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Gay And Wed-Locked In The Closet

Gay And Wed-Locked In The Closet

July 14, 2010
Sandeep Sandhu

The UK's Forced Marriages Unit reports a 65% increase in the number of calls it receives from men.

The Guardian recently published the article Gay men become victims of forced marriages. It reported that the UK’s Forced Marriages Unit (FMU) recorded an increase in calls to its helpline, going on to say, ‘Men in some communities are being forced into marriage because their families suspect they are gay or bisexual’. Of course this will mean different things to NRIs everywhere. Most will be wanting to ignore the issue, or, unknowing the best way to respond – may abandon it as an irrelevant idea. Others may simply accept it for what it is. The most important thing is that the article refers to very real people that you or I may know – not distant or different individuals. For me, what this article says more about the treatment of gay or bisexual people in NRI communities, is that there is a growing trend in men and women being open about their identity. This is a landmark trend in its own right, but as we can see, is presenting a tremendous uphill battle for those involved.

To prevent men (and women) from being pressurised into marriages, particularly whilst abroad, the UK Government launched  The Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007, which came into force on 25 November 2008. An interesting feature about this, is that it is available in Hindi, Bengali, Arabic, Punjabi, Farsi and Urdu. Perhaps this is a clear indicator of the communities in which incidents are occurring, and therefore a real sign that trouble is closer to hand.

Of course forced marriages have been going on for centuries, but we have come to understand them as an issue which largely affects women in NRI communities. The notion of honour and family obligation is often brought up in the media, particularly involving Muslim and  Arabic communities. This is clearly terrible, but has for a very long time overlooked men in similar situations. For example, recent press has featured lynching and possible executions across countries from Malawi to Iran, proving the global resonance with this issue.

Returning to the key issue, we have to acknowledge that NRI audiences simply don’t know how to deal with the notion of homosexuality. Responses have been varied; sometimes startling, at other times horrific. Victims have been taken to India or Pakistan, and quite often beaten, tortured and subdued into marriages. Increasingly, this is happening to younger and younger men, revealing a shift in their willingness to admit who they are, albeit at a cost. In many ways, this is no different to the barbarism that occurs to women in such cases, particularly in the name of ‘honour’. Eventually, this leads us to question, just what honour is – and does cultural, sexual and personal identity need to be sacrificed to uphold it?

During the last few years, I’ve come across individuals with varied experiences which I’ve summarised below. All men have at some point been honest about their sexual identity, but have acted quite differently.

Person 1 is a married man, he has children. He was clear about his bisexuality during his youth, but understanding it will never be fully accepted, kept it a closely guarded secret. Person 1 believed that as long as he could hide, repress or subdue his sexual urges then the rest of life will work out. Person 1’s experiences are similar to those of many across different cultures and backgrounds. Things are slightly more liberal today and Person 1 may often see other men in order to fulfil personal desire in an anonymous extra marital capacity. In doing so, he realises (or accepts, that his marriage to a woman – was in effect, one of convenience). He often looks down upon the gay community as hedonistic, selfish and different. He is unwilling to make any association with it. He believes that things are beginning to change, but those that are opposed to forced marriages or marriages of convenience are self-indulgent. There may be an element of jealousy in his view towards the young men of today, with their supposed new ‘freedom’.

Person 2, having grown up in a NRI community, understands the obligations and pressures of religious and family expectation. Yet, he also understands the importance of leading a free life, being honest to oneself as well as fulfilling the desire to find a partner. He’s made the decision to come out to his family - who, not understanding his sexuality have found it difficult to deal with. They have found his state of being to be one that is temporary or something that can be remedied, and as such have taken him to India to be seen by medical professionals. He understands that this is a ludicrous idea, but wanting to challenge it, Person 2 has agreed to come along. Of course, several opportunities of marriage have presented themselves to Person 2, but his family, understanding that they can’t override Person 2’s happiness, have refrained from force.

Person 3, is younger than the two above, he has grown up seeing gay characters openly leading their lives in television and movies. He is comfortable with his tastes and experiences and very open about his sexuality to everyone, except immediate family. Person 3, recently went to Pakistan, and for a long time didn’t return. On his return, he decided to covertly part with his family. Understanding that the prospect of a forced marriage was a very realistic one. In this situation, this was the only thing that could be done.

