Why “Marriage” is not ‘Queer’
Courtesy – Avinash Matta
My heterosexual (best) friend: So when are you falling in love?
Me: I don’t think I wish to have so much of planned control on it; let it happen in its own way. I am open to possibilities.
Friend: (In an excited tone) Oh yeah, do find someone soon!
Me: Uhh! Okay, why are you so exited about me finding someone and falling in love?
Friend: Nothing like that! I am just looking forward to planning my best friend’s Gay marriage.
Me: Ahh!! Marriage?!
Friend: Why do you make such a face? Don’t you want to have a super cool gay wedding? Isn’t marriage one of the major agenda of ‘gay’ rights and revolution?
Marriage is the emerging (or one could say it’s the “always-there” immediate) dream and demand of gay men (and rarely women), which would immediately follow the repeal of IPC Section 377. Being one of the most marginalized and misunderstood communities of the sub-continent, one might feel it is justified to fight for demanding equal rights, and as a part of it, the claim for the right to marriage, alike with heterosexuals.
The whole idea of marriage equality, which has become one of the prime agendas of the queer movement in the West, is now slowly making its way into India. However much we might have different explanations and excuses for the nature of the Queer Movement that we as a community have built so far in the country, the fact of it being slightly elite, mostly middle class, largely lead by cisgendered, educated English speaking gay men is an absolute, undeniable fact.
What bewilders me is, what kind of understanding does this particular section (which is assumed as) leading the queer movement have about marriage? What do they know about the heterosexual marriage set-up in general, and specifically in India? If the next big demand is marriage, do they actually know what they are asking for themselves, and for the community, which is yet to create spaces amidst various classes, castes and societies?
There are three different connotations of marriage: social, personal and political/legal throughout different religions and communities. But at all these levels, throughout most communities and societies, it operates on certain very basic unquestionable principles, beliefs and understandings.
Marriage in general is a social and legal contract, which ensures the creation of the basic unit called family, in turn facilitating the flow of property, power and privilege amongst people (mostly men) under the watchful gaze of the state. It is an institution, which enforces the power of men on women, and control of the state on individuals and property. In general patriarchy, the gender binary and heteronormativity feed and live on this universally accepted institution called marriage.
Not only that, in the 21st century even the capitalistic market derives a part of its survival from marriage and then from the family created by it. Marriage is an act of privilege and status symbol for a section of society, and to a larger section of society it is an obligation and burden to live up to the established social standards and norms. It would be unfair if one fails to see how marriage as an institution has been instrumental, over centuries, in perpetuating violence on women. Is it not marriage, which reproduces and reestablishes male superiority again and again, and further subjugates women?
Starting with the right to desire and to lead a dignified life in society, the queer movement slowly emerged into a strong movement of equal rights. What surprises me is how this movement of equal rights has been failing to see the way it is replicating and trying to demand for a heterosexual institution such as marriage, whose core foundation itself is inequality?! When the heterosexual community failed to stop the uprising of queer rights discourse, one crafty concept it tried selling to the gay community was, “who is the man and who is the woman in your relationship?” And not so surprisingly, a large section of the gay community bought into this with excitement; after all, the people of the gay community are the products of the same heteronormative and patriarchal society. This leaves us with a question – Is this equal rights movement about creating equal spaces, or is it about competing with the existing heterosexual spaces, which survive on the act of reinforcing inequality and subjugation?
There is a great belief among many gay men that the right to marriage would solve a great deal of their problems. The whole illusion that marriage would lead to acceptance in the society is something so scary.
Probably yes, it could be true, but I can imagine it only happening when the queer community accepts the principles of patriarchy and heteronormativity along with marriage.
Marriage is not a sole entity; it comes with a baggage of centuries of oppressive power politics. It is this marriage, which not only strengthens the discrimination on the lines of man and woman but also structurally and systematically makes sure that we live within the strict lines of caste, class and religion. Is this attempt of demanding for marriage equality all about placing ourselves on par with the heterosexual community, at least on certain aspects? If that is so, then we are putting ourselves in grave danger.
I personally do hear a number of stories from time to time of gay men and women who get married with much pride and celebration. It is not the marriage of two loving individuals that troubles me, but the same old patriarchal rituals that are adopted and performed for the marriage are dangerous and deeply problematic.
The gay community engaging with the same rituals through which patriarchy is being operated relentlessly – against which feminists and feminist movements are constantly at war – requires a deep and critical introspection from gay individuals who are fascinated by a traditionally ritualistic marriage.
One might argue that marriage can be performed by removing the rituals which make women unequal, but let me clearly state that marriage itself, in all possible senses, is a tool of patriarchy and it cannot be changed by any means. If someone wants to do the so-called removing and customizing part, why does one need to call it marriage again? Is the partial dismantling because the idea of marriage being divine entity is still somewhat alive? Let us not forget that marriage is just another social and religious construct of humans (mostly men) and there is nothing really divine about it; it makes no union divine, other than just giving scope for a party of Di’wine’ (which can happen anyway – which is an act of privilege to some and a burdensome act to most others).
