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An American expat talks about same-sex relationships.
[By James Baer; he lives with his American partner in a Defense Colony apartment. Picture of the author by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Wedding bells began ringing in California on June, 2008, and their sound is reverberating across the USA. California is not the first state to legalise gay marriage — Massachussetts got there in 2004, but as goes California, so goes the rest of the country sooner or later, and that’s why the state’s step forward is a momentous and historic one.
My partner and I, both Californians, haven’t yet decided whether we’d tie the knot if we moved back there. In a sense, the knot was tied soon after we got together 12 years ago.
Our families, friends and colleagues already know us as a couple. But a California marriage licence would officially recognise our relationship as equal to anyone else’s, and it would secure us — at least within the state — important benefits and legal protections that all straight married couples already enjoy.
From the perspective of New Delhi, where my partner and I have lived for the past two years, California seems a long way off. Of course we knew we were entering a conservative culture when we arrived here, and while we weren’t interested in hiding the fact that we’re a couple, we didn’t set out to make people uncomfortable either.
That’s the balancing act engaged in by many members of minority groups: if you can, you challenge ignorance or bigotry when overtly confronted by it, and the rest of the time you just hope that the way you live your life is explanation enough, if any were needed.
Among our non-Indian friends here, our being a couple hasn’t raised any eyebrows. By and large, our Indian friends know we’re gay, too, either because it has come up in conversation or because they’ve figured it out for themselves.
We laugh when we hear of Indians saying that there aren’t gay people in India — they clearly haven’t met any of our gay Indian friends — or that homosexuality is a Western decadence imported by India’s colonial overlords. But it’s rueful laughter: on the one hand, the British-era law criminalising sex between men must have been a response to something that was present in the culture; and on the other, oh-so-independent India seems strangely uninterested in freeing itself from this particular colonial shackle.
But what makes us as a couple sadder is that many of our gay Indian friends feel constrained to remain in the closet to family, and often to friends and co-workers, too, precisely because this society, which thinks itself modern in many ways, remains deeply traditional and closed-minded when it comes to love, sexuality and family.
Some of our gay Indian friends marvel at the fact that my partner and I have been together for 12 years. To them, the goal of a long-term relationship, let alone marriage to a person of the same sex, is deeply desirable — but it seems completely unattainable.
Since my partner and I have ourselves only just attained the right to marry in our home state, we know that change for our Indian friends will be a long time coming, too. But we wish it for them, and we look forward to the day when the Indian equivalent of wedding bells sounds for our gay and lesbian friends.