They use their prize money from the strip club to rent a motel room, and we see them jumping on the bed together, then the video cuts to the next morning, as they sleepily emerge from their room, blinking in the sunlight. What exactly happened between the romp on the bed and the morning after is anyone’s guess, and at 13 I didn’t think about or even observe the sequence of events. What I noticed was the way Tyler and Silverstone looked at each other. It was the way Shia and I looked at each other—the same loving glances, the same smiles.
The video’s last scene restores heteronormative safety to the proceedings in the form of a ripped, shirtless dude on a tractor, but after a quick skinny-dip the girls ditch him and drive off on their own. We don’t know where they’re going, but we can only guess that there are more adventures to come.
“Crazy” represented all of the freedoms I desperately craved at 13: physical freedom, freedom for my emerging sexuality, and the freedom to be with the person I loved and to receive all of her love, all the time, to the exclusion of everyone else, especially the boys she dated. That video flipped a switch in my brain. I had a new thought: Girls could like girls the way girls liked boys. This realization turned my entire universe upside down. I’m a lesbian, I told myself. I like girls. I have no idea how I knew that word, or how I was even aware of the concept of homosexuality. Had I overheard whispers of a nameless fear at family gatherings? No one in my community or in Indian media talked explicitly about queerness at the time, and this was especially true of my family. My mother wouldn’t tolerate any reference to my developing sexuality—any sign that I had reached puberty would drive her into a rage. When I got my period, she said, “Never tell anyone else about this, or I will make you regret it.” But I guess that kind of repression teaches you to keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open, because I got the idea from someone or something that girls could like girls.
I wasn’t totally comfortable with this realization. Normal girls liked boys, so why did I like girls? The obvious answer was that I wasn’t normal. I tried to rationalize my unwelcome desires, writing in my journal, “Some girls are born lesbian, they are naturally lesbian. Other girls are forced to turn to lesbianism because they are ignored by boys.” I fell in the latter category, I told myself. If only a guy would pay attention to me, I wouldn’t go for girls. I had been so socially conditioned to be straight that this was the only way I could understand what was going on. I often told Shia that I wished she was a boy, and she would respond that she wished I was a boy instead.
My first proper kiss was with her, about a month later. It was the last day of school before Durga Puja vacation in October, and we were saying goodbye. We were hugging, and suddenly I turned my face toward hers and kissed her. There was no tongue because neither of us knew how to kiss with tongue, but she responded. She kissed me back, and there we stood, in front of a classroom full of people, kissing each other like we never wanted to stop. It couldn’t have lasted more than a few seconds, but it felt like hours. When we broke off, she smiled at me, and we became the talk of the entire school. I kissed her a few more times that year, but it never felt as special as the first time.
That January, my mother found the letters Shia and I had written to each other. Each one spanned several pages and included the pet names we called each other. We shared our innermost thoughts, wishes, and desires on those pages, and we talked about completely trivial things. That bundle of letters, wrapped in a plastic bag, was one of the most precious things I had ever owned, and I kept it hidden, lest my mother find it. But find it she did, and she read every single one of the letters as I watched. She declared them “lesbian filth” and made me tear them to pieces with my own hands. “She is my friend, just my friend,” I sobbed, even as I ripped the frail blue paper in two with trembling hands. I was forced to cut off contact with Shia after that. My mother informed the school about my “deviant” tendencies to make sure I wouldn’t try to talk to her there. Thankfully, the school year ended in June and the long summer vacation arrived. When we went back, Shia and I were in different classes and hardly talked to each other. A few months later I had my first real crush on a boy, and I all but forgot about my year of “aberrant” love.
Since Shia, I have had intense friendships with many female “best friends.” I call them friendships, but they don’t feel any different to me from my “romantic” relationships with men. They are as intense, even as romantic, and sometimes as charged with sexuality as my heterosexual relationships. I’ve slept with three of my “best friends”—one of my them even became my girlfriend for a while. She remains the only person (besides myself) that I’ve ever had an orgasm with. But for some reason I can’t bring myself to define these relationships with women the same way as I define those with men. Somewhere in my head I still hear myself saying that the only reason I look at girls is that I’m too fat and ugly to get a guy. Objectively I know this isn’t true, but that’s how I act—I don’t get together with girls if there’s a guy around. I stopped sleeping with women in 2010, the year I got my first boyfriend.
There is one thing I got from my boyfriend that I never got from girls: the comfort of knowing that I fit in, that I’m “normal” and not “too fat to get a guy.” Every single day of the three years we dated, I told my girlfriend how much I wanted to be with a boy. It broke her. I loved her and yet I broke her. When I met the guy who became my boyfriend, I made a decision: Since I obviously couldn’t treat a woman with the love and respect she deserved, I would never be with another one again.
Right now I deal with my attraction to women by ignoring it. I avoid girls altogether, except for very clearly stated platonic connections. My sexuality remains as confusing to me as ever, and thinking about it only makes it worse, so I don’t. These days I focus my attentions on guys, because I know I won’t treat them as badly as I treated the only woman I’ve ever been in a relationship with. In a way, I am no different now than I was at 13, trying to manage desires I didn’t understand but which seemed dangerous somehow.
I don’t know what to call this tangled web that is my sexuality, but I know what it looks like. It looks like two girls running away together, rejecting society, rejecting even boys, and choosing each other for now and forever. I dream those dreams still: road trips and campfires and secret romps in shady motel rooms. In my head I am still back in 1999, heading off on adventures with my best friend, arm in arm, my head tucked into the crook of her neck, with nothing between us and the vast unknown except for our love. ♦