Editor’s Note: Every year International Family Equality Day takes place on 7 of May. Since the next International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) is on May 17, both initiatives have decided to join forces this year. From 7 May (IFED) to 17 May (IDAHOT), they have requested everyone to take action to celebrate supportive and diverse families. This year Gaysi will share stories/content on Indian LGBTIQ* families along with highlighting various forms of Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia still faced by the majority of the Queer community in the country. We hope to create better awareness resulting in effective sensitisation. If you have a story to share, please email us: gaysifamily[at]gmail[dot]com. Your words can make a difference.
Photograph credit: Fern Edwards
Interviewee: Priya & Morna
Q. Where and how did you two meet?
Priya: It seems like the world wanted us to be together as we were thrown together in several different ways! We went to the same university and were on the same course (Psychology), and then also lived one floor apart in our student halls, and also both joined the university’s LGBT+ society. We officially met at the LGBT+ bar crawl where Morna introduced herself to me and said she’d noticed me in our lectures (I hadn’t noticed her as I always sat right at the front like the geeky Indian I was taught to be).
Q. Was it love at first sight?
Morna: No, neither of us believe in love at first sight. But we both liked the look of each other and I knew Priya would like me so I put myself in her path. Priya knew that I was the one for her when I revealed that I’d never skipped a day of school.
Q. How long have you guys been together? Relationships are lot of work, aren’t they?
Morna: We’ve been together for five and a half years! Yes, relationships are hard, but we knew in the beginning that we wanted to be together forever, so the only choice was to constantly work hard on our relationship and on ourselves as people. Thankfully we are both very hardworking and committed!
Q. Who dropped the “M” word? How did it happen? Tell us!
Morna: Sorry to disappoint but it wasn’t at all romantic – it just came up in discussion around having children, and how to make our lives easier being a same-sex couple.
Q. Tell us about your marriage ceremony. And be honest about who made most of the decisions?
Morna: Our wedding (unlike our proposal) was very romantic. We got married on our 5 year anniversary in Brighton, and it was very intimate as we didn’t have any guests except our photographer and two surprise witnesses that we met just before the wedding. One of them we met on the train down to Brighton, and the other coloured Priya’s hair the day before the wedding. The woman who actually did our ceremony made a couple of heteronormative mistakes: “a marriage is a union between a ma-… I mean between two people” and “ladies and g-…. ladies”. This was a bit disappointing- especially since Brighton is such a “gay friendly ” city and we certainly couldn’t have been the first same sex couple she’d married. But between Leanne (train friend) making jokes and easing the tension and Shona (hair friend) being sweet and taking it very seriously, it was still an enjoyable experience. I made most of the decisions – I hate being the centre of attention so we chose the most low-key options for everything. We said our ‘I do’s and hot footed it out of there for a photo shoot around the town and prosecco afternoon tea. Everyone was really nice to us and we felt very special (plus we got lots of free drinks). Before the wedding we made a weekend of it by pampering ourselves. Priya got her henna done and hair coloured (they hid my initials in her henna – see if you can find them), I had a mani-pedi, and we both got massages the night before (best idea in the world and I would recommend it to anyone who is about to get married). It was pouring with rain the next day, so we topped off the trip by going to an aquarium before heading home.
Q. Unfortunately Gay relationships are mostly short lived, do you think it’s even harder for Queer women?
Priya: It’s interesting that you say that because I don’t really get that impression! A lot of our friends’ same-sex relationships are long term, as well as a lot of our straight friends. But I can understand that that must be different in India where it is illegal to be homosexual, let alone have the opportunity for same-sex marriage. From what I’ve seen, it’s easier to stay in a long-term relationship as a Queer woman than as a Queer man, due to the fact that the male Queer scene is more focused on casual sex.
Morna: I think that for Queer people in general things can be harder because of prejudice from families and others. Also, because Queer people are statistically more likely to have problems with drugs and alcohol, and may suffer poor mental health, these factors can put a strain on relationships. Also if people have residual shame or anxiety about being Queer, this can make it difficult to fully commit to a relationship. However, as me and Priya haven’t been in long term relationships with anyone except each other (we met when we were 18) we’re probably not the best people to ask, as we don’t have any other experiences of Queer relationships.
