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Queerink

Why “Marriage” is not ‘Queer’Navadeep | 17th Apr, 2015

Courtesy - Avinash Matta

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
transgression,
Not to be lost in the existing fossil of
traditionalism.

Courtesy - Ghana Nb

Courtesy – Ghana Nb

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Comments (2)

  • Reply
    Hari May 2, 2015 at 4:41 am

    WHY MARRIAGE IS ‘QUEER’?

    Marriage is always a dream and demand of majority of queer people, be it transgender, gay or lesbian or other queer people. Gay men and women and other queer people equally, yes equally claims for the right to marriage.

    It’s all about choices, straight couples can choose to marry or not to marry, be it acceptable or not, the fact is that they can choose. But the queer people can’t choose, they have only one option, stay in cohabitation(even that is not possible at present). Why can’t they choose to marry? Because it’s illegal and when something socially unacceptable is against law as well, the voice against it will gain strength and even affect the people in cohabitation.

    There are homophobic families, ignorant families, when straight kids from such families grow up watching no married queer couples and realize their marriage is illegal they will naturally start developing views against it.

    The queer community need marriage equality if it needs to gain at least tolerance by the future generations raised by homophobic society. By demanding marriage equality and acquiring it, it don’t support or believe in the heterosexual institution like marriage but it is making the marriage a neutral one, an institution supporting equality. With marriage equality we are questioning the gender binary and heteronormativity and challenging this heterosexual institution, whose foundation is inequality.

    For this acceptance gained through marriages, the queer community need not accept the principles of patriarchy and heteronormativity. The queer marriages are going all against to the principles of patriarchy and heteronormativity. “Who is the man, who is the women?” is a question from the patriarchal society. Same sex relationships and marriage equality proves them that the inequality that exists in marriage have no place in our society. The queer community are the products of the same heteronormative and patriarchal society only, but majority of them don’t believe in inequality in marriages, even if its same sex marriages.

    Marriage will gain queer community acceptance in society, may be not now but definitely in future. We grew up watching opposite sex marriages, couples, families, don’t we accept it? Our parents or grandparents never promoted interfaith or inter caste relationships but most of us do accept it because we value love more than caste, color or class lines.
    The first point we raise to argue with those who don’t accept its that it’s all about love and the second is that it’s legal.
    In the same way, even if the children are raised by homophobic parents/society in their eyes it will normal or will at least gain tolerance or even acceptance, when they value love over caste, sex, gender differences and find it legal and watch happy families all around.

    By bringing marriage equality we are reducing the discrimination on the lines of man and woman and we blur the caste, class and religion lines. By fighting for recognition and acceptance itself we have put ourselves in danger and about the strict lines of caste, class, religion and all, we always think above such things.

    Attaining marriage equality is a part of gender equality. Where comes the issue of patriarchy where two men are marrying each other ? or two women or any two queer or any three or more?
    The patriarchal rituals in marriages which discriminate women can’t be applied in same sex marriage as it is not a man and a women who are marrying each other, it may be women, men, intersex people etc. and the rituals are again a choice.

    Yes there is nothing divine about marriages, marriage should always be a choice and one should get rid of unhappy relationships without fearing society. If marriage is a social and religious construct of men, then let it be, there is no need to abolish it just because it’s constructed by straight men, instead we have to challenge them by bringing equality, equal rights, marriage equality.

    One cannot connect marital rape and marriage equality. Marital rape is a crime and it must be legalized as one in India too. We always want the sexual assault/rape gender neutral with respect to the victim(with respect rapist too?). Marital rape can also happen in same sex marriages, but it will be less in our society because arranged same sex marriage unimaginable, but there will cases of rape in same sex open marriages too. Divorce is always a legitimate option for those in unhappy marriages though not enough to fight marital rape.

    We believe that the patriarchal view of marriage is not perfect and queer community has to find its spot within the existing traditional space and as it find its space, that will be never a space of patriarchy. Through marriage equality we are breaking the concept that marriage is an evil institution which is operated via power, state, hierarchy, property, legality, gender stereotypes, violence, and reducing the abuse, social restrictions, fighting moral policing, gender roles/stereotypes etc. and building a relationships based on collectiveness , companionship, friendship, togetherness as the author said. It is one’s choice weather to get into marriage to validate their relationship or not. LGBT community is never accepted by society, entire religious, caste based communities join hands to fight against it. By bringing marriage equality we are going against arranged marriages as same sex arranged marriages are merely impossible and setting up a society tolerant to open/love marriages which in general will be helpful to the acceptance of inter-faith, inter-caste marriages as well.

    Marriage is not a hindrance to the progress of the queer movement. Queer community, by fighting for marriage equality never embraced marriage. The community always wanted to keep marriage as one’s personal choice, but we have no right to choose since it is illegal. So, in order to keep it as choice, first thing is repealing of Sec377 and attaining marriage equality afterwards.

    Just like our society is not ready to accept queer people, they won’t accept cohabitation or polyamorous relationship or anything other than marriage for a couple to live together and indulge in any kind of relationship. Queer movement supports equality and freedom of choice and it fights for acceptance of diversity and choices, it is not against marriage or for marriage and marriage equality is not the end of the fight for queer rights.