All three models above are based on actual individuals, yet they speak for many; and although the issue is of forced marriage, its seed is that of personal choice. Therefore the argument goes beyond that of preference, but moves towards freedom in general. Forced marriages have existed to prevent a multitude of situations (often politically, economically or socially engineered) in which they have affected both straight and homosexual men and women. Those wanting to evade the ‘system’ have resorted to spinster-hood, clerical professions, or simply running away – seeing these as viable options in the face of violence or suicide. Which in itself sounds like something from an eighteenth-century novel.

In retrospect we have to ask ourselves as a modern, liberal and empirical society how important marriage is to us. What does it mean to us as Indians? I for example have found the term Love Marriage to be hilarious – like marriage could be anything other than something grounded in love? Clearly the idea has been manipulated over the centuries and it’s beginning to reflect strongly and badly on us. But with the FMU reporting a 65% increase in the number of men contacting it, we can detect a clear shift in attitudes. People are beginning to be open and honest, and yes this comes at a risk, but in demonstrating the number of gay Indian men and women that exist they are helping their own cause. In demonstrating that they make up a sizable percentage of everyday people, the elder NRI community will realise that it is something to be accepted, as opposed to hidden.  As such, I will do my part to encourage more voices to speak for themselves and protect their futures. This may be in highlighting the cause for other NRIs, but also through acknowledging that I am Person 2.

We may like to think that we’re now part of a grand generation of youth which is free, ready and able to do what it likes (in a foreign land, which has already embraced the sexual revolutions of the sixties and seventies), but even in a far away land, if risk is just around the corner, then more reaction is needed.

19 Comments

  • Sandeep
    By
    Sandeep
    29.02.12 03:05 PM
    @Jen Thanks for this. It's always good to get positive feedback on this article, particularly several months on. Indeed, I agree with your points about improving education and raising public awareness. Discussion is the first method of learning.
  • Jen
    By
    Jen
    28.02.12 12:47 PM
    One of the best posts I found on gay rights today! You couldn't put this more well.

    Firstly,it is vital at this point of time,when our country is scaling it's educational ladder high up,they have more tendencies to be "educated" even though it means pushing boundaries of culture,caste or religion. I think the root cause has to be known and people who are unaware of it should be administered.It's high time public awareness is brought ,not only does it help victims of forced marriages but also help them carve out a niche for themselves in this unjust piece of land!
  • srini govinda
    By
    srini govinda
    07.01.12 07:39 AM
    Hi Sandeep I have read quiet an intresting artilcle about NRI as well as people residing in India, i came out to my family openly gay in 2007 during a family reunion unfortunately didnt go well lost contact with some family members, it took three years for some members to come around, still no contact with my sister despite of she living in USA cant understand me, she feels betrayed, then my dad who feels i have disappointed him and all his high expectations he had on me, i told my family i cant live a double life and need to be true to my self, they are no where close to supporting me in this regard, my father is so fussy in finding a bride and feels its for my own good and there needs to be someone to look after me after their time, i love my my family members dearly times i think can i fall into their trap then its all question mark cant think through it.

    i feel i made the right choice by coming out and being honest i am spiritual and go to temple and feel close to god and dont feel guilty as i use to be in the past, dont know if they would ever come around with it. until now they havent done a grt deal of research is to why i have come up with this decision.
    any suggestions let me know.

