First published on Gaysi Family.
Celebrities: we love them, we hate them, and some times the queer in us awakes because of them. Whether it is the character they played, their art and activism, their eyes, the context in which we were exposed to them, or just their torso, a lot of us within the community have seen a celebrity (who is forbidden for us by cis-hetero-theory) on screen and gone, ‘oh’. Here are 16 such ‘oh’ moments we compiled from your responses through a Gaysi Q and A on Instagram!
Barbie & Friends ft. Zendaya, Brigette Lundy-Paine, and Taapsee Pannu
For T it started with Barbie and her friends, “My mom used to buy me Barbie CDs as a kid. I would watch them on repeat while she was away, and subconsciously ‘ship’ Barbie with her ‘friends’. It never felt wrong.”
Initially she considered the possibility of being asexual or aromantic, because she felt absolutely nothing towards men, but then it dawned on her.
“I realized I was a raging lesbian.”
But it wasn’t a eureka moment for her, it took years to realise she had been crushing on women she was watching on-screen, especially Zendaya and Taapsee Pannu.
“I used to fantasize about them kissing me. It scared me at first, it felt wrong. But after years of acceptance, I can finally watch shows and not feel guilty about loving beautiful women, on and off screen.”
T knows that people around her wonder why she likes women and not men, and this is her response to them:
“To me that’s such a stupid question. I could admire a man, but I would never imagine myself being in LOVE with one. With women? I could listen to them talk for hours and fall more in love every minute. The way they look, the way they laugh, their hair, their smile, they’re beautiful! I connect with women more than I ever could with men. It just makes sense.”
R thought everyone was crushing on Zendaya just as hard as they were after watching her in the Spiderman movie and ‘Euphoria’ (TV series), so they didn’t think much of watching Euphoria multiple times for Zendaya. This was followed by them watching ‘Atypical’ (TV series) which has Brigette Lundy-Paine playing a queer character, R was an instant fan.
“I realised I was definitely queer by then, although I’m still exploring my sexuality. It took Zendaya and Brigette’s handsome and powerful selves to awaken the acceptance that there was a lot of queerness in me, that I had yet to explore!”
A young Krishna thought finding Halsey smart and gorgeous was just that, “As an AFAB transman, I had no idea that was me having a crush on her”.
When he came out, it was difficult to find someone he could look up to, and also relate to.
“Then I realised the musician who had got me through depression and a lot of difficult times, was ALSO a feminist, and identified as bisexual.”
Out of all the mainstream artists’ Krishna had come across, Halsey’s songs (like ‘Bad at love’) were the only ones that were openly bisexual, and about being queer. Krishna continues to admire Halsey’s work and activism.
“She’s one of my favourite artists till date.”
Riya Shigwan has memorised the first few lines of Halsey’s ‘Bad at Love’ music video, because at 13 she kept rewinding it to watch Halsey get off a bike, and remove her helmet in slow motion, “I was totally clueless that the best was yet to come,” she says.
When Halsey sang, “Got a girl with California eyes, and I thought that she could really be the one this time. But I never got the chance to make her mine,” this was Riya’s reaction:
“HOLD UP WHAT!?! Now, I. had. lost. my. mind. I played the second verse day in and day out, for weeks together.”
It was the first time Riya heard lyrics that had a woman expressing explicit romantic interest in another. The discovery pushed Riya to do what she had been stalling for almost a year.
“I googled ‘what does it mean to be attracted to boys as well as girls’, and it took me just an hour to figure out my sexual orientation.”
The next day, Riya went to school, gathered her close friends, and told them about her discovery. She also put up three posters of Halsey in her room.
“To date, whenever I pass that wall, I stop and stare for a few minutes.” As a young queer, Riya recognises how important it is to see people like yourself in the content you consume. She considers herself lucky to be born in this generation.
When Katherine Houghton Beckett played Kate Beckett
After Shina watched Katherine Houghton Beckett play Kate Beckett in the crime series, ‘Castle’, it blew her mind as a teenager.