Another huge ideological outcry of the queer movement is freedom; freedom for desire, freedom for individual choices, freedom of expression, and so on. What freedom exactly are we talking about if we are asking for the state’s sanction and authentication for our love and the relationships that we want to live in? When was the last time that the state helped anyone or anything to become free? Living in a country where the state and the judiciary does not as yet consider forcible sex within marriage as rape, are we asking for ourselves just a marriage or a marriage which could lead to a legally sanctioned abuse and rape? Marriage (at least in India) is not a clear black and white; there are many shades of grey, which are disturbing, conflicting, complicated, and being debated across the history of feminist movements.
Though the multiple folds of violence generated and perpetuated by marriage and family are so visible, there is hardly any question raised ever (outside feminist discourse) on the rationality of the existence of institutions of this kind. As part of the movement, if the queer community fails to create a new space and instead finds its spot within the existing traditional space of patriarchy, it would never be able to interrogate these very familiar institutions and their manifestations of brutality. Marriage as an institution is marked by abuse, social restrictions, moral policing, gender roles/stereotypes, and so on. A blind eye to this by the queer movement would be nothing less than pushing ourselves into a deep valley of darkness.
‘Marriage is all about love, Not Gender’ – This is a popular quote, which I hear among the gay community, and see it now and then on placards in the pride marches. Probably it could be true (though I doubt it) in an ideal state, but in reality it is not so.
The foundation of queerness is building relationships on the basis of love; it is about making a life as per the individual’s choices and desires. The queer families (a space of love, acceptance and companionship) which we have created, and in which we live day in and day out, are families with no bloodlines, no expectations, no established hierarchies and power structures.
They are based on collectiveness, companionship, friendship, togetherness and queerness. In contradiction to this, why do we want to now bring an evil institution like marriage which is operated via power, state, hierarchy, property, legality, gender stereotypes, violence, and so on? Can we survive this? Have we lost faith in our own queerness? Is it so necessary for two gay individuals to get into marriage to validate their relationship? Is the security that we are assuming through marriage all about replacing love with social pressure, so that two individuals put up with each other irrespective of whether they love each other or not?
The mere thought of imagining the scene of arranged queer marriages on the lines of religion, caste and class makes my blood run cold.
Relationships might start on the lines of so-called romantic idea of love, but they live and last long on the lines of desire for companionship. Like the ostensible normal heterosexual people, even queer people would be anxious about remaining single in life. The imagination of old age complemented by singlehood would certainly make almost everyone feel miserable. The desire for companionship could be a little more palpable among queer people because of the constant hatred and ostracisation faced, from the closest (family) to the strangest (society).
Being brought up within the institutions of family and marriage, the hope of a queer individual believing in the idea of companionship leading to marriage or vice versa shouldn’t be surprising. My only request is: can we queers, as individuals and as a community, look at the notion, idea and desire of companionship (choose to read also as love) without entwining it with marriage? Can the idea of companionship be free from the existing notion of marriage? If the queer identity, love and relationships all are a transgression, what kind of sanction are we expecting for a queer companionship by marriage?
There is a community called Na, also known as Mosuo, with a current day population of 30,000 people living in the southwestern part of China. There is no concept or act of marriage in this community. And yes, it is not a queer community; it is by and large a community of heterosexual men and women. If an ethnic group like Mosuo in China can build a community without marriage being part of it, can’t we queers have a new idea and definition of companionship without being marked by marriage?
The queer movement might have emerged as a fight for the rights of gender and sexual minorities but it is no more just about that; it has opened doors for a wider range of discussion on gender and sexuality, both socially and politically.
In the course of time, the queer movement has emerged as a challenge for the abusive, patriarchal, heteronormative structure and throughout its journey it has been extremely creative and organized; this is what kept all of us queers excited about the path ahead. Marriage would be nothing but a hindrance for this discussion and process to progress. Now we as a community, which has not even made it through half its way, stand at a point with one major question among many others:
As a fighting and struggling community which made its way passing through the toughest of tough challenging times, do we take the fight ahead in an inclusive way – liberating even the heterosexual community from the clutches of an evil institution like marriage – or do we also (like the straight community) straight away fall prey to the same demon?
My effort, through this piece of writing, is precisely to raise the questions for which I am searching the answers, and also trying to find them in the community from which these questions have emerged.
Being a community which falls out of normalcy, challenges convention, and in turn shapes different identities, spaces, narrations, ideologies, idioms, expressions, desires and so on, it would be unfair and violent on our own selves to get fascinated and carried away by the existing miserable notion of marriage. The one major task ahead for the queer community is to not embrace the same old dreadful institution like marriage, but to initiate a process of creating alternatives, which would dismantle the notion that the existing notions of marriage and family are the only way to live life.
We are Queer and we are here
To build and live in an age of
Not to be lost in the existing fossil of
Courtesy – Ghana Nb