    Thanks for your time,

    Regards

    Srini

    Australia.
  • kumar
    By
    kumar
    28.12.11 11:09 PM
    Sandeep, Nice article about forced marriages in UK. I am a first generation Indian living in US and my parents live in India. I came out to them long ago. They never forced me to marry, and my mother was sad not because of me, but the constant societal pressure. Marriage is so central to Indians, and parents are so tyrannical and all pervasive homophobia, many gays succumb and marry. I came out to a friend of mine while I was growing up in India and he was very supportive. Here in USA I know many Indians who are first generation and out to parents who live in India. But there are many who are married, and see men on the side. The pervasive homophobia impacts gay men from India as well. The internalized homophobia and misgynism characteristic of India, makes them treat other gay men in a schizophrenic way. They desire the company but at the same time demean the open ones with contempt for the life they lead. It is very difficult to deal with them. I have also faced such homophobia coming from gay married indian men. Being married they rationalize that they can impose their own internalized homophobia on open gay men, and disrespect them. I am not privy to the internal workings of marriages of such men, but dating a young gay Indian man who has no intention of coming out is a recipie for a heartbreak. I hope things change in India, and NRI's as well, because I think many aspects of Indian culture are very oppressive.
  • Erica
    By
    Erica
    14.11.11 03:46 AM
    Dear Sandeep,
    Thank you very much for sharing with all of us your personal experience and raising very important issues of gay community. I am gay (white European) and I am attracted to Indians. I wish I had different taste and preferences since I believe it would make my life less comlicated. My personal experience was dreadful and left me heart-broken and devastated. I found it really hard to accept that the person who I was in reciprocated love with could not overcome fears and prejudice...and be honest with herself and be brave enough to challenge her inner insecurities for the sake of her ( our happiness)...I am not judging her and many others who live a lie ( double life) trying to supress and disguise their true desires and feelings and sacrificing their happiness and true self to be comfortable with the society and community they live in...and secretly dreaming of a happy and open life with their forbidden love. I am sure there are many Asian ( Indian)women who are open but far too many who will never ( not in the nearest future)be ready to get into a gay relationship but could (might) be happy to secretely lead a double life.
    Erica (London)
  • Billorani2010
    By
    Billorani2010
    07.02.11 08:35 AM
    Dear Sandeep,

    I applaud your proactive effort to address this issue, and to do it openly on a public forum.

    I could share an alternative scenario no.4....an addition to the 3 scenarios you have already shared with us.

    I am indian (f)....I am not gay, neither am I faced with forced marriage.....but i do have an issue.....about which i would like to talk to you about.......

    I am not quite as brave as you to air what is troubling me on a public forum,
    but would immensely appreciate it if you could write to my email and I could write to you one-on-one.

    ...you could write to me at: humtumun.ltd@gmail.com

    thanks in advance.
  • izzle
    By
    izzle
    26.10.10 02:54 AM
    @sandeep, i didnt used to think culture and religion were exclusive of each other as i am aware how religion forms culture, but what with the current trends, im beginning to see how they no longer go hand in hand eg: many western culters and attitudes are being adapted in eastern cultures although eastern religions hvnt adapted these because ...well..religions dont change teachings jus because we want them to.

    so the way i see it, current trends and society force me to see culture and religion as two independent variables, exclusive of each other.
  • Sandeep
    By
    Sandeep
    25.10.10 08:20 PM
    izzle, I think you raise some interesting points, a lot of which point to wider issues than are discussed in the post.

    I infer from your comments that you view religion and culture as distinct ideas. I prefer not to see them as mutually exclusive, as I think that aspects of religion can in fact be the products of culture, rather than the 'word of God'. I accept this idea can be a can of worms, and of course you may disagree.

    Personally, I'd prefer to take a Humanist approach, as I do believe what a lot of us consider to be religion today, could in fact be the distillation of the attitudes of powerful people centuries ago.
  • izzle
    By
    izzle
    25.10.10 06:17 AM
    Just because everyone is doing it, it doesn’t mean it all of a sudden becomes permitted.

    Yeah, sure, we're finding there are infect more h/s guys in the Indian community, but I think we all also know that it’s not the norm. It’s just not how things work, not only culturally, but also, more importantly, from a religious background too.
    So perhaps we need to realise that the elders of the Indian community maybe more homophobic as they are more intact with their religion, than, admittedly, us younger people are.

    This brings me to my next point: although times have changed, religions haven’t. The things that were fundamentally forbidden then still are, hence the hostile attitude from some older people.

    With this in mind, perhaps this is the reason for forced marriages to be on the rise among NRIs-yes, times have changed, but parents are also aware that times come and go, but ones religion stays the same (mostly).

