Spurred on by the new media openness,
bisexuals are increasingly coming out in the open, but the revelation
is not without its share of heartaches
it what you please. The in-vogue sexuality of the new century. The smouldering
disposition that develops as a later-life itch. The new bylane in the
carnal map. The domain of the gender-indifferent. It's never going to
be easy -- bisexuality is such a hopelessly amorphous word. No wonder
34-year-old Mitali Das was at a loss to describe it. In 10 years of blissful
marriage, the software professional from Mumbai had been a hassle-free
heterosexual, leading what most would think a perfect life. Until suddenly
she fell in love with her best friend, a woman. It happened when she was
on a business trip, in a bed in a hotel room the two shared.
For quite a while Das' life was like a ship gone adrift. "My world became
a terrifying place filled with anguish and turmoil. I cried," recalls
Das. Not a totally unpredictable reaction from someone who has lived a
life believing that alternate sexuality surfaces only in the realm of
unorthodox cinema (remember the headline-spawning Fire) or in gossip columns
about Courtney Love and Michael Stipe. Anyway Das got over the initial
sting, confided in her extremely supportive husband and was soon back
to her blissful existence with a new polyamorous dimension. "While my
journey was initially painful, it later became cathartic. Now it's exciting,"
she concludes. Three is no longer a crowd for her.
For the emerging sexual category called bisexuals, things are moving fast.
For the first time in India, all sexual minorities including lesbians,
gays, bisexuals, transgenders, transvestites and those who have tested
HIV positive, have come together in Mumbai under the banner of the Sambhavna-Gulabi
Masala to discuss their health problems and issues related to social acceptance.
The forum also plans to place over 100 member-activists across the country
to lend an ear to bisexuals wanting to discuss their problems. When Das
joined another lesbian network in Mumbai she discovered that the city
was teeming with bisexuals, many in various stages of self-recognition
and admission. Some like her had chosen to remain in reassuring marriages,
some were living secret dual lives, and many others had broken away and
were living with their spouses in redefined alliances. Sex in the metro
appeared to have acquired a new kind of fluidity.
Why has bisexuality suddenly come to the surface? Dr Mahendra Watsa, consultant,
Family Planning Association of India, says that gay and lesbian activism
-- particularly intensive AIDS-HIV intervention -- have brought the issue
to the fore. "Earlier what was considered a taboo is emerging in the cocktail
circuit as a fashion statement and even making its way into middle-class
homes," he says. Adds Dr Prakash Kothari, head of the sexual medicine
department of Mumbai's K.E.M. Hospital: "The younger generation is more
curious, experimentative and adventurous about their sexuality than their
parents." K.E.M. Hospital has seen a 10 per cent rise in patients in the
age group of 14-25 seeking help for confused sexuality. Dr Yogesh Trikha,
a consulting family physician, sees a similar trend in Delhi. "The opening
up of the visual media and the new culture of openness among the youth
has also helped redefine sexual identities in the city," he says. Super
model Milind Soman is once reported to have told Humsafar magazine that
had he not been involved with a woman (Madhu Sapre) he would have been
bisexual. Even film star Akshay Kumar finds the idea of bisexuality "perfectly
natural" and praise from a gay, a "compliment" to his macho image.
But the older guard is still not at ease with the idea of bisexuality.
Take the case of Rakesh and Isha Sharma. Rakesh works with the merchant
navy and is away half the year on sea. He has his share of same-sex flings
on his voyages while Isha snuggles up to her girlfriend on shore. Their
partying pals know of this "chic" arrangement but their family doesn't.
Not surprising. Since homophobic India has not accepted gays and lesbians
as a legitimate group, there is a slim chance that it will acknowledge
sexual ambivalence as a norm. Or even attempt to define it. Caught in
the limbo of archaic values, bisexuality, for the majority, is the villain
of social harmony, an aberrant proclivity that upsets established order,
threatens monogamy and destroys marriages and families. "More often than
not bisexuality is seen as irresponsible and self-indulgent behaviour
by the family of the person involved and by society at large." says Dr
Harish Shetty, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist. People also feel queasy at
the notion that sexual identity is inconstant and might change. Amit Kulkarni
a 26-year-old PhD student at Delhi University, who was bred on myths such
as bisexuals being incorrigibly polygamous, now goes about destroying
them: "Aren't straight people monogamous? So why not bisexuals? A bisexual
who has chosen to be monogamous isn't being gay or straight. It's just
that he's chosen one individual to stick on with. But emotionally he is
still a bisexual. So a bisexual can destroy the social order as much someone
who is straight."