“I think it was both the actress and the character she played. The character was one of a kind, strong, smart and sensible, but also complex and flawed. The actress was wonderful, so good at her work and extremely pretty. I wanted to be like her, look like her, and speak like her.”
The Kate Beckett character seems trope-y to Shina now, but for a 13 year old who had only ever watched Hindi serials, it was a revelation. She was unaware of love apart from the straight kind, so she didn’t give it much thought until her late teens.
“I was crushing on one of the girls in my class and that’s when I really understood my sexuality.”
Looking back at how she felt about Kate Beckett as a teenager, Shina thinks:
“Wow, I was pretty gay for her.”
Natasha Negovanlis and Elise Bauman’s On and Off Screen Queer Representation 101
It was sometime between 2004 and 2005, when Wanderer first became aware of the term ‘lesbian’. Two students in their school were infamous because of it, and were also bullied by other students. Wanderer found themself in the middle.
“While I couldn’t dare to associate myself with the two girls, because I lacked awareness and also because of fear and shame, I also could not associate myself with the hetero-mentality of the other students.”
In 2016, they watched something queer for the first time, an Indian web series on YouTube called “The Other Love Story”. “It felt nice,” says Wanderer, “but I still couldn’t dare to think of myself as one of them.”
In 2018, they watched another Youtube web series, Carmilla, and then binged the remaining 2 seasons within 2 days.
“At first I was a fan of this webseries because of the real, positive queer representation. The 2 lead characters are queer and so are the actors, Elise Bauman and Natasha Negovanlis, who play these roles. Eventually, I came to know more about the people behind the scenes. Turns out more than half of the cast and crew members are queer in real life. It was also the first time I saw a non-binary character on-screen”.
Wanderer loved the way the two lead actors, Natasha Negovanlis and Elise Bauman actively advocated for positive on-screen representation using their own stories as an example.
“It took me some time, but slowly I accepted, and came to terms with myself.
I came out to myself, even though I am not out to anyone, except one dear friend.”
After two years they expressed themself as a gray-ace lesbian. Although they still feel a bit uncomfortable around issues like sex and nudity, they are much more at ease because of Natasha Negovanlis and Elise Bauman.
“Without them I wouldn’t have been able to even think of myself as a queer person, let alone accept myself. I would have lived a life full of lies.”
Wanderer have started to realise they may not be cis-gendered, and have been using ‘she/they’ pronouns.
“I used to think there is only one way to come closer to my true identity, by wearing certain clothes or combing my hair in one way etc. But now I realise I don’t have to ‘look’ a certain way to be who I am. Gender is a social construct, and we can’t view it as either masculine or feminine”.
The Space Between Nico Tortorella and Me
It wasn’t tough for Nirvana to figure out they were gay. But something held them back from introspecting their gender expression. Then they came across Nico Tortorella’s book. Nirvana had followed Nico Tortorella since they starred in ‘Younger’ (TV series), and just happened to come across Nico’s book, ‘Space Between: Explorations of Love, Sex, and Fluidity’.
“They do drag, and are so masc, yet so femme. They have this aura to them.
They made me able to question my gender identity.
They are queer, and fabulous, and so mad, yet so themselves in their own skin.”
Falling in love with ‘Rose & Rosie’
Rose and Rosie were the first same-sex YouTube couple Niki watched when she was in her ‘questioning phase’, “I remember randomly finding them in my recommendation list. I guess, it wasn’t that random after all,” she says.
“It was a video titled “Superkiss!”. I was very curious like a typical baby dyke would be.
That was the first time I saw two women kiss passionately for 3 mins straight. What struck me was the fact that it felt so natural and beautiful, not once did I feel weird or disgusted by it.”
Niki saw how the two women were absolutely in love with each other, and that it was okay to be two women in love. Right then Niki decided she wanted that kind of love too.