    So those of the population who support h/sexuality in the name of "times have changed, parents need to learn to move on and see their child happy with a gay partner"...I’d say these people need to realise what goes through the minds of the parents'. And they are well within their rights to think this.

    Others may claim “a child should be loved no matter what”..umm..in the real world..That’s not how things work for the better part, I’m afraid. Yeh we’d all love for that to happen, but it’s not how it works here- it’s not that simple. This leads to the question, “so what should one do if he has sexual desires for a member of the same sex?” the answer to that is “u deal with it in the right ways. Be it spiritual, be it psychological..anything, there r ways out, surely”.

    So, in my opinion, bottom line is: jus because everyone is doing it, it doesn’t make it any less wrong in religion...which is where the problem stems from.

    I mean recently, there was an issue about how h/s marriages should be allowed to happen within the Christian church...?? wtf?? ...if it’s forbidden, it’s forbidden. End of. You can’t change religion just because we want to. If somebody does want to be part of a h/s relationship, then by all means, go ahead. But I don’t see the point in getting it permitted by the church because...well...that’s just not the Christian teaching. And if/when any religion does decide to change its rules overnight (just because more and more people are straying from the original teaching)...then I can’t imagine it means much. Besides, in this particular case, even if this ask does get granted, what will it mean? Will it mean that all of a sudden h/s will be no longer a sin??....I doubt it.
  • A Singh
    By
    A Singh
    16.07.10 07:36 PM
    Shaky, you raise a very interesting point but I think the matter may be a bit more complex. I am the offspring of immigrants to the UK. My father was part of the early wave of immigration that comprised mainly Punjabis. Yes there is the phenomenon of how those NRIs, in an effort to cling onto their culture they thought they might lose, continued to be very traditional in their outlook despite living in a foreign country. In the meantime the culture of their siblings and cousins left in India evolved as the country become more modernised and affluent. However, I think a lot of the bigotry (for want of another word) of our Punjabi parents was due to the fact a lot of them were uneducated and hailed from small towns and villages where their exposure to many things was limited.

    Furthermore I have also observed that homophobia appears to be more rampant in macho cultures. My instinct leads me to believe that homophobia may be more prevalent in Punjabi communities than other Indian communities. I have witnessed many times at first hand at the extreme, almost violent, homophobia amongst the UK’s west Indian community that arrived in the UK at the same time as my father. I wonder that even in India, is it more difficult to be gay in Punjab than other states.
  • shaky
    By
    shaky
    16.07.10 07:02 PM
    Good topic.
    The main issue here is the NRIs are still in the same ERA when they left India, for ex: If sommeone came to UK in seventies is still assuming that India has not changed till date and refuse to liberate himself as per current times.Its with all Indians in UK.
    Today in India, no parents force their children into marriages, but in UK, the Indians are forcing their kids , assuming that its their culture from their country of origin but in fact its changed rapidly and progressively in India.
    Shame that NRIs do not want to accept the new changes in India, they still want to live in 50s and 60s.
  • Sandeep
    By
    Sandeep
    16.07.10 02:57 PM
    Hello all,

    Thank you for your interesting and supportive comments. It's good to shed light on something that clearly needs more exposure.

    Whenever a culture is removed from its origins, conservative attitudes shoot through the roof (as has been the case with NRI communities across the world). People 'hold on to' a status quo and introducing progressive ideas becomes increasingly difficult, more than it might have been had the same generation continued to live in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore etc.

    @girlsguidetosurvival - yes, it's particularly important to also think about the female perspective. Many women also become victims in such situations. I like that you've touched on a resource that goes back to the fundamental beliefs on peace and tolerance from an ancient age, I'll certainly look into it.

    @A Singh - It's very typical for homophobic attitudes to be prevalent in adolescents, it's a time when they all feel vulnerable. The UK media is only recently touching on sexuality through certain shows (Hollyoaks, Skins etc) - things that weren't around about ten years ago. Most straight peers I grew up with were the same, but I've remained friends with the ones who, like yourself, were essentially good guys but just fell under the pressure of others. I looked into the Eastenders story for a short while, it's a good example of how drastic things can become. People will have to decide for themselves when they can 'nip the bud' - and the sooner, the better. Ordinarily, I would never agree with 'corrective' methods. My personal willingness to go along was simply to prove the point that it wasn't going to work - and that I could demonstrate that.

