The Story of My Life – How Various Events Shaped My Sexuality and Gender Expression

I was born in 1999, in what you can call a business family. My grandfather,Sh. Tilak Ram Bansal, had asmall business of crude oil products like Petrol, Diesel in Punjab. Soon his five sons joined him and the business flourished and our family got the moniker of “petrolpump wale”. All the five Bansal brothers were tall, broad, burly, loud-spoken, extremely confident, shrewd and fearless men. Their masculinity was a defining feature and was regarded as being essential to running the business. Gender thus played a significant role in the upbringing of the men in the Bansal family.

It was after the age of two that it became visible how the normative gender roles, that the family was trying to teach me by telling me “what the girls do?” and “what the boys do?”, misfired. By time and again instructing me about what boys do, they also ended up listing what a female gendered person should do. I chose to adopt the latter set of performances of gender. At five years of age, I began to cross dress – wearing bangles, wrapping a bed-sheet around my body like a sari, putting a ‘bindi’ on my forehead. The family took it as a funny activity that a child was doing and believed that I will learn my gender with time and will perform that well.

Interestingly, the business empire for which my family was planning to prepare my gender performance for itself distorted their scheme of gender. It was in 1980s that our family built the first palace on the outskirts of Mandi Dabwali in Punjab. The palace was rented out to people for parties and also used by the male members of the family to organise parties there during marriages in the family. A very significant feature of all these parties was “Mujra”- pretty women loaded with jewels, with a sophistication in the way they carried themselves with a gleam in their eyes and skill in their feet, tapping their feet on the taal of ‘tabla’. I started going to these parties along with my grandfather. But what attracted me the most was the way the girl danced and followed the beat. The lustrous girdle that slipped around her waist like a reptile on sandalwood. The long hair filled with the fragrance of desert mud freshly wetted by rain, the ‘bahi’ (armlet) she wore. The brocket ‘asi kali’ (a frock with 80 plates) that she wore. This was when my love for jewellery, long hair and my urge for dancing awakened. I began going to these parties just to learn the intricacies of the dancing style. I began dancing after this, not just at home but also at the parties that used to happen at our family friends’ or relatives’ places. I used to put a ‘dupatta’ on and dance for hours and hours imagining my long hair, imagining my ghungroos on and with a huge party to appreciate my skill. Slowly and steadily I started becoming famous for doing mujra around the town; of course as a cute kid who dances very well, and is adorable to watch. People used to say:

‘Petrolpump walon ka pota to rang jammaa deta hai’

(Grandson of the Bansal family adds liveliness to the parties with his dance)

But it was when I touched the age of eight that my mother started stopping me from doing mujra not just in the lobbies of other’s houses but in my own room too. But I would not stop, because that love for dance and ‘Ghagras’ never went. I began doing that either when the family used to go out or in the dead of the night when the stars used to be my imaginative appreciators.

dance man

Picture credit: Raj Pandey/QGraphy

But this art of dancing hit me like the mistaken interpretation of courtesans, as prostitutes, by the British hit the former. One day when my entire family wasn’t home, my uncle Varun Bansal and I were watching television. I was 10 years old then. Suddenly I felt something on my thigh. It was my uncle’s hand. It seemed very normal to me because my family always had the habit of tickling the children till their faces turned red with laughter. So I began laughing, but then the hand moved above the thigh towards my crotch and I felt a bit uncomfortable, but I was totally unaware of what was happening. He then took me to the other bedroom that was in much more interior part of the house.

He laid me down on my chest and switched on the television. He undressed me and entered me through my anus. That pain etched itself into my heart and every part of the body. But from a young age I was taught by my mother that all that elders do is correct; so I did not complain to him about the pain and when I actually began shouting, he held my mouth tight.

That is the last thing I remember from that incident. I was not even aware what he was doing with me then. It was only when I turned 14 and read about it in my school textbooks that I found out what he had done to me that day. But I still could not tell my parents because I thought that what he did was right, because sadly our schoolbooks and society don’t teach a 14 year old child what Rape is. My mother’s incessant effort to discourage me from performing the female roles of the gender drama were all going in vain. Whenever left alone in house, I used to wear bangles, heels, my mother’s head gear, bindi and a yellow skirt (that I had bought by crying uncontrollably when the family went for a trip to Jaipur that year), and used to dance my heart out to Sharaabi’s (a Bollywood movie) ‘naulakha’ track.

I had my first consensual sexual encounter at 15 with my masseur, when I was attaining puberty and exploring my body. My family has had this age old tradition of keeping a personal masseur. First the father had served the family as a masseur and now his son, serves as the masseur for the family. It was a sunny morning and I was being massaged by the masseur, when I asked him to touch my body’s private organ. Although reluctant at first, he did it. After three to four consecutive such minimal encounters of sexual pleasure, out of those 64 sexual acts that Kamasutra talks about, I felt the joy of having oral sex. It was then that I began exploring about what I did with him. In this process of exploration I came across the word ‘Gay’ for the first time in my life.