Q. Are you guys out at work? How do your colleagues react when they come to know about sexuality and/or relationship?
Priya: I’m doing my PhD at the moment, and I am completely out at work. My colleagues are completely fine with it, and treat me the same as everyone else, inviting both of us to social events etc. I am very lucky in that way. Morna works in a school, and is recently out to some colleagues, but not all. It’s much harder for her, as working with children is a touchy subject, and especially as the children in her school have a lot of bad behaviour they may use it against her if they knew. Another factor is that in my workplace there are people who have lived in big cities all over the world, whereas for Morna most of her colleagues are from rural England, where they may have been slightly sheltered and so she needs to be a bit more careful. However, despite these challenges Morna has been running a debate club in her school, and educating the children about many issues including those related to Queer people. She’s recently put posters up in each classroom with inspiring people from different subject fields who are Queer (e.g. Alan Turing).
Morna: I think that in a lot of parts of the UK people feel that they cannot be overtly homophobic, so their reactions are not necessarily representative of their views. For example, people may say “oh ok, that’s no big deal” when you come out to them, but then never speak to you again. So you still have to be careful in a lot of work places, because people may still treat you differently because of your sexuality/gender identity even if they are not open about why. The same is true with racism and sexism, which are other things I have to think about. The difference is that with those I don’t have a choice of whether to come out or not!
Q8. From your experience, do you have any tips for other gay couples?
Priya: My only tip would be to create your own rules. When you’re in a same-sex relationship, already you’re breaking the traditional rules. Therefore, take away from this the freedom to completely start from scratch. Don’t assume you have to do everything else the ‘normal’ way, to make your family happy. If you want kids, have kids. If you don’t, don’t. Create the life that you want, and accept that you might lose the support of some people along the way. However, I will emphasise to also keep yourself safe. If it is not safe to be out yet, and if being out would put you in danger (i.e. without a home), then don’t feel pressure.
Morna: I totally agree with Priya. One of the only advantages of being a same-sex couple is that you’re already seen as “other” so you might as well do what you actually want because you’ve already annoyed everyone anyway! My only other tip would be to focus on communication. I cannot stress enough how important this is in any long term relationship, Queer or otherwise. Focus on good quality, constructive communication every single day. You’re not always going to keep calm and put what you want to say in a helpful and eloquent way. But if you try, and put your best effort into it, you’re halfway there. If this seems too much like hard work, then maybe they’re not “the one”.
Q9. Have you experienced first hand homophobia?
Priya: We both have experienced a lot of homophobia in the form of harassment from straight men. When holding hands in the street, we would often get men asking if we’d like ‘a dick in our relationship’, or telling us that ‘we need a man to handle that’. In clubs, if we kissed, men would assume it was ‘for’ them, and ask if we wanted a threesome. I also experienced homophobia in school, as I was out when I was 12 years old. I had a girl refusing to sit next to me in the classroom and heaving as if she were about to be sick when she was told she had to. After leaving school I received online homophobic abuse from two old classmates.
Morna: I find that homophobia is not something I have experienced only in isolation – it tends to get muddled up with sexism and racism too (with me being a mixed race bisexual woman). Most of the homophobia I’ve experienced has been over-sexualisation from straight men – especially as I’m bisexual and people tend to think that this means I’m promiscuous/always up for threesomes/open to being “turned” straight with the help of the “right” straight. I have also experienced “bisexual invisibility ” within the Queer community. When I was single, people called me straight even if they knew I wasn’t, and now that I’m with Priya, people call me a lesbian – neither are accurate. When sexism and homophobia work together, one of the issues we’ve experienced as a couple is people (especially straight men) not taking our relationship seriously because we’re a same-sex couple. For example, not leaving us alone when we explain that we’re together. Another time these issues are combined is people thinking it’s really adorable that my partner makes my lunch for me when they think that my partner is a man, and then being not so impressed when they found out that she’s a woman, because “that makes sense”. This shows our obsession with gender stereotypes, and our low expectations of men, even in a county where in a lot of straight couples both partners work full time. We also experience a lot of heteronormativity, e.g. people asking “who’s the guy in the relationship?”.
Q10. Do you think in our lifetime India will allow Gay marriages?
Priya: I really hope so. I think that once homosexuality is decriminalised in India, that will send a message of support that will hopefully put the wheels in motion to legalising same-sex marriages. But I also hope that before that, Queer Indians will take a stand and have weddings even if the resulting marriage will not be recognised. I think this is an important step towards legalising same-sex marriage.
Morna: When I was younger, I didn’t think that the UK would approve same-sex marriage as quickly as it did. It has surprised me the countries that have been at the forefront of this change, so I find it hard to predict. I would say it is a possibility, but it’s important to have a large public backing. It’s one thing to make a law, and quite another to change people’s opinions. But I know that there are many open minded people in India who are waiting for this change. I often receive messages on social media from people living in India (especially Mumbai) who are wanting to hear about my experiences as a Queer person living in UK, and who wish that they were safe to be more open themselves in India.