Greyscale - Prithiva Sharma
Before the little park in front of my rundown three-story building was a little park, it was an empty parking lot. There were never any cars parked there and so we used it as our own park to play – funny how we weren’t allowed to do that after it actually became one.
My childhood was spent playing in that park, running barefoot in sand because I had better speed that way, memorizing the spots where holes were dug by someone so I don’t fall into them. The road I had to cross to reach that park, an uneven ground despite many attempts to even it up, was more white than black back then, with all the chalk we used to draw on it.
I was physically very affectionate, still am. I hugged their waists and shoulders, patted their heads and hands, never flinched when I fell on top of them during a game of tug-of-war. And it was all fine, would have been fine, if I did not have an affinity to play with boys. At 10, my mother thought I touched boys way too much.
It was almost like a hole I couldn’t see and I had fallen quite deep.
Two weeks before they spread grass over the sand, I remember sitting there, trying to remove shards of glass from my feet, for I had run barefoot across an alcohol bottle; I didn’t know it was an alcohol bottle at that time, but I know now. I remember trying not to hiss in pain, adamant on proving my mother wrong. Don’t play with boys. They play rough, and you’ll get hurt. You aren’t as strong as them.
It was then that she told me she had sex. The what, who, why didn’t matter; I didn’t ask for details, I never do. She had sex, and I couldn’t even kiss without flinching right down to my bones.
I knew it was a thing – I had asked so many people and told so many people and always got the same assurance back – being asexual is okay.
But when your best friend stands in the face of your bloody foot telling you how her night went three days ago, sexuality seems to become solid instead of fluid. If my mother could see me today, she would probably rethink her notions about me touching my friends. You can’t build romance on waist hugs and head pats.
I am asexual, but why can't I kiss? Kissing isn’t sex.
A year later, the other occupants of the building have moved out – the only people who we know enough to exchange dry fruits on Diwali with are the Mathurs, who live on the ground floor. I am 20, the building is colored blue and orange, and I think it’s hideous. But dad and Mathur uncle cannot change it by themselves, and none of the rest know them enough to come out for a casual chat about the color of the building.
The last time I saw my best friend I wanted to tell her that yes, asexuality is a thing, but no I am not asexual. I remember the last boyfriend I had – I felt something I hadn’t before; not butterflies or tingles or electricity, but something else. I felt attraction, and asexual people don’t feel that. If 19 year-old me thought sexuality was difficult, I was now in a crisis situation.
How do I date people if I don’t even know what I feel?
My college was a stark contrast to my house: opposed to the colorful exterior and muted interior of my house, the college was a single shade of dark red with bland white interiors, as if someone painted it a bright red some years ago and it blackened with dust and smoke, but no one cared to repaint the walls.
The contrast was funny, considering no one in my neighborhood knew the rainbow as anything else but a rare sight in the sky, and everyone in my college knew it as pride.
I first saw the colors of the rainbow on a flag in my college – as a lost 18 year-old who didn’t have her ID yet, I felt embarrassed down to my feet going up and asking the girl holding a camera if she could explain all this to me. The narrowness of the road between my building and that grass filled land had never been more obvious.
But she told me everything she knew. At 20, I thank her as I sit and try to pinpoint the exact spot on the spectrum which I lie on. It doesn’t work that easily.
Four failed relationships, two failed make-outs and one fleeting emotion of attraction later, 21 year-old me discovered that there is something no one told me – something almost asexual but not really. Demisexual.
I studied and asked and got answers; every source I could have used, I used. I sat down with the LGBTQIA+ club at my college and talked and talked for three whole sessions before I thought, yes.
There is something. It is out there.
That year, when our brown sofa, two mustard couches and white marble floor all had entire three families sitting on them, I could look at Bharat in the eye. If I were to ask him out, I know myself enough to be able to know him.
At 26, my mother cannot understand why I won’t get married.
You were so close to boys all throughout, so comfortable with them. What happened now that we talk about love?
At 27, I cannot tell my mother that my previous three relationships, including the Gujarati guy you liked so much because you felt a cultural connect ended because I could not explain demisexuality to them.
I cannot explain it to mom either, I am a little scared. Every time I have come back home with a pride flag painted on my cheeks and my wrists, mom has just told me to wash my face properly in case I develop acne. She never asked me, and I am too afraid to answer a question she probably will never ask.
So the wedding invitation from the Sharmas sits on the glass table, Juhi weds Vikram written decoratively in a way that makes mom look at me, and makes me curl into the new pillows I bought.
The first time I thought about sex was when I was picking up shard of glass from my foot; as a naïve young woman I walked around feeling as if those shards never left me, as if they never would until I could think about sex without feeling like I wanted to throw up.
But when I was 27 and I sat down to write an article on what demisexuality is, what relationships mean and what romance actually feels like, I internally smacked myself.
You don’t carry everything with you.
I revisited my college that April. It was still a dusty red, but the pride flags were a little more. It made me a little lighter.
That June, I took my mother to a pride parade. She thought we were going out for a movie, but the show was me coming out. We stayed the whole time; I told her about every color.
Demisexuality is grey, white is the allies, and purple is the community. It’s the asexuality flag.
The next day, the recent wedding invitation from our neighbors had been removed from the table, and mom had bought me a grey nail color. She had taken out my white one and painted her toe nails. She didn’t say anything else, no one in our family does. She just stopped saying marriage.
My building has been repainted, but the colors still look unsettling – mustard yellow and dark green. They would have looked better somewhere else, but not on a tall building with falling plaster from the sides and marks of cracked pipes. The park was slowly drying up for there was no one to water the grass. But the road was better – the recent election campaign had led to the road being rebuilt and widened.
The road between the building and the park was a little more even, and a little less narrow.