But the sexuality I possessed affected my performance of gender to a great extent. I have always been more inclined towards what the society calls an ‘effeminate’ behaviour, like speaking softly, unlike the macho manners of my father and grandfather. My father began to take me along with him to the petrol pumps and factories to give a sense of what I was to inherit. But this intimidated me more because when I used to see my dad or grandpa or any of my uncles controlling their businesses, a very significant feature that I traced in all of them was that of confirming their way of life to the strict gender roles that have been laid down for the male members of the society to play, which I very clearly knew (and still know) I would never be able to play. This intimidated me to an extent that I still think that I can never control my family business like my father or his forefathers have been doing. So I became much more inclined towards studies so that I can have a way to earn my livelihood. This fear of stepping into my father’s shoes and inevitable failure in the process of being like him ended up in me studying law.

Religion too has been playing a huge role in shaping my life. The dominant faith that my family possesses is towards a variant of Sufism, along with worshipping Goddess Shakti and all her various forms. Being a follower of sufi tradition we worship the “lala walan Pir” also called as “Pir Sakhi Sultan” along with “Khawaja Pir” and “Gauns paak Pir”. We have a dargah constructed at every business site that the family owns. In fact we have a dargah constructed in the centre of our house where both Pir and Goddess Shakti in all her forms are worshipped together. As part of worshipping Pir there is a religious ceremony called ‘Diwan’ which organised every year. It is basically a ceremony where the sufi singers come and sing the qwalis (sufi songs) in the praise of Pir and there is a ‘langar’ (free food) organised by the host of the diwan, in this case my family. In all the qwalis I found various ways in which one can show one’s love to the Pir. One of those ways is dancing in the name of the Pir and for the Pir imagining him as the audience to your performance. It was then that my love for Pir got a new way of expression that was never adopted by my family ever. I began dancing in the name of Pir, of course in private. I used to make a wish and offer my dance to the Pir. While I performed this dance I used to cross-dress. Never has it ever happened that my wish has not been granted by Pir. Now I can dance for hours and hours in the ‘mauj’ (ecstacy) of my Pir

“I might bend for hundreds of men but shall fall only for the Pir.”

muslim dargah

Nizamuddin Dargah, Delhi (Picture credit: AdityaBondyopadhyay/QGraphy)

Another event that shaped my understanding of my sexuality happened in Delhi. I used to go to Delhi twice a week in my twelfth class for tuitions all the way from Bathinda. These trips gave me a lot of opportunities to explore my sexuality.It was on one of these weekends when I was in Delhi that my class was cancelled and I was thinking of ways to spend my day in the city. I began searching for Gay cruising sites on the internet and came across a male spa. I was soon in front of a seven storied white painted building with a board that read the name of the place, written on a rainbow coloured background in black. I was not exactly sure of what awaited me there.

As I entered I was standing in a poorly lit lobby, with mild jazz playing in the background with an Irish looking man sitting at the reception counter. The receptionist welcomed me with a ‘hullo’ and asked what service would I like to avail – would it be a personal masseur that I shall be interested in hiring or whether I am interested in going around the place and availing the services like Jacuzzi etc., which too shall give me a chance of meeting the other people who are here to visit the spa in the common lobby of the place? Listening to the receptionist gave me the real sense of the place i.e. it is a place for gay men to go and meet other gay men, and that the place also caters to the physical needs of these gay men by providing personal masseurs. I opted to avail the services of the personal masseur. I was given a chance to pick a “masseur” of my choice. After that I was provided with the specific attire that I was required to wear in order to go into the spa. I was then taken to a different floor which was again surrounded with an aura of its own, a mild fragrance of ‘shahjahan’ from the ittar shops of Hyderabad was all over the place. Pale blue and dirty green lighting filled the place.

holding hands, friendship

Picture Credit: Raj Pandey/QGraphy

To give me a sense of what I was to receive, my personal masseur took me for a tour of the place where I found stations like ‘Glory Hole’, ‘Dark room’, etcetera. Finally I was brought to the room that was reserved for me; and after enjoying the massage, I was guided to the commonplace which was quite a huge lobby with various amenities like a Jacuzzi, Sauna, a Dark room, etcetera; with men from various parts of the world. The lobby looked like the one where people go to be alone together.Everyone there knew all they needed to know about each other, by their mere presence there. There were people kissing and making out with each other interchangeably. There was solitude as no one would try to probe what address you came from, and yet there was solidarity that all of us were looking for the same address, that we were at.

I could have never been able to draw this very interesting understanding of the gay bar would my ancestors had not worked hard to earn money that enabled make me to come to Delhi, it would not have been possible if my dad would have not taken me along to the business site, which intimidated because it required its owner to possess a degree of machoism to run the business efficiently. All these various identities that I have been living like that of a descendent of a well-to-do family or that of a gay person or that of a child who got a chance to be well-educated, pooled in to affect my life’s historical happenings in a certain manner and which in turn is affecting the present in its own way.

Sahil Bansal