Are gays included in arranged marriages
"I'm a lesbian," the young woman announced on the television screen. Cut. Then the mother's indignant face: "My daughter is not a criminal!" Continue after the advertisement. When I saw these scenes not so long ago on an Indian TV show called "My Child is Gay", I was touched by the strong emotions with which the mother defends her child. But I was also amazed at the strong emphasis on the coming-out moment. In reality, these situations are different in India. Coming out is a much less straightforward, confused affair. It has more to do with marriage than sexual orientation. Usually such a conversation begins with the words: "Mom, Dad, I think I won't get married."
When I first came to the United States in the 1980s, there was no such thing as gay marriage. In America, being gay has been associated with bars, bathhouses, and shady bookstores. In India, homosexuality was associated with walks in the park, lying and Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which classified gay sex as "against nature" and made it punishable. Today in America the queer movement seems to have turned into a movement for marriage equality. In India, Section 377 was revoked by the New Delhi High Court in 2009. An appeal against this decision is still pending at the Supreme Court, but this was not initiated by the government, but by a bunch of moral apostles and religious groups. "Bombay Talkies", a film to mark the centenary of Indian cinema this year, bluntly shows a gay kissing scene.
And a "pink party" in Calcutta, which pours the local gay scene there with chilled wine and vodka cocktails, is sponsored by the American Center, an institution of the same government that once asked visitors when they registered whether they were communists, ex-Nazis or homosexuals. All of these are welcome advances, but they also come at a price. I sometimes worry that my fixation on the TV-friendly moment of coming out is losing sight of the many different ways one can live one's homosexuality in a country of over a billion people. For example, I remember a man who said that his mother never acknowledged his longstanding relationship with another man, but that she always made sure to pack any leftover food for him. After a while this man understood that this, too, is a form of love that should be cherished, even if his mother would never appear on a show called "My Child is Gay".
In the US, to come out once meant telling your parents, "I'm gay," and then quickly buying a bus ticket with no return trip to San Francisco or Manhattan. They asserted their right to individuality. In India, on the other hand, to come out meant that the parents hid themselves with one from now on - the secret had to be kept by the entire family from now on. After all, homosexuality could be secret in Indian society, but marital status is everyone's business. This has not changed in the past twenty years, as I last found out when I was trying to redecorate my kitchen. "Just come back as soon as Madame has approved the kitchen design," said the fitted kitchen consultant with a broad grin on his face. I patiently explained again and again that there is no such thing as a "Madame" and that only I have to agree to my fitted kitchen, including the color and everything that goes with it. He nodded and said, "We are welcome to wait a few days if Madame needs a little more time." When it finally dawned on him that there really was no "Madame" and that I was living alone, he was visibly shocked. I don't know what threw him more off track - that a man can choose his own kitchen design, or that a man living alone even thinks about choosing a kitchen.
After twenty years in the US, back in India, I was only slowly getting used to the fact that in cities here it feels a lot stranger not being married and living alone than being gay. It's like never really growing up. I once made fun of in an article that the real front in the fight for gay rights in India would be arranged marriage for homosexuals. In it I imagined a Sunday newspaper with the following marriage advertisement: "Well-off Hindu entrepreneurial family from Mumbai is looking for partners for their son, 28, 173 cm, completed MBA, fair skin, executive at a Fortune 500 company. Potential husbands should employed and under 35. Caste irrelevant. " A few weeks later an editor of an Indian newspaper wrote to me that she had read my article with great interest and that I could make contact with such a couple. I told her I meant it as a joke. But now I'm not so sure anymore.
Translated from the English by Christoph Senft
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