    @prerna - Honour will always be an ambiguous idea. Lots of people have died over it. Hopefully, we'll come to a reasonable understanding. Certainly a drive to see things in a secular, humanist way helps - I think it's possible to live this way without having to sacrifice history, tradition and culture.

    @Shweta - Thank you very much.

    @Barnaby - Yes, as you've noticed there's clearly an 'overspill' or an adverse reaction to all the repressed tension that exists when men and women become trapped in their marriages. It's sad to think that it will lead people to displace their frustration. Of course there would have been a time in ancient India when life was a lot more, liberal or 'Greek'. It's particularly difficult for the working classes and the poor - who can't really look upon global references, or look to speak to people about their concerns. The middle and upper-classes occasionally have an easier time of allowing things to occur behind closed doors - but they still have a public persona to uphold.

    In the NRI community, certain men and women look at the idea slightly incorrectly, often misunderstanding it as a 'phase' therefore a considering a little bit of experimentation as fine. They see marriage as some sort of final destination (like you say, 'you WILL get married...'). As the western world itself is just coming to terms with the idea that marriage isn't a milestone, I think NRI communities will eventually catch on. Your comments aren't misguided, they're very worldly indeed.

    @Afshan - Thanks for your comments, I particularly like your reference to realisations. For me, it was a combination of all of them that made my current relationship with my parents tolerable. My mother is at heart a liberal, but collectively both my parents still face the pressure of their peers. Though my father prefers not to dwell on it, he assumes that one day I may yet 'turn' but I tend to just ignore this. I know it's difficult for them, but it is something that a lot of parents will have to go through. In fact, it would be easier for parents if they could connect with others in a similar situation.

    @Maria - Yes it's alarming that such an Act had to come about. Fortunately it covers a lot of cases and situations. A bittersweet result of living in a cosmopolitan environment. And hopefully, people will simply think of marriage as a union of two consenting adults, as it should be.
  • Maria Francis
    By
    Maria Francis
    16.07.10 05:31 AM
    Sandeep..this is an eye-opener.I never knew that a Forced Marriage Act could be there, especially for men, whn its usually women who r forced inot situations.
    I feel deeply for such men who have to go thru this.
    N LOL at the 'Looourve marriage' coinage.Its very true :)
  • Afshan Mujawar
    By
    Afshan Mujawar
    15.07.10 01:40 PM
    I'm glad this article is getting a good response. It would great to know how many of these are from people based in India and how many are NRIs.

    Sandeep: Man, you need guts to come out into the open about your sexual orientation. The questions relating to same sex love is so sensitive that forget about talking about your OWN orientation, people are scared to even comment about it! Hats off to you.

    Being GAY is something that even the western world is still considering their stance on. In the US you have parties split on the issue, leaders taking a diplomtic stance, trying to please everyone yet not making a clear statement for fear of offending the more open minded society OR religious groups. When the west itself is trying to figure out how to deal with this subject, one can imagine how things are in India.

    With a culture as closed to outside influence as ours, it is a horrendously difficult task for gay men/women to gain any level of acceptance in the society. I mean, I am still having to advocate the rights and acceptance of divorced women, something which is commonplace in the western world. Its a tough life for gays here.

    One can also understand their family's paranoia about their coming out. The 'society' and 'community' hugely influences what a family shares with everyone. In India, people are still extremely hesitant to report crimes like rape for fear of whether the society will accept their children after knowing their truth. The victims of such cases are still treated worse than the culprits. So accepting and coming out about your child being gay is something that only the extremely fearless would do.

    I guess the answer lies in a few realisations:

    1. The society never comes forward to safegaurd the happiness of your children, so why sacrifice your child's rights for it?
    2. Your children will not always turn out to be 'just like you'. Your acceptence their difference is vital to thier happiness.
    3. Forcing your child into a life changing decision based on YOUR perception of what is 'right' does NOT gaurantee their happiness.