    (This article contains personal opinions of a group of queer people only)

  • Reply
    Navadeep May 2, 2015 at 6:51 am

    Firstly let me say, Please make a choice where you want to engage in the dialogue, this is an on going thing on Facebook, Let us please do this dialogue at in one space, because i can’t keep going copy pasting the same this again and again at different places.

    Firstly i don’t know who is the person talking, But i would request not to talk for the whole Lesbian and Transgender community too, because you might not know exactly their spaces. (assuming you are gay man) !

    I firstly feel, though at the ending there is a statement saying it is personal opinion, through out the article the pronoun used is ‘we’. i wonder who this we is? !!And secondly i feel it just as a mere counter argument point by point with out much thought about what i have been trying to say with the whole article.

    Choice, i guess the vogue video indeed has its strong impact !! But let me simply state that Choice is not so individual as one desires it to be, it has both social economical and political connotations to it. And when a collective talks about a choice, it has a social and political impact on society and it is just no mere choice. !!

    I find the idea that kids seeing queer marriages will easily accept queer people, that is really absurd. This is a country where people see woman as powerful goddesses in temple and still its a society which cannot look at women as equals. !!

    Let make another thing clear, for what we are asking marriage? and with what intentions? it really doesn’t matter, whether we don’t want heteronormativity and patriarchy along with marriage or not, it makes it no different. For a moment let me say that i am not doubting any intentions of gay men around marriage, but there is a world outside our intentions, it operates and works irrespective of our intentions.

    Marriage as a word and as an institution has centuries of history and baggage and i don’t think anyone has any capacity to undo it!! The reality is one cannot separate marriage from its innate expression of patriarchy and heteronormativity because that is what it is build on, and it might not be heteronormativity here in case of gay community, it would be homonormativity!!

    Are we talking about queer community being all filled with equality and so on… Which is an absolute lie… we have transphobia, we have lesbophobia, we have phobia toward bisexual people and all other possible gender and class inequalities exist with in gay community predominantly, which are hardly addressed!! I see people searching on dating sites on the lines of religion and caste already. So lets not talk as people who are immune to have attitude of inequality !!

    Love above all might sound like a romantic idea, but in reality it is not so. The real world works differently.

    “caste, class, religion and all, we always think above such things.” who is the “we being referred over here, and in which world?”I would request you to make a realistic analysis within the whole queer community and queer spaces and queer movement itself before making such large big claims!!

    In gay community where there is already a widely spread notion of Top and bottom, who is penetrated and who is being penetrated, the effeminate and straight acting men on lines of which a clear superior and inferior attitudes works, how can we even talk about marriage as equal? (specially among cisgender gay men)Marriage itself is patriarchal, you cannot separate those both how much ever you might wish to !! I will not talk about Lesbian women, because i don’t live in that space.!!

    So much usage of Choice !! i feel some reading on choice is required !!

    You are talking about how should it be, how easily one should walk away from a unhappy relationship, i am talking about how it is not? and i am saying marriage imposes itself on relationship. There is a huge difference between how it should be (it is a beautiful desire) and how it is now on ground !!

    You so humbly accept the possibility of marital rapes with in same-sex marriage and still ask for marriage??

    queer community has to find its spot within the existing “traditional space” and you believe that traditional space is not patriarchal ??

    “Through marriage equality we are breaking the concept that marriage is an evil institution which is operated via power, state, hierarchy, property, legality, gender stereotypes, violence, and reducing the abuse, social restrictions, fighting moral policing, gender roles/stereotypes etc.” How is it possible, you asking for state to recognise queer marriage and through out your writing you talk about legality and still u say that you are breaking the idea of marriage via state, legality and so on? What can get more contradictory?

    and what makes you assume that arranged marriages are merely impossible in the queer community?I personally know few gay men parents who are talking about marriages with in there caste and religion!!

    And fine i understand the collective stand of various religions against queer movement, but when did caste based communities involved in it?

    The usage of ‘choice’, ‘personal choice’, and ‘we’ is quite problematic, when it is just mere personal choice why does one need legality, social acceptance, state validation and so on? Anyway performing a personal choice marriage is no crime!! You say it is just a choice and you want state, society and legality to validate and authenticate it !!

    The marriage laws in India are screwed up and in big mess and with knowledge of it we still ask for marriage!!

    “Just like our society is not ready to accept queer people, they won’t accept cohabitation or polyamorous relationship or anything other than marriage for a couple to live together and indulge in any kind of relationship” – Just because society doesn’t accept all this, we get into marriage?? Then when society did not accept and still not accepts queer and gay people why did we not become heterosexuals right away?? !!

    I see you through out so defensive about marriage largely and some where about so called marriage equality !! I know it is comfortable to get back to at least certain norms !! But in this process of being defensive you have completely missed my point about creating alternative spaces!!

    Let me clearly say again :

    To clarify, this is critical of marriage as a patriarchal institution, and does not deny that queer people deserve any and every right afforded to others. But i am questioning about what kind of right we are asking for ourselves!!

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