Orinam is a Chennai-based collective that works in the LGBTQI and ally space. As its members and volunteers, our views of marriage as an institution are diverse and wide-ranging. Some of us have chosen to opt out of marriage to oppose the tyranny of forced marriage and patriarchal inequalities that render it oppressive to cis-women and transpeople. Others of us have also chosen marriage as an institution (whether same-sex or other-sex) and work hard internally at making it non-oppressive. However, as a collective, we feel such an ideological critique of the institution of marriage needs to be separated from support to individuals who are queer and married, and to their spouses. Hence the project South Asian, Married and Queer?, a compilation of narratives on marriage.
Compulsory heterosexuality plays out in our South Asian cultures in ways both unique and similar to other cultures. The pan-Asian emphasis on (heterosexual) marriage as the duty of a son to his parents, and the regarding of an unmarried daughter as a burden on her parents and an indicator of their failure, leaves many young queer and trans persons torn between their desire to please their parents and to live their life on their own terms.
A commonly heard narrative is that of a gay man being unable to resist, and ultimately yielding to, parental pressure to marry a (presumably, straight) woman who does not know her husband’s sexuality before marriage. Issues facing married queer/trans people may, however, be more diverse:
Lesbians and bisexual cis people face social compulsions to marry as well, albeit in ways different from what gay men go through—in gendered power relations in the case of lesbians and bi women, and in the non-exclusive nature of attraction in the case of all bisexual and pansexual cis people. For transpeople who are heterosexual, pressure to marry may constitute dismissal of both their sexuality and of their gender identity.
Further, not all queer people entering normative marriages do so out of family pressure. Gay and straight are not two immiscible states of being: many queer people are also attracted to members of the other sex to different degrees, and some may choose to marry a person of the other sex fully disclosing their non-binary sexual orientation in advance.
There’s also growing evidence that some people may realise a preference for same-sex relationships later in life, when they are already in relationships with members of another sex. Likewise, some people may confront their gender identity and desire to transition later in life, after years of living/passing as cis.
At Orinam we have, over the past ten years, been contacted by individuals in diverse situations such as:
- young gay and lesbian people seeking support and information to help them oppose parental pressure to marry
- people in other-sex relationships seeking guidance to help them come out to their spouses
- people discovering same-sex attraction while in other-sex relationships
- transmen and cislesbians being forced by their parents to marry cismen when they have no desire for cismen
- heterosexual cismen who would like to cross-dress and are seeking to marry ciswomen who would be comfortable with this aspect of their spouse’s nature
- man-woman couples in which one or both spouses are seeking to open up their marriage to queer possibilities with each others’ full consent
Given this context, it is a fact that safe, supportive and non-judgemental spaces for heterosexually married gay/lesbian, bi and transpeople, and support for their spouses are hard to come by in LGBTQI groups. As a first step to create one such space for the South Asian context, Orinam would like to curate a set of essays, stories, interviews and poems that specifically address marriage.
We invite submissions (English or Tamil) in the form of essays, stories and poems by South Asian les-bi-gay cispeople in marriages to individuals of the other sex, by trans individuals in marriages they entered into (or were forced into) based on their gender assigned at birth, and by spouses of such queer/trans people. Contributions in form of interviews of married queer/trans people are also welcome.
Feel free to use a pseudonym and remove all potential identifiers. Email your contributions to email@example.com. We have a committed team of editors who are willing to offer assistance – and full confidentiality – during any stage of your writing or conceptualising the piece. Kindly reach out to us.
Cis = persons who do not consider themselves trans
Queer = here, used synonymously with LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bi, trans, queer, intersex)
Other-sex relationship = used in preference to ‘heterosexual relationship’. Calling a relationship between a man and a woman a ‘heterosexual’ relationship leads to the faulty assumption that both are heterosexual, whereas in reality one or both partners may be bisexual, or for that matter, gay. “Other-sex” is also used in preference to “opposite sex” to allow for the possibility of a relationship between an intersex and a non-intersex person, who may not be of “opposite” sexes.
Same-sex relationshp = used in preference to ‘gay’ relationship or ‘lesbian’ relationship. Calling a relationship between two women a ‘lesbian’ relationship ends up erasing the possibility that one or both partners may identify as bisexual, pansexual or with some other sexual identity.
This post is also available in: தமிழ் (Tamil)