I FIRST met ‘S’ over 10 years ago. It was at one of those popular hangouts and we had many friends in common. We both worked in the same industry but in different companies. Rival companies, in fact. A bunch of us had got together to discuss how horrible the day in particular, and the industry in general, was. Somehow, I took an instant liking to S. He was there with his girlfriend and, at the risk of sounding kitschy, they made a really cute couple. He was witty, charming and possessed more than pleasant looks. All of these sat easy on him. I was struck by how S and his girlfriend really cared for each other, made each other laugh and yet mingled effortlessly with the rest of the crowd.
Seven years later, I met him again. I had started my own company and was looking for young (read affordable) talent. The years, the recession and the industry had not been kind to this sensitive soul. He was almost desperate, and willing to work for a rookie salary. I hired him on the spot and was delighted to find that, despite the knocks he had taken, he had lost neither his talent nor his charm nor enthusiasm. Sure, what had come across as boyish appeal a few years ago now made him seem a bit effeminate and weak, but what of it? The day he was hired, he hit the ground running.
Unfortunately, so did rumours in the office. Do you know he is gay? That he was involved with this young shipping officer. Some dude who came from a spongy family. Someone he had spent all his money on. I did not know and, quite frankly, I did not care. If he was gay, so were a dozen other people I knew. He was a good friend and an outstanding colleague. His sexuality was a non-issue. Besides, somewhere in my mind, I would always see him as the S of that first evening — fun-loving, caring about his girlfriend, someone you wanted to be around.
One evening, over a drink or many, S told me, very briefly, the story of his life. Almost in bullet points. He was very casual about the fact that he was bisexual and had always been so. I shrugged and we started discussing old friends and what they were up to.
S was unstoppable at work. Soon, he started heading the department. He ended up making a lot more money, dressing well and living in a better house. It felt good to see him grow. He also became more confident. The old S was reborn, albeit with a little more wisdom and sadness in the eyes.
We all knew he was in a relationship with someone. But, he wanted to keep it discreet. And we respected that. Until one day, he walked in with a delighted look and announced that he was getting engaged.
That evening, I asked him who the girl was. It was the same one I had met 10 years ago. Didn’t she know he was bisexual? Of course, she did. I asked him to think long and hard. Personal choices were one thing but this was a marriage, my friend. Lives were at stake here. Did he truly think it was a good idea?
He looked me in the eye and said, “Harshad, I may be bisexual but I have never been unfaithful even once in my life.”
It was the most eloquent slap on the face that I have received. I prided myself on being liberal but somewhere, in my hard-to-shrug-off middle-class morality, I automatically equated homosexuality and bisexuality with promiscuity. I knew hundreds of straight men and women who play the field but I would never question their decision to get married.
I chose to do it with the one bisexual person I had no evidence of having ever fooled around.
Harshad Sharma is 42. He is an advertising professional, who is Director and Chief Creative Officer at TheoryM.