Meet Indulekshmi Rajeswari… or just Indu as she is more commonly known by.
It may be 2016. But bisexuality is still heavily plagued by misconceptions. Despite there being a B in LGBT, its inclusion is largely perfunctory. Biphobia doesn’t just come from the straight community. Bisexuals often experience biphobia at the hands of members from their own queer community.
I have had queer women tell me to my face that they would not date bisexual women.
Some queer women have openly told me that they did not believe in bisexuality.
Indu may currently be married to a man. But that hasn’t changed anything about her sexual identity. She is still very much bisexual. And if you’re finding it difficult to grasp that concept, reading her life story may help you figure it out.
Born in India, Indu migrated to Singapore with the rest of her family when she was 10.
While her memory is a tad hazy, she would pinpoint the occurrence of her first same-sex crush as happening at the age of 8.
In the soul-searching that was my coming out process, I realised I had actually had a crush on a girl when I was 8 years old in India.
Her teenage years were filled with crushes on members of both sexes. And while there was a brief period of confusion with regards to her sexuality, Indu came out to herself as bisexual when she was 18 without much incident.
I count myself as one of the lucky ones, because I never had to reconcile my sexuality with any kind of morality I held about the world.
I was and am an atheist, so I had no conflicts between my faith and sexuality either.
Upon coming to terms with her sexuality, Indu started exploring the local LGBTQ community. She stumbled upon SigNel in 2005, an old school mailing list targeted at the queer community.
Until I found the LGBTQ websites and resources in Singapore, I was under the fully erroneous impression that I was literally the only queer person in Singapore and that I was doomed to die alone.
I cannot understate the importance of the Internet and the role it has played in connecting people to the wider community.
Her active involvement in the forums of SigNel brought her into the fore of the local LGBTQ rights movement. Together with a group of queer women that included prominent activist Jean Chong, Indu co-founded Sayoni – a volunteer-run social organisation that aims to empower queer Asian women.
I was active with Sayoni doing both advocacy and community-building work for about 5-6 years.
I also actively assisted on the constitutional challenge to the the legality of s377A of the Penal Code, as one of the lawyers.
Despite her heavy involvement in LGBTQ activism, Indu hid her sexuality from her family, even when she was in a serious relationship with another woman.
When issues started popping up in the relationship, the couple turned to Oogachaga -Singapore’s only LGBTQ counselling centre. Although the couple broke up after the counselling session, both Indu and her ex-girlfriend agreed that it was for the best.
Sometimes relationships do not work out because of gender, sexuality or homophobia, but because two people are just not suited for each other
For the next 2 years, Indu was single but remained active in the dating scene. She was particularly active on Okcupid – a popular online dating site. And it was through Okcupid that Indu met her current husband Fabian!
In early 2013, my to-be husband in Munich, unsatisfied with the matches in his area, did a global search on Okcupid based on compatibility, and found my profile with 99% compatibility.
Fabian dropped Indu a message on Okcupid, and the pair became online friends. During that time, Indu was already planning a holiday to Europe. And so, she decided to kick off her European adventure in Munich first so that Fabian could show her around.
I landed in Munich and spent three amazing days with him, in which it was clear that something special was happening, , though neither of us expected that.
Though it was not planned, Fabian then spontaneously joined Indu in Paris where the pair went on to enjoy a whirlwind 5-day romance in the French Capital. When her European holiday came to a close, both of them committed themselves into a long-distance relationship.
After we both went back, it was not possible for us to simply move on as if it were a holiday fling, and we decided to start a long-distance relationship.
Two years and many flights later, I was married to the love of my life in 2015.
While her romance with her husband had a fairytale ending, her relationship with a man was, and still is being met with biphobia from both straight and queer communities.
After I met my husband, I was asked by multiple queer people whom I had known for years, whether I was “straight now”.
A straight female friend of mine said that I was just greedy when I came out as bisexual to her and asked me why I still met up with my gay friends since I was married to a man.
Due to the widespread misconceptions surrounding bisexuality, Indu has had to constantly explain to others that being married to a man does not negate her bisexuality.
I married him because he is the love of my life.
If he were a woman, that would not have changed anything for me.
