them, only a woman from a certain religious and cultural background would make an acceptable wife for me. Far off in the future of course, perhaps when I was 24. And I was to just sit, wait and twiddle my thumbs until then. Fortunately, this is not how my life played out, and at fourteen I found myself dating my first girlfriend. Everything was light, airy and happy for a while. On top of that, having a girlfriend seemed to lock me into heterosexual mode, and hey, I wasn't going to complain. But this relatively bright period of my life ended when my parents found out about her. To say they took the news badly would be an understatement. I can't recall exactly every line they threw at me over the next week, but somewhere in there they managed to warn me that "white people" might beat me up on the streets at any time for dating a "white girl". Without giving me a chance to recover from the shock of finding out that my parents thought we were living in apartheid South Africa, they went on to ask me why I would get involved with a girl whose family we knew nothing about. And then just as I was starting to worry that they wanted to to marry me off to this girl as punishment, they asserted that fifteen-year-olds were children who shouldn't have relationships, and completely stonewalled the topic of adolescent feelings and attractions.

I'm attempting to inject a little humour into my post, but thinking about the way my parents spoke to me after they found out about my then girlfriend still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Their anger brought forth racial misconceptions and class-based prejudices I couldn't believe they harboured. Not only that, they seemed incredibly naive and ignorant of how young people at that time behaved, and how growing up across Europe and Asia would affect me. More than anything, I was astonished at how narrow-minded they were. In my parents' defence, they've evolved a lot since then. My mom seems genuinely more understanding of my cultural differences and romantic endeavours now, and my dad at least acknowledges that I should be the one making the decisions in my lifeBut I lost a lot of respect for my apparently educated, enlightened parents during that time. More importantly, I lost my trust in them. While our relationship is better now, they haven't managed to earn any of my trust back. Needless to say, this girl and I had to break up; my parents took steps to make sure I did. And I asked myself: if this is how they react to a girl, how would they react to a guy? The answer didn't need elaborating on, even in the confines of my mind.

Outside the home, things weren't so bad. I kept my sexuality a secret from everyone, but this didn't stop me from enjoying my time at school and with friends. There was no overt homophobia in school, which was a particularly sedate place anyway. The one or two outrageously camp guys didn't seem to get bullied or picked on. There was even a very brief mention of male homosexuality in one of our sex education lessons, and while it was nothing like the support I would have liked, the general suggestion was that it was alright to be different. And I'm sure quite a few of my friends back then would not have reacted negatively to the fact that I was bisexual. They even spoke of having other LGBTQ friends with a considerable amount of novelty and certainly without any prejudice. By and large though, LGBTQ issues weren't really on the radar, nor were they popular in media as they are now. Adding to this was the fact that I was closeted and determined to remain so. Thinking back now, I presume that all of these factors contributed to why I didn't make an effort to seek out help from people who, in all likelihood, would have been supportive during my time in Europe.

We left Europe a year later and moved back to Bangladesh, where I had to start college anew. It was here that I made my first attempt to reconcile my sexuality with Islam. I use the word Islam loosely - what I mean is we talked about gay people amongst Muslim friends once or twice; and a few people aired their ideas on why homosexuality was wrong based on their knowledge of the Quran, or what they had heard of the Quran. I summed it up to myself like this: in Islam, sex outside marriage is wrong and marriage limited to a man and a woman. Therefore there is no way two men or two women can have a legitimate relationship. I don't want to debate the validity of this explanation here, theological or otherwise - I'm simply stating what I believed back then. From memory, it seems that my mind mostly bypassed the inaccessibility of marriage for same-sex couples. Instead, I honed in on sex and decided that same-sex relationships were wrong because the sexual act itself could not be given an Islamic seal of approval. I did not attempt to search the Quran for any other mention of same-sex couples, and also completely ignored the concept of love and emotions between individuals in a same-sex relationship. All in all, what I did could hardly be classified as a thorough examination of homosexuality and Islam. I now think that I was afraid of investigating further and discovering answers I wouldn't have liked. My limited knowledge of Islam also meant that I would have needed to ask others for help, and I didn't want to risk raising people's suspicions. 

Finally, I can't help but think that my focus on sex was also a reflection of how everything I knew about homosexuality revolved around porn. Given that I was still closeted and viewed my attraction to men as wrong, I would only gravitate towards gay material to satisfy my sexual urges. And given that I was looking to satisfy sexual urges, I would gravitate specifically towards porn. This meant that porn became the source of all my LGBTQ information, which was obviously not the most ideal of situations. Had I received guidance or support from any other source regarding my sexuality, perhaps I would have approached my issues in a more constructive manner earlier. But this was the context I found myself in, and I remained confused, misinformed and antagonistic towards my own sexuality for quite a while yet. 

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