“I hoped that someday, I could hold the woman I loved in my arms and kiss her without fear. Sneak a smile or a giggle in between each kiss. It wouldn’t be picture-perfect, but it would be perfect for us. And that’s all that matters.”
Introducing Selena Gomez as Alex Russo
Shrav used to live in a joint family, so the chance of getting to watch what she wanted to on the TV was rare. But when she and her parents moved and got their own TV, that changed.
Both her parents worked, so she had a lot of time to watch TV. She started watching cartoons like ‘Bob the Builder’, ‘Mickey Mouse Clubhouse’, and ‘Tom and Jerry’.
When she was 8 years old, a new show premiered on Disney Channel. It was ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’, and it introduced Selena Gomez to Shrav.
“In the first episode, I see this beautiful and cute person on screen, and my heart beats through the roof. I remember this because it was a feeling I was totally unaware of, it was like butterflies fluttering and crackers bursting in my stomach.”
Shrav loved the character of ‘Alex Russo’ played by Gomez. Alex had a strong personality, and was kind and funny at the same time. Shrav remembers dreaming about her that night.
“The first episode had a flying carpet in it, and so did my dream. It was just like the scene from Aladdin. We were flying over the city, and she was teaching me magic tricks.”
Although it was an innocent dream, it made Shrav think about things. But she had no one to talk to about these feelings. Everyone else in her school was interested in talking to guys, but she was just excited about going back home to watch Selena Gomez in ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’.
In 2009, Selena Gomez with her band released an album ‘Kiss and Tell’, which had a song named ‘Crush’ on it. That was when Shrav realised she had a crush on Selena Gomez, and that she liked girls.
“That very moment I knew there was no way in the world I was going to like a boy. I realized at a very young age that I was different, and it felt weird at the time. But in college I realised that I am part of something much bigger, and everything got better from there.”
“P.S. I am still in love with Selena Gomez, and will be till the day I die.”
Breaking: Kate Winslet’s eyes are the real ‘Heart of the Ocean’
Saachi Gupta first saw Kate Winslet in 2012, on billboards advertising ‘Titanic 3D’, “I asked my parents who the actress was, and as an afterthought enquired about the actor as well,” she says.
“I couldn’t get over how stunning she was. In the movie, I was taken by her eyes and laugh to the point I barely even noticed Leonardo DiCaprio. What followed was years of obsessing over both Leonardo and Kate, a foreshadowing of my impending bisexuality.”
Saachi is unsure if even now she’s completely over her obsession with the two Titanic leads. She even studied Kate’s journey from the 90s to where she is now, and according to her, Kate Winslet’s sheer determination is what struck her.
“Apparently, she sent James Cameron roses every day to get an audition for the role of Rose.”
Robert Douglas Thomas Pattinson
For Shreyash Odak Korde, it was Robert Pattinson playing Edward Cullen in the Twilight movie series.
“I watched the whole Twilight Saga for him & his charming smile. It was extraordinary. I had a tingling sensation in my gut when I saw him make a magnificent entry in the film. His brown hair, pale white skin, and dry yet red lips, made me considerably more into him.”
The next day, after an hour on Google, it was clear to Shreyash. He had a thing for guys, especially Robert Pattinson. When Shreyash was bullied by schoolmates who thought him to be ‘effeminate’ and ‘delicate’, he turned to Robert Pattinson.
“Every day without fail, I used to watch Robert Pattinson on my PC. He gave me a feeling of solace and insurance while I was dealing with bullying.”
While Shreyash doesn’t know if Pattinson is gay or straight, to him it doesn’t really matter, “Whatever his sexuality, he will always be my first love and my Queer-Guru,” he says.
To The Two Girls Who Kissed In Troye Sivan’s YOUTH MV
When Riya Shigwan discovered Troye Sivan’s YOUTH music video, it felt like the discovery happened the other way round, “I still can’t sing that song without disappearing into a puddle of tears,” she says.
