So(u)ld Out! : Marriage pressure from family

Among the various enquiries, Queerala has been receiving for the past few years (2013 June-2017 May), a major layer of dilemma for queer individuals had its locus on Marriage Pressure from family. An average and brief graphic illustration based on the count of divorces, as said by the enquirers, is presented here along with an article by Jiby Joyce, based on his interaction with a few of the divorcees.

Child rearing practices in India vastly tend to be customarily driven followed by children satisfying expectations of household and social spaces, to live as sources of emotional and familial gratification. Indian families, which adhere to hegemonic ideology not only pigeonhole the children but also endorse stringent gender roles. Needless to say, that in the traditional Indian families, communication is largely one-sided. Sex and sexuality issues are not openly discussed or in many cases, is a subject unspoken. It’s a known fact that it is difficult to be an LGBTI in many countries- anything other than mainstream is often judged and heavily criticized. And if one is in India, the fear of discrimination gets even worse. It is indeed notable how the Indian family set-up has permeated significantly into the systems of convenient kinship and marriage of individuals, including many closeted gay men and women.

“I was in my late 20’s when my parents and close relatives coerced me to get married. I was emotionally black-mailed and compared to my other married cousins”, recalls Sai*, a 32 years old banker from Chennai. “I was on a vacation when my family saw a girl for me. Aunts and Uncles got involved in the process and I was ceaselessly reminded of the shame that my family will go through if I wouldn’t marry”, adds the banker. He was never given a choice to breathe out a word about his sexuality. In six months, he married a woman whom he had no emotional and physical fondness with. Exposing the image of a happy husband in the public, he grew feeble inside. “I was trying to fit-in as a good husband, but it didn’t work. Our distance increased each day and there was no peace between us. I couldn’t handle the stress and anxiety anymore. Within a year into the marriage, I came out to my parents and wife”. Did it end there, well no! It was followed by a series of forced counseling sessions by his traumatized parents. He sighed while saying,

“The marriage dissolved with mutual consent but I was constantly accused of destroying my wife’s future. I acknowledge that, but no one understood the pain I went through in the process”.

It took time for the parents to accept him, yet the society’s unsettling judgment daunts them till date. When it is hard to explain sexuality to the family and society, it is likely that most homosexual men and women reach out to friends and doctors. That was exactly done by Robin*,a 31 years old Bangalore based software engineer. Been raised in a conservative Malayali household in north of Kerala, he always saw and therefore believed that marriages are between men and women.

“My family started looking for alliances when I was 25. But I was aware of my orientation conflicts. Over a period of time I consulted a psychiatrist and a few trusted friends. They affirmed that it is normal in boys to have homosexual feelings and it all changes after marriage. The psychologist advised me to consciously control my feelings towards men and avoid any sexual encounters with them. I was guaranteed that homosexuality is curable and I believed them”.

With not much of a choice and bottled emotions, he married the girl whom his family and relatives chose.

“It took no time for me to realize that I can’t connect emotionally and physically be with my wife. In 2 months I came out to her, but she refused to give up and we both consulted a psychiatrist”.

They paid 8 visits to the psychiatrist in 2 months but there was no change. Upon being informed, both the families were devastated. He was rushed to a third psychiatrist, but that didn’t help him either. Further, the family reached out to a religious specialist, who preached enough to him, made him feel guilty of his own sexuality and prescribed 4 years medication. “I felt miserable after visiting all the doctors and the religious expert, but it made me strong and more confident about my sexuality”, he exclaims. The only loud thought was to commit suicide. “It was a throbbing experience for both of us and we decided to file a divorce. My marriage lasted a little above 5 months, but I wish that period had never been a part of our lives”. Even today, the family and relatives refute to talk about his sexuality.

Indian girls are constantly reminded of their gender and in fact marriage is something that they are familiar with right from their childhood days. As a girl grows into a woman, the parental concerns to get her married increases. It was very similar in Shreya’s* case. Her memory went back to the immense force she faced from her parents and relatives to get her married when she was just 20. There was no liberty for Shreya to disagree to their decision. She says,

“I was too scared to tell my parents that I’m lesbian. The thought of marrying a man was horrible, but I had no strength to fight this battle alone”.

“Everything was wrong after marriage, even his simple touch was unthinkable”, recalls Shreya. The couple soon detached due to dearth of intimacy. After enough damage in their marriage, the families got involved and Shreya was blamed left, right and center. The period was “a nightmare”, she said. The social disgrace being a separated wife was too hard to tolerate. Though, they were later divorced mutually, but Shreya still wishes if she wasn’t ever married to a man.

Families’ contribution towards forceful marriage against one’s sexuality is not only psychologically unsafe but in many instances it can open doors to physical violence and abuse. It was very hard for Sreenath*, a 33 years old financial consultant from Trivandrum to narrate his plight and scheme of such an exploitation. It was without his consent that the parents and relatives selected a prospective match for him. The family didn’t pay any heed to his multiple requests to abolish the wedding and one summer day he was coupled with a girl for lifetime. “I even spoke to my best friend, but he insisted me to go ahead with the marriage and everything will be okay. It was a very painful moment on my wedding day”, the consultant remembers. Gradually, the differences between the two grew to heights and they had horrid quarrels. Verbal abuses later turned out to be physical combats. He explained, “We fought daily and I lost my peace. The emotional agony was more excruciating than the physical pain. I was seeking help, but there was none around- not even my family at that moment. They all accused me, made me feel guilty”. It was during one of their visits to hometown, his wife yelled at his parents and later filed a police complaint against the entire family on grounds of domestic violence. Yet, his own family members continued to blame him for his incapacity to hold a marriage. The divorce procedures involved a huge ransom as alimony, which further broke him down. “By the end of this episode- I was hurt irreparably, weak and mentally famished of a gentle touch”.

These stories are loud, they speak about horrendous experiences gay men and women undergo within the walls of their own homes. My intention through this article is to convey that sensuality is, after all, is one of the primary components of sexuality. Parents denying or not talking about this, lessens their own credibility. It is quite pivotal to talk to the children about appreciating their bodies and as whom they are. Everyone knows the need to be touched, held, or caressed. This pleasurable aspect of sexuality is critical for normal and healthy development- ultimately allowing individuals to take right choices and avoid affecting many lives in the process; there by not getting emotionally separated from biological families.

*Sai, Robin, Shreya and Sreenath are anonymous names used for the respondents considering privacy concerns.

Images Courtesy- Jithin