The Facebook profile of Mrs. A.S. (I’m sorry, I’m not at liberty to expand on those initials) states that she’s “married” to a gentleman. Ordinarily, one would expect wedded couples to leave the next section—“Interested In”—blank. But I find that my prudery isn’t shared by most individuals whom I encounter in this expanding virtual universe.
Not only does Mrs. A.S. fill out the column dedicated to details about one’s sexual orientation, but she also fearlessly fesses up to being interested in women. Considering the culturally conservative milieu she lives in, her proclamation could be read as a sign of her unflinching courage. Or, it could be a mark of downright techno-naivety, springing from a lack of proficiency in navigating pull-down menus.
There is, however, just one other possibility that her statement is clearly not intended to convey what it does to a good many of us. What is it, though?
A married male friend of mine, with whom I’d connected after long years on Facebook, began our re-introductory chat by asking me, “So, why are you still single?”
That question is too personal, prying, and proprietorial. And when uttered by men, it becomes my casus belli.
“Well, I’m gay,” I say nonchalantly. “The occasion to marry a man will, therefore, never arise.”
“What? You mean … women?” he typed back, still unsure about the veracity of what, to his ears, is a 21st century heresy.
“Yes, you heard right. I’m into women. It’s even indicated on my Facebook profile,” I say, feeling like I’ve fired a cannonball at him.
“No, it doesn’t! Where does it say that?”
There’s a short pause in our conversation. I picture him tapping his keyboard furiously to locate the clue to this shatteringly significant confession.
I try to be helpful by saying, “It’s under the ‘Interested In’ bit. Doesn’t it say ‘women’?”
“But it doesn’t mean that?” he sighs patronizingly.
And that’s when I smacked my forehead, with a force that almost hurt. I’d solved the mystery behind Mrs. A.S.’s baffling message. It’s a matter of semantics. As it turns out, the phrase “Interested In” is well, polysemous. It can either communicate a lot about a person, or nothing at all, depending on which side of the Prime Meridian your home falls on.
In the West, when one says they’re interested in men, women, or both, one is explicitly stating one’s sexual preference, as to whether one is a gay, a lesbian, or a bisexual. I can’t speak of all Eastern cultures, but I do know that Indians know this expression to mean something else.
Most profiles of Indian men and women, born, raised and residing in India, which inform that they’re interested in both, are, merely, revealing they’re open to building connections—be they casual acquaintanceship, deep friendships, business networking, romantic relationships—with either or both the sexes.
So, when Mrs. A.S. states she’s interested in women, chances are she’s telling the world she only likes to talk to gals, not guys. She’s not saying that she’s a lesbian.