At first Riya thought the lyrics were written for a best friend. This is what went through her mind when she watched more of the music video:
“I want lights like these and- wait a second WHO is this guy- he looks so soft and cute- Troye ok Troye Sivan- is it just me or are they about to kiss- those girls kissed each other wow- is this an American thing.”
It was the first queer representation Riya had ever seen, “My body was smiling”. She hadn’t ever felt that way after watching two people who were attracted to each other. “This is not fair. Why didn’t they show Troye kissing that boy?”, was also on her mind.
“I had a small discussion with my best friend, who watched the video, made a strange face, and told me, ‘THIS IS GAY’.”
The difference between her best friend’s and her own reaction made Riya worry a little, but it was also the start of her queer journey.
Daniel Lismore and Fade-Dra Phey: Art as Activism
Patruni Chidananda Sastry had a habit of listening to TED talks, and that’s how they were introduced to Daniel Lismore, an artist and designer.
“When I started learning about Lismore’s art, which was both political and personal simultaneously, I understood that being non-conformist was so important to accept our skin, and also change the way the world looks at our bodies.”
For Patruni, Lismore’s art was gender fluid, and that was really interesting to view. It made them realise that art can talk about gender and sexuality, and that performance was crucial for them to accept their own gender fluidity.
“When I started drag, I was only focussing on glamour and beauty. But I have a different body type and rare skin condition, so I never felt like I could fit into the mold of how the world views drag.”
Fade-Dra Phey was an eye-opener for Patruni. The first Fade-Dra Phey video they saw was them doing a Tranimal Drag. It is a rare form of drag where the persona is surreal and anti-beauty. Trash becomes the new glamour, and dirt becomes the new glitter. It creates a cover by which the lines of gender, race, caste, and sexuality are blurred with Post-Modern performance.
“It creates the illusion of just an inhuman thing, questioning the standards of privilege. Fade Dra phey made me realize that drag has nothing to do with privilege, and anyone can be a drag performer. They taught me to make drag as performance activism, rather than entertainment.”
Chris Evans’ Torso
“I clearly remember the time I borrowed the Fantastic Four movie from a friend, he had been recommending it to me for a while. Little did I know I was gonna experience a full body response after looking at Chris Evans’ torso. It was something I had never ever felt in my entire life.” ~Ameya
Show-Go: Androgyny and Beat Boxing
“I used to struggle for an answer to, “What/who’s your favourite genre/artist?”. I have very specific tastes in music, and there weren’t many musicians to whom my gender fluid butt could relate to. All of that changed when I came across ‘Show-Go’. Apart from his uniquely slow-tempoed original music, his attire is what won my heart. With his dangling earrings and adorable palazzo pants, Show-Go turned out to be one of the biggest reasons for me to feel comfortable in my androgynous attire, whenever I went to my local beatbox battles, jams or gigs.” ~Vadsu
‘Chel’ from ‘The Road to El Dorado’: some thiccc pixels
“Damn, I wish I had a better answer but to be honest 10 year old me just found ‘Chel’ from ‘The Road to El Dorado’ hot. She thiccc.” ~S
“One day I was talking to a gal pal and the way I was raving about Rihanna weirded her out. I asked her if she feels the same way and she told me, ‘nuh uh girl i just like her songs’ and that was my ‘oh shit, do I LIKE-LIKE women?’ moment. I had to travel out of my head to understand how I think of women is different from straight girls. I have been openly thirsty for Rihanna ever since. Oh, and also Brie Larson! She could kill me and I’d thank her for it.” ~S
Watched Inkaar for Arjun, But Re-watched For Chitrangada
“One distinct memory is that I loved Inkaar (2013 movie) a lot because Arjun Rampal was cast in it. But after watching it a few times I realised I never really noticed him, my eyes were always on Chitrangada (for obvious reasons). Also the song ‘kundi mat khadkao raja’… let’s leave it at that.” ~Prapti