Words by: Pranjali Sehgal Photography by: Dil Kaur
Everyone’s different. Deconstructing the obvious cliché, infinite variables are tirelessly shaping a person into who they are: where they’re from, their culture, the upbringing they’ve had, the upbringing their parents have had, the friends they associate with, the list could go on and on. Yes, the world is becoming global but every culture has its own niche values and practices. We celebrate the diversity in people and build bridges to find common grounds. But more often than not, we overlook that despite sex being a familiar verb, the way we identify and participate in the act can be multifaceted from culture to culture.
Sex and romance: they’re never the same twice. Despite being often perceived as synonyms, they’re entirely different experiences. One being more taboo than the other. Subjectively, I’m an Indian bisexual female who grew up with liberal parents. Consequently, in society, the rigidity of social norms made any mention of queerness a blatant opposition to what’s acceptable. Even though I was empowered to speak my truth for as long as I can remember, I grew up in a culture where thinking actively about my sexuality automatically meant crossing moral boundaries.
Modern sex education in the country came in forms of curious teens doing their best to look out for one other, and of course Google, who never failed to have my back (aside from when the internet faltered). I repeatedly overheard that being queer was a myth; it wasn’t something in which existed around us. So, I always thought a significant part of my identity wasn’t real at all. I never dared to explore it and despite having parents who could understand, I never attempted to talk to them about it even when I was confused out of my mind. If society was right and my feelings were wrong, I didn’t want to get into trouble. Therefore, it took me a long time to come to terms with my sexuality, realising it was a part of my being and something that I should validate and empower. When I decided to come out to my parents, I didn’t think they’d be as supportive and respectful as they were. This transformed my entire perspective on sex and how I started to relate to it. But it wasn’t the same for my friends. Despite growing up together, our concept of sexuality and how we perceived sex were drastically different.
I decided to ask around, in an attempt to understand other people’s perspectives on sex and their reasons behind it. Recently, I caught up with Dil Kaur, a Singaporean-Indian make-up artist who moved to Melbourne, became a costume designer and a post-graduate creative, all while being the first female in her family to complete university.
What was your introduction to sex and sexuality?
For me, I was raised in a very conservative way and it was like, you always knew sex was a thing because it was a thing to avoid. I never saw my parents being romantic or embrace affection in front of me, it wasn’t even a thing. Even when we watched movies, like old Bollywood movies where kissing was replaced by weird nose touching or flowers on the screen, I could still feel the hesitation. My introduction to sex or romance was that it was a bad thing, and something I shouldn’t be thinking about.
How did you realise there is more to sexuality than what you were exposed to?
I had access to the internet from a really young age. I think I started to think about sexuality when I was watching unsupervised content as a child. For example, I remember watching E-News at the age of maybe 10 and they were reporting on a celebrity girl kissing another girl. I was so confused. I think that was the first time I really thought about it. Following that, because I was on the internet unsupervised, I used to watch so many makeup videos that I came across a drag queen. I remember being confused but fascinated. I loved it! I think educating myself so much on the internet made me realise that I was thinking differently. I saw the logic in my thinking versus the logic in my parents’ thinking. From a young age, I decided I am my own person who is different from my family and that’s okay.
How did you understand the contrast between romance and sex?
I guess romance and sex were always linked together like it was a good thing, but it was a bad thing. They’re different, but in conservative worlds, they’re the same thing. Sex is always about intimacy and romance and it’s supposed to be that simple. But you can’t deny a part of who you are, your sexuality. My sex drive is so different from my romantic drive. When you’re a woman, your physical self is often not considered yours to explore. Stepping into puberty, I became aware of my body and my sexual identity because of other people. I think that’s a very strong reality to remember for women across a lot of cultures, the concept that your sexuality isn’t yours to embrace. It was when I lived on my own and sat down to look at myself without any clothes when I embraced my body as mine when and when I started really engaging with my sexuality. I felt like I had almost reclaimed it.
How did you recognise your sexual preference?
I don’t think I ever really came out to myself. I developed such a liberal mindset on my own, but I don’t think I ever realised that I’m bisexual. I just kind of knew and one day I decided to put a word to it. My sexuality was so personal to me, I wouldn’t tell a lot of people, especially because I knew there was like a lot of stigma associated with it. The first time I faced the fact that I was open to dating women was when I created a Tinder profile at 18. There was this question — men or women? And I was like BOTH!