Currently working as a lawyer, Indu remains active in the local LGBTQ activist scene by working on independent community projects. In fact, she recently participated in a video produced in aid of Oogachaga’s fundraising campaign.
In her free time, Indu enjoys computer gaming, reading, cooking and travelling. She also candidly reveals that she didn’t have her first drink till she was 24-years old!
Indu has very kindly taken time out of her busy schedule to answer our Q&A so read on to find out more about how life is like for an openly bisexual woman in Singapore!
1. How was it like for you growing up as a double minority (bisexual and Indian) in Singapore?
More like a quadruple minority, being a woman and a first-generation immigrant. My identity is something of a case-study for intersectionality.
I had to fight my parents for every bit of scrap of freedom I had, counter their arguments about what Indian women were “supposed to do”, persuade them to overlook their fears about what their friends would think if it ever got out that they let their daughter stay out past 11pm, or travel overseas.
2. How was your first coming out experience like?
It was a straight guy friend who helped me come out to myself.
I had a crush on a girl in my school, and I told this to a guy friend. I had not taken it seriously, but he urged me to take it seriously and look into it.
3. How did your family respond to your sexuality?
I was very afraid that my parents would kick me out or disown me when I was younger, so I actively hid my sexuality from them when I was younger.
When I did eventually tell my parents, it was as I suspected – they already knew. I had a long conversation with them about why my identity was important to me, despite the fact that I was marrying a man. While my parents are not ready to march in a pride parade, they have come a long way from the day they stepped in Singapore as first-generation immigrants. Minds cannot be changed overnight.
Some people have told me that there is no point in coming out since I was going to be married to a man.
But I was not telling my family about who I loved, I was telling them about who I was. I told them because it was important for me to be honest with them after lying to them for so many years. They raised me and gave me a relatively good life, so I owed them at least that much.
I am glad I came out to them, because now finally I can be fully honest with them, and all the barriers that used to exist between me and parents do not exist anymore.
4. What’s the biggest challenge in coming out as bisexual in Singapore?
The biggest challenge in coming out as bisexual, is coming out as bisexual. Being a feminine bisexual woman in a heterosexual relationship, I am pretty much invisible unless I actively come out to people.
Most people are coded to think about sexuality as binary, and premised on the gender of your partner. If you are at a gay event, you are assumed to be gay. If you are dating a person of the opposite sex, you are assumed to be heterosexual.
There is never an initial assumption that maybe, just maybe, you could be attracted to both, and the person you are with is not an indicator of sexuality, but a product of opportunity and chemistry.
5. Generally, how has the response to your sexuality been like from both the straight and queer communities?
In my initial years when I was active with Sayoni, I often found myself having to defend bisexuality to queer women. It was fairly exhausting, because I had to keep justifying why I still identified as bisexual (when) I had not seriously dated men before.
I think part of it is that queer women in general are incredibly defensive of their sexuality because homophobes frequently disparage them by suggesting that sex is not sex without a penis. They have had years of people suggesting to them that they are only lesbian because they cannot find a man, or that lesbianism is a phase. Hence I have found that some queer women overcompensate against this lesbianophobia by imposing their own brand of ignorance, which bisexual women bear the brunt of.
Though some of the men I dated were nice and accepting about it, for some others, it was always in the background that they saw my previous relationships with women as a source of titillation and not something that was real. I have lost count of the number of times I have had to tell dates to stop thinking that way.
One of the reasons my husband is a keeper, is because he has never done this. He has been very supportive of my sexuality and my work in the LGBTQ community.
6. What were some of the incidents of biphobia that you’ve encountered before?
I once had a date tell me that she was turned off, because she had imagined me having sex with a man.
I would frequently hear remarks from queer women that sex with men was awful, and that the penis was disgusting. I was expected to agree with these remarks because I was a part of the community. I would also frequently hear from my gay male friends that while they acknowledged my own bisexuality, they thought bisexual men did not exist, and it was just a stop on the “way to gaytown”.
From straight people who had known me before I met my husband, I got lots of remarks about how I had “changed”.
One of my straight former colleagues asked me jokingly “So you are into white meat now? I thought you were a vagitarian?” I laughed it off, and replied that I thought he knew I was an “omnivore”.
