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Bi is the new high

After cocaine and champagne, bisexuality is the new lifestyle drug, write Sushmita Bose and Shreevatsa Nevatia.

india Updated: Jun 11, 2006 02:03 IST

“I went to this south Delhi girls college that allegedly had — and still does — a very ‘active lesbian line’… but then, there were guys hanging out in front of the college gates all the time … besides, most of the girls had boyfriends … I lived right across the road, in a PG dig, with three others from my college, all of them outstation students … one night, we smuggled in some beer, got drunk … it was very easy to get drunk, none of us were really used to drinking … then decided to play strip poker … it all ended with four naked 20-year-old girls — how do I put it? — having fun with their bodies … This happened a few times over; then we got bored. But it was fun while it lasted …”

Three years down the line, the same girl, who returned to hometown Bombay for a year, is back in Delhi, working with a leading research firm. She’s not in touch with any of the three girls she had the brief encounter with (“They all left Delhi, two went abroad if I remember correctly”). Now she has a boyfriend. “Who knows, maybe I’ll marry him, but I don’t think I’ll tell him about this,” she giggles. “But hey, I’m definitely straight… that was just time-pass.”

And yes, it was fun.

For some time now, homosexuality and Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code — and even the American President’s anti-gay stand in God’s Own Country — have been burning “issues” and “concerns”. There’s activism involved; people fight for rights.

But on an alternative playing ground —mostly in smoked-up private parties and nightclubs, where alcohol is the river of life —India’s power-packed Beautiful People are ‘doing it’ just to add value to the cocaine snorts and the tequila shots: 57 per cent of the respondents surveyed in the HT-C fore poll, said that they knew people who’ve had “casual” same-sex encounters. And, of course, not all of them are the nouveau riche; many times, they’re ordinary people, high on the lifestyle drug exploration.

Humsafar Trust (in collaboration with IMPACT-FHI and NACO) conducts random sampling of the sexual habits of men through a time-location cluster determination every 18 months. Yet again, the findings indicate the same trend: “We have consistently observed that between 55 and 60 per cent of our samples (or population — in the macro sense) are having sex with both men and women,” says Ashok Row Kavi, chairman, Humsafar Trust. “Of this segment, only 25 per cent are married, which means that the rest are voluntarily having sex with men and women.”

“I'd love it if the girls in the cinema watching Lara Croft find me just as hot as their boyfriends do,” said Angelina Jolie and summed up the two sides of sexuality. In India, this kind of ‘coming out’ of the bigger picture of Lara Croft is rare. There are hushed whispers about the “bi-curious” factor at work: in the fash frat, on Bollywood sets, in television studios, in Page 3 chapters, in Jacuzzi lounges.

But there’s a grey line that separates the truth and the projection, which is, as art curator Himanshu Verma — who studies the proliferation of alternative sexualities — feels that with more people becoming “explorative about sexuality”, bisexual practices and same-sex encounters have been on an upswing over the last five years. “The joke at page 3 parties now is that rather than feeling insecure only when their husbands or boyfriends mingle with other women, women have also started fretting when their men speak to other men,” he laughs.

And, as Mario D’Penha, queer historian and activist, says, “While sexual boundaries are falling for many people and it’s extremely fashionable to be ‘gay’ in some circles, it would be incorrect to assume that they are taking on an alternative sexuality.” A lot of them are happily married and don’t find it imperative to take on a gay or bi identity. D’Penha further feels that, at times, it’s really not your sex-life but your clothes that people are interested in. “In such milieu, there are heterosexual men who sleep with other men and it would be a story to tell for a while but you will soon see them getting back to their comfortable straight identities.”

Like Avantika Choudhury (name changed), 26 years old, married, a banker, and matter-of-fact. “When a woman or a man hits puberty, it is normal for them to experiment with their body,” she says. “That’s what I did. I look at all the times I had a sexual experience with a woman as just ‘fooling around’. When I go out, I don’t look at a woman and think that I want to go to bed with her. Though I was guilty about it then, I realise now that I am not a lesbian, I am probably not even bisexual.”

A former journalist maintains that bisexuality, for him, was the “great leveller”. “I’ve had a steady girlfriend for years, and one night I’d gone to the disco with her and my best friend.” They were all slightly drunk, his best friend had hit the dance floor. “I don’t know what came over me, I walked up to him, and kissed him passionately. He responded.” The best part: “My girlfriend didn’t seem to have a problem, but, hell, she would have had a problem if it had been another woman.”

So what happened after that? “I don’t kiss and tell,” he says, “but, for one, I’ve stopped being judgmental.”

And it was probably what Woody Allen meant when he said: “Bisexuality immediately doubles your chances for a date on a Saturday night.”

Make that any night.