Updated: September 22
Peep into any girls’ night conversation and you will certainly find them discussing other attractive women at some point in time. “I would totally turn lesbian for Bispasha Basu. She is so sexy!” said a friend during one such sleepover. No one frowned upon the fact about how she spoke sexually about the actress, instead, the conversation turned towards other female celebrities whom they found attractive sexually.
A university study showed that 60 percent of heterosexual women find other women attractive. ‘Over half of the 484 straight women questioned had been attracted to another female at some point in their lives – with a further 45 percent admitting to kissing a woman and 50 percent confessing to enjoying fantasies about other ladies.
“Women are naturally attracted to other women and sometimes sexually too. But this does not always make them bisexual,” says psychologist Dr. Mini Rao. “At some point in time in her life, a woman would have found herself admiring another woman. She would have checked out another lady for her breasts, her hips, her lips, and found her sexually attractive. This is because the naked female body is more attractive and aesthetically beautiful than the male body.”
So for a straight woman to admire another woman sexually does not always make her a bisexual? This makes it more confusing to many women and that’s why many bisexual women are also late bloomers. Also when people make statements like the male body is less attractive, they are speaking from a cisgender perspective and also stigmatizing bodies as sexual objects. If this theory is any true then what about male to male attraction? Gay homosexuality exists because men are attracted to other men sexually. They find a male body more attractive than a woman’s. Straight women too may find the male body more attractive than a woman’s.
Tanisha is a sexuality educator and the co-founder of Sangya Project where she aims to provide comprehensive sexuality education for better mental and physical health across ages, genders, and socio-economic groups. She is also a bisexual and does not advocate the above idea.
Dismissing the idea that bisexuality is a passing phase or not a serious attraction, believing that the individual is confused, are the many ways bisexuality is shunned. This is called bi-erasure where the prejudice of bisexuality makes them hesitate in identifying themselves as bisexuals.
“When people talk like this, it supports the idea that bisexuality in women is not a very serious thing”, believes Tanisha. “Because after all, if women are attracted to women in some way or form, at some point or the other, then it doesn’t really matter no? Yeh toh sabke saath hota hai. This is the exact same reason why many people don’t take relationships between two women seriously. Our love is seen as a silly crush or a natural but minor form of affection. People say things like “I also find my female friends attractive. But I wouldn’t date them or sleep with them. Why do you have to be this way?” she asks.
Tanisha also feels that it’s not fair, to say that male bodies are less attractive than female ones. Not only does that dismiss trans bodies and the gender fluidity of all human bodies, but it also supports this primitive idea that women are things of beauty, only meant to be looked at, loved and appreciated.
“I know of straight men who would happily express their love and affection and appreciation towards each other but we have only built a society where men are labelled as ‘gay’ even just for being kind and affectionate towards each other. So then men hide those feelings. For fear of being seen as ‘less manly’ or ‘effeminate’ or ‘gay’.”
Split Attraction Model, a.k.a SAM
A.k.a SAM, the attraction for some people can be split up into sexual, platonic, sensual, romantic, etc. one can feel sexual attraction towards one gender and romantic attraction towards another. As Shruthi Nambiar writes on gaysifamily.com, “For Aspec or people identifying on the asexual and/or aromantic spectrum, attraction isn’t so easy to understand… An asexual can very easily be aromantic, biromantic, heteroromantic, homoromantic, panromantic and more. And similarly, an aromantic can be, asexual, bisexual, heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual and more. When we say homosexual we by default imagine their romantic and sexual orientation to be towards the same sex. But for Aspecs that default doesn’t work. Hence, many Aspecs use the Split Attraction Model as a language to express their orientation.”
So, maybe this theory can set right the confusion that some women experience with their attraction towards other women. But are they willing to even accept their attraction towards more than one gender and define their attraction beyond heterosexuality? Are they willing to embrace terms like asexual, pan- sexual, bisexual to define themselves?
Bisexual Women in Heterosexual Marriages
Bollywood movies like Fire, Parched, Margarita with a Straw, and Dedh Ishqiyan have touched upon bisexuality in their stories. While the first two show how one woman explores her bisexuality as an option for her sexless life, the other movies are pretty clear in their concept of bisexuality- it is not portrayed just an experiment for lack of sex in the character’s life.
It is assumed that as humans grow up, the idea of their sexuality becomes clearer. But psychologists say that this is not necessarily true. It may get confusing too. A heterosexual woman in a marriage can later discover her bisexuality. And what happens if this is the case?
Many celebrities abroad have openly come out as bisexual. Grey’s Anatomy star Sara Ramirez who also played a bisexual doctor Callie Torres in the series, identified as queer and bisexual and came out during a speech at a summit in 2016. She was married to her boyfriend in 2012 and no one knows what happened to their relationship after this. According to a recent media update, she has now come out as non-binary.
Comedian, YouTube star, and late-night host Lilly Singh came out on Twitter as bisexual in February 2019. Miley Cyrus identified herself as pansexual in 2015. “I’m very open about it — I’m pansexual,” Cyrus told Elle magazine. She was married to Liam Hemsworth in 2018 but they separated in less than a year.
“In Indian societies, there are no avenues open for such married women to claim their bisexuality openly. I have had many women approaching me like this. I ask them if they are willing to come out of their closet and declare it to their husbands and families. Mostly the answer is no. So I just tell them to live with the fact and satisfy their sexual cravings by indulging in masturbation with sex toys and fantasy,” adds Dr. Mini. “Our Indian society is still not open to accepting such sexualities and more often there is a lot at stake- children, family, parents, societal status, etc.”
While the West may be more progressive towards sexual ideologies, Indians have much to achieve in their thought process before a bisexual woman raises eyebrows. That is why need to have more conversations where people feel accepted for who they are and are not judged for their sexual preferences. More safe places need to be created for sexual orientations of all kinds.
“More and more gay characters are being depicted in Indian cinema and I hope someday bi characters will be too”, hopes Tanisha. “Mumbai has seen active Pride gatherings over last few years and we cannot be erased for as long as at least one of us exists in the public eye. We NEED to be reminded that there is room for us in this world and that there always will be”.