Humour is the only tool that some of us have to counter hurtful statements. To this date, I do not think this person realised how awful he was being to me, like many of the other people who made such remarks.
7. What drove you to attend a counselling session by Oogachaga and how was the overall process like?
This was a few years ago, when I was with my ex-girlfriend.
I planned a counselling session for when she was going to visit me in Singapore, to work out our problems. It allowed both of us to air out our problems in a neutral space to someone who listened and told us what we needed to hear: that we had irreconcilable personality differences despite our love for each other, and that maybe going separate ways was the best thing for us.
We broke up following that session, and I am glad we did, because both of us individually found happiness later with other people. I hope that more people in unhealthy or unhappy relationships will take the initiative to approach professional help when they need it.
8. How has being married to a man changed people’s perceptions of you?
When we were dating, and after we got married, I received many biphobic comments.
I think some queer people assume when someone in the community has married a person of the opposite gender, that they are just “conforming” to societal expectations. That may be true for some people,but for me, my relationship with my (straight white cisgender) husband is a product of opportunity and chemistry, not societal expectations. I did not marry him because it was more convenient to marry a man, or for the heterosexual privilege.
Of course, it has not been all that bad either. Many of my friends have been very supportive of me and my marriage.
However, many straight and gay people assume that I am not honest with my partner, and have asked me whether my husband knows I am bisexual. As if it was some kind of dirty secret, as if my past was something to be hid.
9. What advice do you have for bisexual people still hiding in the closet?
If you are not with someone who accepts you for who you are, you deserve better. Bisexuality is not some dirty secret you shove under the carpet when you meet your partner.
Family and friends, even the most well-meaning ones, will be purposefully or accidentally awful to you. That is unfortunately part and parcel of our complex identity.
But stand tall, try not to yell at them and remember that their ignorant remarks are a reflection of them, not you.
10. What do you think is the biggest misconception that people have about the bisexual community?
While I can rattle out a number of common misconceptions, I think the biggest problem is that most people believe we have “the best of both worlds”, and can move between worlds without problems.
There is a misconception that when bisexual people are in heterosexual relationships, we experience full heterosexual privilege. Studies have shown that bisexual people suffer from higher rates of mental health and drug abuse issues and are more prone to domestic violence. Bisexual people are often cut off from support, especially when in heterosexual relationships, and face immense pressure to “pick a side” and “renounce” their past (on both sides).
Let us also remember that a significant portion of the transgender community identifies as bisexual, and that compounds their existing issues and discrimination they face.
11. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
The modern understanding of human sexuality has moved way past the Kinsey scale, where people fall on a spectrum on a one-dimensional line. The modern understanding is actually that sexuality falls on to more of a three-dimensional graph, with axes of physical attraction, emotional attraction and gender. It is possible to have a complicated sexuality in which you may be attracted physically to one gender but not emotionally, or vice versa.
Unfortunately, the LGBTQ community has grown used to putting people in boxes because we are very defensive of our identity as a matter of identity politics. We do so because we have been fighting oppression by telling people we are “born that way, and we are afraid that anything that might deviate from that would give them an excuse for continuing oppression.
I think it is important that we move out of the boxes we put ourselves in. We are an incredible rainbow, not just with 6 colours, but an infinite spectrum of shades.
When we fight for our rights and welfare, we should fight for this entire spectrum, not just the shades that are politically convenient.
Help Oogachaga support Singapore’s LGBTQ community
Founded in 1999, Oogachaga is Singapore’s only community based counselling centre for the LGBTQ+ community.
Run by a team of professional counsellors and trained volunteers, Oogachaga has been instrumental in helping people deal with issues such as coming out, identity, relationships, mental health, family, loneliness, discrimination, sexual health, suicide, and violence.
Unfortunately, some of their donors and funders have cut back, due to various reasons
Despite the drop in support, Oogachaga remains adamant in continuing its mission of providing support to the LGBTQ+ community. But the only way they can continue helping people like Faliq is if you lend them a helping hand.
Support Oogachaga in supporting the LGBTQ+ community by making a donation to their fundraising campaign here: http://bit.ly/Oogachaga
Once again, Dear Straight People would like to thank Indulekshmi Rajeswari for sharing her story with us.
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