    AND, finally,
    4. If you are REALLY a good parent and REALLY love your child, then their happiness will always precede yours.

    Once people start understanding the fact that it they who are responsible for their children's well being and not let the fear of 'society' affect them, I think things will begin to change.

    I hope, for your sake Sandeep and for the sake of those like you, that this understanding dawns upon Indian mind, AND QUICK!
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    15.07.10 10:59 AM
    So many questions, Sandeep... this is an experience that I cannot imagine, and I thank you for bringing it to light here. It would be great if you could write some updates as time goes on, though I understand why that might be potentially problematic.

    I have limited understanding of homosexuality in Indian culture, and nil understanding of it in NRI culture until now. In Kerala at least, homosexuality is absolutely taboo and something that nobody speaks about, but it appears to be very much part of the fabric of many people's lives. It is all kept behind the scenes, on the quiet; I've had guys make passes at me in the street, including some who were married, and that surprised the hell out of me. My girlfriend was also propositioned by a woman she knew quite well.

    There's certainly a deep repression of sexuality in all its forms in Kerala, particularly for women and homosexuals, but in a way it seems simpler as the rules are clearly defined: there is no prospect of having a free and open gay relationship, you WILL get married, you WILL have kids. Those are the parameters, and if you fulfil those, you can get away with pretty much anything if you keep your voice down.

    That repression must be so much more complex and frustrating as an NRI. I feel there is a greater hypocrisy to parents who become NRIs and embrace the freedoms of life in a Western country but still prefer not to acknowledge something like the fact that their son or daughter might be gay. You are opening the doors for your children into a world that is different from the one you were raised in, and you should at least try to understand whatever results from that: My son speaks differently from me. My daughter wants to be a fashion designer. My son, or daughter, is gay. Etc.

    All the best to you, and I hope my comments aren't too misguided. I am, after all, a cheeky young saip with pretty small knowledge of things Indian.
  • Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    By
    Shweta Ganesh Kumar
    14.07.10 11:51 PM
    Sandeep - Kudos on deciding to write on a subject that many would shy away from. You are so right when you say that in an age where we tend to believe that we have lost most of society's traditional shackles, there are still those who live under it's weight.
  • Prerna
    By
    Prerna
    14.07.10 09:03 PM
    "Eventually, this leads us to question, just what honour is – and does cultural, sexual and personal identity need to be sacrificed to uphold it?"
    - A very pertinent question of our times. One many need to ponder on. Thank you for putting it so succinctly.
  • A Singh
    By
    A Singh
    14.07.10 08:15 PM
    Sandeep, thank you for raising an important topic that Indians are keen to sweep under the carpet and not confront. As a straight guy growing up in Britain I was constantly surprised and disappointed at how homophobia was so pervasive amongst my own peer group of NRIs. This makes the situation doubly difficult. Not only do you have to deal with the objections and denials from your family, but potentially face a similar (or worse!) response from people who you thought were "just like you". In general I was never convinced that most of my friends were really anti gay. Who knows some of them might have been gay! But in the main I think they just went along with the jokes and derogatory remarks just so no-one would ever question their own sexuality.

    You may, or may not know, that there is a similar storyline in the popular UK soap Eastenders. A prominent Asian Muslim character has been outed and now has to accept his family's insistence to go into some obscure therapy to "straighten" him. This is something I have heard about before and think is currently popular in the US amongst right wing Christian groups. I can't believe that in 2010 even uneducated, homophobic communities honestly believe that one can be "cured" of their homosexuality.

    Respect for the very personal and frank article. Hope everything works out for you:)
  • girlsguidetosurvival
    By
    girlsguidetosurvival
    14.07.10 07:22 PM
    That is a very good eye opener for many. To me the whole idea of marriage is still based in economic exchange between families and perpetuation of DNA. The low under trend of person #1 is pretty dangerous for their unbeknowst female partners. Here is a resource that could help design awareness material for Desi community using the ancient texts and historical evidences.

    Vanita, Ruth, Same-Sex Love in India, Palgrave-St Martin's Press, 2000.

    Majority anywhere feels entitled to define what minorities ought to do and appear like.

    Peace,

    Desi Girl

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