Other myths are also taking a beating. Sexual stereotyping, the conventional
straight versus gay duel is considered outmoded. Shaleen Rakesh, a 29-year-old
Delhi-based activist working with the Naz Foundation (India), says there
is a vast grey area between being gay and being straight -- with no white
picket fences. For him bisexuality is a wholesome "unifying" concept,
a happy meeting point. While earlier the only substitutes for heterosexuality
were strait-jacketed opposites, it is now becoming faddish to go the middle
way, to exercise the intermediate choice.
Sigmund Freud would have certainly been happy at the trend -- he thought
of bisexuality as a universal "disposition", with every individual a mix
of both male and female. And in the 1940s, Alfred Kinsey, the pioneering
sexual cartographer from the US, (he is still used as a benchmark) gave
a simple framework which slotted bisexuals vis-a-vis gays and straights
-- somewhere along a continuum extending from exclusive heterosexuality
(zero) to exclusive homosexuality (six). In this scale anyone scoring
above zero and less than six would be a bisexual. Geeta Khumana, a bisexual
who runs Aanchal helpline for women in Mumbai, gives the definitive bottom
line: "No person, single or married, is exempt from the frightening possibility
that he or she, too, might one day realise a dormant same-sex disposition."
The helpline gets over 15 calls a week, half of them from people who are
married and want to know about having relationships with people of the
So who's actually a bisexual? Can you really swing both ways? Would it
be right to define bisexuals as people who are equally attracted to both
men and women? Unfortunately, no one is willing to stick his neck out
on this score. It is even more difficult to trace its roots. Dr R.P. Singh,
senior consultant endocrinologist at Delhi's Indraprastha Apollo Hospital,
is convinced that the bisexuality has hormone-related origins. He says
sexual orientation is determined by hormonal flows during three key stages
of human growth -- the first within the early weeks of pregnancy, during
childhood and, finally, at puberty. Some American doctors have also suggested
that bisexuality is determined biologically -- that it exists on the person's
DNA. Again there are more questions than answers here.
Research and study hasn't reached the level of maturity where there can
be a head count of bisexuals, or even anything similar to the homosexual
guestimates. But new bisexual playgrounds are popping up all the time.
Top-flight professionals or frequent business travellers are seen as the
latest class experimenting with this category of situational behaviour.
Tony Kullar, a 37-year-old expatriate who makes six-monthly jaunts to
Delhi from the English Midlands for his flourishing gems business, hits
town regularly with his freewheeling bisexual pals. "You'll be amazed
to know how many bisexuals there are in this city," he says, "and because
I'm from "abroad" they find it a lot easier to swing with me."
With more and more bisexuals disclosing their sexual id, bi-bashing has
become common. Bisexuals have to face greater psychological offensives
because, as sexologist Kothari says, their existence is problematic to
the agendas of both gays and straights. Bisexuals are accused of putting
the gay political movement in jeopardy ("they're not gay enough" or "they're
fence-sitters who want the best of both worlds"). The straight crowd thinks
that they're "too gay" or are "confused about their sexuality" or "sail
on two boats at the same time". In a gay activist group in Delhi, many
diehard members refuse to take up the cudgels on behalf of their bisexual
fraternity for these very reasons. "These people (bisexuals) are just
hypocrites," says Naveen Singhania, a final year student of history at
Delhi University and an unequivocal homosexual.
Another downside is of course the accentuated aids threat. Says Dr Shubhash
Hira of the aids Research and Control Organisation: "Bisexuality is a
high-risk behaviour due to its crossover nature. And if they are married
then it proves disastrous for the entire family." Researchers and interventionists
say that chances of getting infected are more in men due to their high
level of promiscuity.
In men having sex with men the chances are six times higher. A Maharashtra
Health Directorate report on aids cases till April 1998 shows that of
the total 2,948 cases registered, 2,412 were male and 536 were female.
Mukesh Gupta, a 30-year-old chartered accountant, got to know that he
was infected by one of his male partners when he was 20. Yet he went ahead
and married his girlfriend. Today, death is staring the infected couple
and their two children in the face. Despite the risks, bisexuals are averse
to coming out of the closet because of familial advantages -- a heterosexual
marriage offers certain social privileges. The problem is aggravated when
children are involved. Shivani Pathak, 32, marketing manager with a media
agency in Mumbai, is involved with a married woman for the past seven
years. Pathak went through severe depression and even attempted suicide
because her partner did not want to leave her husband. Field workers say
that the family usually sees such revelations as a sign of betrayal.
the latest subculture on the Indian sexuality scene is bravely battling
on. Acceptance may be a far cry and comforting definitions still elusive,
but for the community the effort is worth it as it involves the matter
of choice. Although sceptics beg to differ, dubbing it a ploy to capture
headlines, the phenomenon is here to stay.
(Some of the names have been
changed to protect identities.)